Lack of sponsorship killing northern Nigeria music -Funkiest Mallam

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Funkiest Mallam is one of the big names in music not only in Abuja but also in the entire north. Ibrahim Baba as the Adamawa-born singer is known off stage never fails to impress music fans with his energetic performance. The talented musician is the first choice of the northern elite for whom he entertains guests at their private ceremonies. This is why CORRESPONDENT, Kemi Yesufu, sought him out for a chat about the seemingly lost cross over appeal northern music once had. He also talked about the Federal Capital Territory PMAN, which he happens to be a major stakeholder. Excerpts:

You are popular here in Abuja and up north. But why haven't you and other big northern artistes been able to break into the south like a number of southern musicians who have a large fan based up north?

I think is basically about sponsorship and promotion. In Lagos you have record companies and individuals who sponsor and promote artistes. This is why I have just signed a deal with a Lagos company to manage and promote me. Also you know that our people don't believe in encouraging the entertainment industry. There are people here who will tell you that their investing in the entertainment industry does not conform to their religious beliefs. But I believe that things will get better here. We have a few companies coming in to Abuja to start record companies, though we need more of them. You know that I started in Lagos but at the peak of my career, I left Lagos for Abuja. My plan was to come to the north and to contribute to the growth of the entertainment industry. I feel it hasn't been a waste of time. I believe that posterity will judge me as one who sacrificed all to promote northern entertainment.

Why hasn't the north produced another great performer like Bala Miller or another international star like Dan Maraya Jos?

Like I just said, it all boils down to lack of sponsorship. You will be amazed at the number of artistes languishing because there is nobody willing to lend a hand or invest in them. I am using the opportunity to call on our top personalities in the north to invest in entertainment, because there is a lot of money to be made therein. Take for example, the Hausa movies; investors are making money from it. Imagine that some one like me will approach someone to invest in a record company and after saying come today, come tomorrow, at the end of the day, they will tell me that entertainment is not the way of their religion. Some one who makes people happy cannot be doing evil.

Maybe northern personalities are inhibited because artistes most times perform where people let their guard down. Some people drink and smoke while watching their favourite act, while girls dress sexily at the same show.

Some of the people who are reluctant about sponsoring entertainment cannot organise family events without inviting artistes to perform. Just because I sing doesn't mean that I womanise, drink and smoke. I must let you know that the watchword in this industry is discipline. You cannot make it as an artiste if you don't discipline yourself.

So are you saying that you don't indulge in any of the three well-known vices, drinking, smoking and women?

I am not saying I don't do any of the three. What I am saying is that we have the good and the bad in this industry and I fall into the category of the good ones.

Those who know you will say that if anybody should be complaining about not having sponsorship it shouldn't be you because you are close to quite a number of big names here in the north.

Some people say I am not serious, but being close to someone is not the same with investing in your business. They are two different things. After you record a CD, you need to promote and distribute it. All of these are done with money. I am someone who doesn't like to disturb people, when they say come today, come tomorrow, I know I don't have to be going to their houses or offices again and again.

You have complained a great deal about lack of sponsorship, but you are still in the game. What has kept you going since 1999?

It is the Almighty Allah. It is God who has kept me going and a few individuals because I can tell you that not all of the big people I know are uncaring. Some still believe in your talent, I perform at Nollywood Lounge at Nanet Suites during weekends. You know that I perform at international events organised by government agencies. I performed during the Battle of Hope concert alongside DMX and Ashante. I was part of the theme song for the Ogun State-hosted National Sports Festival. I do jingles. I use the little money I make from these ventures to build my career.

Kano remains the entertainment capital of the north. But of recent, artistes have been leaving the state in their numbers; they say the authorities have been breathing down on their necks. Films have been banned, the same thing with musicians who allege that their songs are being censored. Have you been a victim of the seeming clampdown on creativity in Kano?

Well, the issue of Kano is a very delicate issue because it involves morals, culture and religion. But if one person commits an offence, I don't think others have to be punished because of this. The entertainment industry in Kano brings in lots of money to the state. So if there is a problem, you tackle it one on one, don't let others suffer because of what they don't know about. I am really sympathetic on the Kano situation. I have been watching their films and listening to the music from Kano. There is no profanity in them. I don't know why there should be a problem.

Can any northern artiste make it without having a base in Kano?

Yes, Funkiest Mallam is already big. Anywhere you go people talk about Funkiest Mallam. I don't know why you say that a northern artiste that wants to be big needs to have a base in Kano.

How did you come about the name Funkiest Mallam?

My first album Binta Na Ka So was sponsored by the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN). I think I was the second artiste on their label. When they were writing my profile, they asked what name they would use and I said use my real name Ibrahim Baba and they said no. They advised that I used a stage name and because once you are a northern musician people will call you a funky mallam, so they decided to give me an updated version of funky mallam and they named me Funkiest Mallam.

You are a score with the northern celebrity, why haven't you gone into acting?

I used to act in theatre groups. I was also a part of the Charley Boy Show. So it is not that I don't have the talent. It is just that I want to concentrate on music. May be in future I will write and produce films.

Few years back you talked about running for the chairmanship of the FCT Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) but we did not hear anything from you again. Next thing we heard was that Chy Boy, The Black Courage, was named the caretaker chairman. What happened to your ambition?

My dear, FCT PMAN is a special case, but we are trying to see how we can make things work in the association. We still have hope; we are trying to see how we can mobilise musicians to come together to give Abuja PMAN a new face.

What is your relationship like with Chy Boy The Black Courage?

Chy Boy is my friend and colleague. That's all.

Are you on Chy Boy's side or the side of a group he said call themselves the stakeholders, who have been antagonising him?

The problem of the Abuja PMAN is organisation, we need to re-organise ourselves, and one person cannot do this. We have to agree to come together, to work together and to move the association forward. One person cannot monopolise the association, I am not talking about one person in particular. But what I believe is that we need committed people who are transparent to lead the association.

Lack of sponsorship killing northern Nigeria music -Funkiest Mallam
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