Reggae maestro, Orits Wiliki, bares his mind on sundry contemporary issues, including movie and music industries. The Koleman revolutionaire also explains why hip-hop music is an offshoot of reggae, in this interview with TONY OKUYEME
Who is Orits Wiliki?
As you know, my full name is Orits Wiliki. I am from Delta and Edo States, I am also from Ethiopia. My mother is from Benin, my father is an Itsekiri man from Delta State, and my great-grand-father is from Ethiopia. My mother is actually partly Yoruba and partly Edo. So, I have a complex origin.
The popularity of Reggae music appears to be waning in Nigeria today. What are you and your colleagues doing to revive it?
Reggae music is still what people listen to. What probably may have happened is that, like every other thing in life, reggae music has also evolved into other styles and patterns of music.
Like hip-hop… Hip-hop…? Yes. Hip-hop is an offshoot of reggae music. So, reggae like you knew it as root-rock, traditional hardcore, may not be as popular as the hip hop and so on, but that’s only in Nigeria actually. If you go on internet and look up numbers that are topping the chart worldwide, a lot of them are reggae. So, you may wonder what is going on in Nigeria. I want to believe it’s a media problem, because the genre reggae music is not given equal airplay as to the others. I keep making an example of the past, when we had lots of people playing different genres of music. Kwam 1 was playing the Fuji; Shina Peters was Afro Juju; Pasuma was playing Fuji; I, Orits Wiliki was playing reggae; Ras Kimono was playing reggae; Evi Edna was playing reggae; Majek Fashek was playing reggae; Mike Okri was playing mixed African music of Highlife and Pop; Daniel Wilson was playing reggae. You realize that everybody was getting airplay. There was no problem with identifying who was who, because everybody was equally played. It’s unlike what we have today, if you don’t the money you may not be given air time at all no matter how good your music is.
What’s the relationship between hip-hop and reggae?
When Bob Marley was alive he was playing roots rock reggae, until his later days when you could see that the tempo was up, and what he was playing, he was also evolving as well. If you listen to Iron Lion Zion, it is not like his usual Bob Marley reggae. It means that you have to grow with time. And you realized that America is where reggae could not conquer for a long time, until such point when people like Too Low For Zero, groups like Prodigy, Public Enemy. These are people who decided to say ok, before America could accept reggae music, it has to be redefined. So, they brought in the hip hop. That was they started experimenting with hip-hop. So, it is the base, the drums and the message that make reggae music. It was the drum and the base that they used in experimenting hip-hop. So, if you listened to it from the beginning you realize that you are actually listening to reggae. Until the culture eventually came into it, which actually popularised hip-hop far more than the music before it was fully accepted. So, hip-hop is an offshoot of reggae.
You have featured in Nollywood movies. How has it been?
I have acted in not less than 21 movies. You should know that I am a better actor than a musician. How? Yes, because I left the television for music. I was a producer with NTA. I was born in Benin. As early as eight years, I already in the choir, singing. My father is a reverend in the Baptist Church, so I was in the choir as early as when I was eight years old. So, music has been there all along, until I decided to take professionally, about 34 years ago, which was when I became a professional musician. And becoming a professional musician didn’t see me releasing albums just like that. I started out as a father, making others stars, the likes of Ras Kimono, Majek Fashek, Mandators and others. If you turn the sleeve of their albums, you will see my name there, as either co-producer or an arranger, a percussionist and so on. So, I had been behind the scene making others stars. So, you will say that in 1989 was when Orits Wiliki started releasing his albums. While doing that before I started professionally, I was with NTA Benin as a producer. I was producing programmes then such as ‘Variety Showcase’. In fact, I also presented a programme called Search Light, which was one of the toughest programmes in Benin at that time. Your head needed to be very strong to because it was a kind of critic programme. I even acted in several episodes of drama programmes such as Play House, in NTA Benin. From there I moved to the East, when Tabansi sent for me and a couple of others, including Isaac Black. We were invited to the East because he saw one of my programmes in NTA Enugu. We used to do programme exchange with Variety Showcase. He said he need me to come and handle his video recording studio hat he was putting up. That was how I relocated to the East to join Tabansi Records. We worked with him, but I was always in the studio, recording with Jake Solo rather than the video because the video didn’t take off as we expected. So, I had a stint working with Jake Solo and I learnt a lot from him. I was like understudying him, and some foreign engineers like Tom Leroy and Aaron, who was a Jamaican that also working as an engineer. So, I was able to learn a lot from them. I would say it all began from there, musically.
What’s your take on the music industry in Nigeria?
Music industry, we are still sleeping. We are still in comatose. We still do not have structures, except now that the copyright problem had just been corrected. We need to have structures that can enable us have a data base, where you can get facts such as how much CDs you have and how many you have sold. We don’t have such data anymore. If you ask the biggest and most popular artist in Nigeria today how much CDs such artist has sold, the person won’t know. In our days, you can tell through the record companies. They would be able to tell you whether you have sold silver or gold or platinum. That’s the way a professional industry is. But we do not have those data, and if you don’t have those data you can’t plan; and you cannot get assistance in terms of financial assistance anywhere because the data you need to write your proposal are not available. So, you will be thinking from your head.
How close were you to Ras Kimono?
Kimono was my body; he was my brother. They used to call us ‘Twinny’, because of how close we were. Like I told somebody, Kimono’s exit has gone with half of my energy. On his, when he was saying people should not mourn him, but should celebrate him, and that he was happy that we were there to wish him final goodbye. I was with him through the time he was in the hospital – Lagoon Hospital. I know what our dreams were; I know what our visions were. We had lot of things we wanted to do, especially, bringing awareness to reggae. Those things are the things that will keep me stronger, and to try to do as much as I can, so that if the spirit can see he would be able to see that I was able to push whatever our plans were to a certain point or level. I miss our everyday conversation. There is hardly six hours that we would not speak, and we spoke, laugh and talk seriously.
What’s the relationship between you and your other colleagues – Majek Fashek, Mandator…
They remain my brothers.
Which of the musical instruments do you play?
I play almost all of them. I play the drums, guitar, base; I play a little bit of keyboards. The only instrument that I don’t play at all is the horn.
Most of the young musicians today barely know how to play any of these instruments…
Yes, because they are not musicians.
So, what would you call them?
They are artistes. A musician is a skilled instrumentalist. An artiste is a professional dancer, singer or an actor.
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