Having enjoyed a measure of fame and patronage in the United States where he is based, Alaba Ultimate, a Juju musician, is hoping to get Nigerians to pay attention to his rich brand of Juju music. To achieve that, the Master’s degree holder who leads the 20-man New York Ultimate Band, launching his album on July 14 in Lagos is the first of that move as he told ADEDAYO ODULAJA.
Does the name of your band reflect New York because you live in the American state?
Yes because we live in New York, it’s registered as New York Ultimate Band but it started out first as the Ultimate Band.
You spoke about releasing your first album and selling three copies, what experience did that give you in terms of wanting to further the ambition or not?
Yeah, if you were in my shoes, you’d be down and depressed because my expectations were so high but it actually made me become the person I am today – noting that the downfall of a man is not the end of his life. It just elevated me and catapulted me to my glory.
This happened over 24 years ago, would you say that contributed to your decision to leave the country?
No, it did not. I wasn’t planning on leaving the country. I was just doing my music and doing all I could to affect the entertainment industry. The opportunity (to relocate to the United States) came and I grabbed it, now I’m here.
How big is your band and how often do you perform?
We do perform like almost every other week. Because of travelling schedule, it takes a lot of time so I’ll say every other week. I don’t perform in certain states that are not close because of the time and the schedule. I come to Nigeria almost every month, sometimes to perform and other times for important engagements. The New York Ultimate band has been able to build a large fan base over the years and we are not resting on our oars.
In terms of logistics, does it leave you with two bands, one in Nigeria and the other abroad?
Yes it does because the cost of bringing all the band members from the USA is super high and there’s no way the clients will be able to afford it. If you want to remain relevant and you still want your fans to remain your fans, you don’t have to put all these weight on clients, financially speaking. That’s why we have a Nigerian band.
Since you started out a long time ago, you must be much younger back then. What attracted you to music?
I was a member of the choir in my mother’s church, Cherubim & Seraphim Church, Oke Ayo in Ibadan. My mum also has a church in Ojodu area of Lagos and I was one of the choir members. I also watched many Juju artistes and other musicians like Baba 70, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and music became the natural path to follow.
Music became part of my life. So I started following a big prominent artiste in Ibadan at that time called Sunny Ibadan, I was not at a member of his band. I just helped moved his equipment and would sleep on one of the trucks just to get close and know how they run the live band. That’s how I fell in love with it and my first show was a party where the musician they paid for the party didn’t show up and all his band members were there. I told the presenter I could do it and I got there and I blew them away. That’s how the confidence grew in me.
The journey to greatness needs patience. Things will go so wrong for you at times. I once asked a lady in the US to allow me perform at her event for free just to showcase myself to the world. And even without asking for payment, she said she couldn’t allow me mess up her event. A few years down the line, the same lady came to one of my shows in New Jersey and after the show, she called me and asked me to give her a date I was available for her mum’s burial ceremony. I was surprised she asked me to give her a date and then it dawned on me at that moment how far God has brought me. I went home exhilarated because for someone who once insulted you to come back to tell you something like that shows the world is watching and it also means you’re now relevant.
So how much has technology reinforced your music and your fan base?
Because you work with the time, with technology, new things come out and you go with it. You come out with your own style and give it to people, that way you will always remember it.
New York is known as a state where you find a lot of Nigerians, how much has this worked for you?
It has worked well for my career but I have also lived in Rhode Island. I lived in New York for six years, moved to Rhode Island and after six years, I came back to New York because if the fans request that they want you to be close, it is better to heed because coming to perform from there meant the price was higher because of the transport. They request like every week and I get to perform in New York every other week so I thought about it and spoke to my family. “Do you know what, guys, let us move back to New York but being able to attain my Masters’ degree in Rhode Island helped me a lot.
You have expressed willingness to work with some notable Nigerian music stars. Is there a reason none is featured on your forthcoming album titled Breakthrough?
On this Breakthrough remember I said I did an album called Pà Egan re many years ago that sold only three copies. It has been a while so if I’m coming up now and bringing one popular artist now on my album and the album blows, what will you say? Tell me, that it’s because of Pasuma or that music star that helped him. I wanted to do this for my fans all by myself. I want to give them something right now. I am focusing on Alaba Ultimate giving the fans what they want.
In terms of music views, are you also planning to put this particular one in?
Yes, we are going to have some tracks going on iTunes as soon as we launch the album. We will be putting some tracks on those platforms so it will be easier. We are already in contact with iTunes, my team is also working with them right now to put the whole album out so it will be easier for them to download.
So after the album, what’s the plan when it comes with working with some of these people you’ve mentioned?
First of all, my team’s plan is dropping a very nice music video so that many people who just know the name, Alaba Ultimate, will be able to put a face to the name with the video. So we are going to be doing a video and it will be coming up pretty soon. That’s why we have to do this album launch and then the video. And then, come December we will be launching our foundation to give back to the communities.
From this conversation, it’s clear that Juju music which is your genre seems to have a great followership in the United States as well, how do we reconcile this with the fact that the genre seems to be dying in Nigeria?
I have heard this every time and I always say that Juju music, which thrives on live music performances, can never die. As long as there is live music, it cannot die. Remember that this genre is sung in churches as well and the hip pop genre in Nigeria has taken a lot from this genre and Fuji music as well. So music evolves but the predominant music genres which is our own are still there and loved by our people as it has become our culture and tradition over the years.
So what do you have to say to the young ones and the youth out there?
Don’t give up you give up. You know what the Fuji artiste, Adewale Ayuba, told me long ago. I told him that everything is not going well with me, nobody wants to see me. He told me “don’t give up!” So, one shouldn’t give up in life. Believe in your music, your ability to put something on the table. Believe me, do what you can do to improve yourself. Never give up and don’t think that because you are on this lane by yourself that you are doing a wrong thing. Once you know you are doing the right thing, it doesn’t matter what people say, do the right thing and do not give up when things get tough.
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