With over 20 years of being active in the music industry and a discography spanning eight studio albums and two EPs plus an eclectic and outstanding yearly concert, Sound Sultan, real name, Olanrewaju Fasasi, has been able to establish a career that many of his contemporaries can only yearn for. In this exclusive interview with YUSUFF ADEBAYO, he revealed the secret to his longevity in the music. Excerpts…
Sultan, I once wrote about you saying that you can either be a Sound Sultan with 20 years of being active in the music industry and no massive hit song yet relevant or a Bigiano who rocked the industry with a hit song like Shayo and fell off. I got a lot of flaks from your fans for that opinion. So I’m curious, would you have considered that offensive or complimentary?
What I always let people understand is the internet is a place for several personal opinions. But truly the owner of the story is the one that can tell the story best. So when you say I don’t always have a hit, yet, I still shut down mega stadia. I go on tours and people will be singing with me on stage for more than one hour. That is what makes me happy. You know what people consider a hit song? It’s pangolo music. So, when people troll me for not having hit songs, I really don’t care. The message I’m passing is the most important thing and I try to make sure that I put some humour into it. Year in, year out, I hold musical concerts that I don’t think any artiste in Nigeria does. The show speaks about the story of Nigeria and I was using my song as the soundtrack. So, all these things are the milestones I’m looking at, not jumping on trends in an attempt to make hit music. It’s more about the impact of the song.
This idea of being blithe to other people’s opinion about you; have you always been like that or it’s the insight that comes with the long stretch for which you’ve been in the industry?
No, this is not experience based. This is self-esteem based. A lot of people want to knock you in order to make themselves feel better. That’s what I train my kids on. Taking away from somebody doesn’t make you feel better. A lot of these boys who troll artistes; you see ‘upcoming artistes’ on their page too. And I’m like, you are being mean to people right now and you want to be like them later. How? When you live that life too, you’ll see the problems these people are going through. A lot of artistes are depressed but they need to keep making music to make you feel good. That’s why I’ve been able to use my self-esteem to guard off unwanted vibes. If it doesn’t affect my daily bread, it’s fine!
The Nigerian sound is mutating almost in real time and older artistes are finding it hard to catch up with trends. How do you manage to keep up with this evolution of sounds without losing your core values knowing full well that you’re not one made for trends?
The thing is when you are on that high horse, you need to check beneath you and learn sometimes. For me, the way I learn doesn’t necessitate calling anybody to say, ‘teach me’. I just listen. And because I’ve opened myself up to different genres of music right from time, it helped. Right from my first year in the music industry, I’ve written hundreds of songs and they are in different genres; reggae, rap, jazz, soul. Growing up, I listened to Hip-Hop, my brother Baba Dee used to play reggae; my sister used to play soul music, my mum will play Barrister and Sunny Ade. So, all of these helped me. I could jump from one genre to the other. When it comes to sound, it keeps changing and that’s why I work with different producers who kept evolving on their own too.
When we talk about the music industry and the question of relevance comes up, one of the prime references has always been you. Asides God, what else would you attribute your extended stay and the veneration that comes with it to?
Na still God! I tell a lot of people when God wants to bless you, only you can use your excesses to spoil it. See, 10 years in the music industry is like 50 years in real time. For me, I’ve been climbing stage since 94/95. What I’ve been able to gather is you need to exude positive energy into the system. When you’re high and mighty, just always do something that’ll enhance the aura around you, your support system. I don’t define success by how good you are. It’s by grace; not even your artistry.
Are you happy with the state of affairs in the music industry right now?
I’m very happy and excited. I performed in Atlanta in 2019 and the way they received me, I was like this Naija music has gone really wide. I look at how far everything has come from the likes of D’Banj and Don Jazzy to Wizkid and Davido then Burna. It’s delightful to see. It brings joy to my heart when I see everyone excel on a global scale.
When you look at the industry now, what do you consider the biggest of issues that need to be fixed?
There are so many things to be fixed and it’s not really about the artiste but the audience. They need to broaden their mind. I think they look down on artistes as per their capabilities. All they want from Nigerian artistes is the pangolo music. It’s not only ‘show your back’, ‘roll your yansh’ that defines African music. Some of them would rather listen to RnB songs from abroad and not Nigerian. We can pass the message too. We can sing to change the culture. We can sing about the things that affects the people in our country. I think that has to be brought more to light and like I said, it’s not about the artistes, it’s about the audience. They need to be more receptive. We have a lot of talent in Nigeria.
Sometimes you rap, sometimes you do RnB, sometimes you just sing. How best would you describe the sound that has sustained you for more than 20 years?
Well, I say Jangbajantis. It’s just a mix of everything. That’s why I’m not predictable so see finish no go enter the matter.
Have you ever felt that, that has its own disadvantages; making music enthusiasts across all spectrum vibe with you because you momentarily have something for them but then fostering the lack of a core fanbase?
No. The thing is because of generational gap, new people who are fans of my music might not know but the ones from the beginning will understand that this is a story of me. I can’t give anyone else that control and dumb down because some people want to sing yaya yoyo. I’ll let you know this is what I can and this is what I do. I’ve come to live with the reality that everything you do have pros and cons. So, I’m only considering the bright side and pushing it with more finesse. I’ve had issues with award shows because they don’t know how to categorize my music, and I’m like, hold your award. Upon all of that, I have a shelf filled with awards. So I’m okay!
Having worked closely with these younger artistes and witnessing their approach to music first hand, what does it tell you about the future of the Nigerian sound?
The world should be afraid, I’m telling you! I’m just urging Nigerians to embrace the different sounds in the industry. In other countries, you can make so much money as a rapper, as an RnB singer, as a reggae artiste. It can’t be one sound. The good thing I like however is the traditional artistes are doing their thing in their lane. They have their core fan base and they are thriving without Juju music, with Fuji and the rest of them. The contemporary audience is what I have problem with. Nigerians should just be receptive to the varying delivery and sound of all of them.
Your discography contains a high number of socially-conscious and nuanced songs. Even, 8th Wondah isn’t any different. What matters most to you as an artiste; the message of the song or the commercial viability?
When it comes to commercial viability, I’ll take care of that. The message is always very important…
Even if the message is going to hamper how commercially viable the song is going to be?
Over what time are you considering? Let me do the mathematics for you. My song ‘Motherland’ was released pre-social media. Before the fall of ringback tunes about 2/3 years ago, ‘Motherland’ was one of the leading ringback tunes selling on the MTN platform when you check the charts. It was top 10. What I’m telling you now is over what time are you judging? Do you want to reign in three months or for a long time? I still got an award for ‘Mathematics’ 15 years after the song was released. So it’s about the message in the song. It’s like you are breathing life into the song. So it makes it possible for the song to live.
You once mentioned that longevity in one’s career as an artiste is less about the branding but the extent of the lifespan that they put into their music. Most of the artistes we have now and the music they put out defy this rhetoric. It’s less about the substance; more about trends. Do you see that affecting their shelf life in the industry on the long run?
No. If they can keep it up, it’s fine. Not everyone will do the same thing. That’s what people want now. The fact that there is a pandemic out here, we can’t be all serious. It’s a survival moment so people need to be calm. If you can do that while jumping on trends and you do it well, it’s okay. Again, I don’t see anything wrong with that if you can keep it up.
Sultan, there is a story that I’d like to confirm. The producer K.Solo once said that you discovered Timaya at a music competition. How true is that?
Eeeh! I don’t use all these words. The truth is we met each other at a competition organised by Madam Hilda Dokubo for the South South people. So, they called me to be there as a tutor. We spoke and he started talking to me. The final day is the day we got to talk. He lost his voice. He was the best among the contestants but we knew he wasn’t going to win because of his voice. So he was just crying and I just took him for a walk and told him it’s not about the competition, it’s who wins in life that matters. I didn’t do anything extra or responsible for his glory. Not at all!
How easy is it for you to remain this humble and down to earth in spite of all of your achievements in the entertainment industry?
It’s not about the entertainment industry. It’s about life itself, when you look beyond the fame and understand that life is ephemeral. Fame is like a cloud, there’s always a bigger picture which requires humility to achieve and necessary in order to receive God’s blessings. You can’t let pride creep into your core values.