– Speak on career and Majeed’s departure
X-Project started in 2000. The band is made up of Salien Umaru Sindi (popularly known as Saal), Aziz Mohammed Kamara (popularly known as Slez) and Majeed Akinwunmi Akinwoye, who is no longer with the group. Both hail from Sierra Leone except Majeed. X-Project have the long standing ambition to define standards for Afro, R n’ B, Hip-hop and dancehall tunes. Their debut album, Tumba Dance was originally released in Freetown, Sierra Leone in 2004 and won a Presidential Award (All Works of Life Awards). Their second album, Dance For Me, was released in 2005 both in Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Dance For Me had hit songs like Aye Mi, Na Wa, among others. They were also nominated for an AMEN Award in the Best New Group 2005/2006 category. X-Project released their third album in late 2007 entitled, Sierra-Naija. The album had the smash hit and dance anthem, Lori le. They have performed across the continent including Senegal, Liberia and Gambia, to name a few. In this exclusive interview with ENCOMIUM Weekly, they talked about their return to music and career.
When did you guys start your music career?
SAAL: X-Project started way back in 2000 after we met with Majeed in 1999 on a D-Jams Splash. But the group was formed in 2000.
How has it been so far?
SAAL: I won’t say challenging, but at the same time challenging because of how the music industry is going now in Nigeria. It’s getting bigger every day. So for you to like sustain, you have to match the trend of music. But we thank God, at least we’ve done four albums. We had songs like Aye Mi, which I think all Nigerians will still remember as one of the best R n’ B songs those days. Tumba Dance, Na Wa, featuring Baba Fryo; then our monster hit, Lori le. And we’re still in the game. We are grateful to God.
SLEZ: It’s not been easy, being there for a while and you still have that staying power. There are new kids on the block now and people are doing whatever, what the youths like so it has been hard really. But we know this is what we are born for, so we are doing it till the end.
How did you meet?
SAAL: We started the dream together because 1999, we came to Nigeria to seek refuge. Slez and I came together before we met with Majeed and the group was formed in 2000. I’ve known Slez for like 17 years. I’ve known him like five years before we left Sierra Leone to seek refuge in Nigeria.
Your new song, Azuka, what is it about?
SLEZ: Azuka is just a dance song, Afrobeat. Azuka is Igbo word so we used that to appeal to our Igbo fans because we did it with Lori le for Yoruba people. So, it’s just talking about the big back.
SAAL: The word, Azuka, actually is Big Back. Big back, you can define it in different forms. If I have a big sponsor, I can say I have a big back because of my sponsor. But the word actually is Big Back Azuka.
As in big bumbum?
SAAL: (Laughs) If you want, you can use bumbum.
SLEZ: The truth is whatever you want to do, people would relate it to sex, even if you’re not talking about it. That’s what sells. People just believe that’s what sells.
SAAL: But actually the song, Azuka, we are trying to tell those that don’t have the big back in that context, talking about big bumbum, they should not feel they don’t have it because they can still make impact in the life of guys. You have Azuka or not having, you can still make impact because some like them big, some like them slim.
Why did Majeed leave the group?
SAAL: I think Majeed would be in a better position to answer that question. But honestly speaking, he left the group in 2011. He travelled to the States, we travelled to Sierra Leone. He gave us a call when we were in Sierra Leone and said he’s not coming anytime soon. So, I think he can be in a better position to give the reason why he left X-Project.
You said he travelled to the States?
Actually, what happened is he travelled March 24, 2011 to the States and we travelled April 24 because we had a show then in Sierra Leone which we are all supposed to go but because of the trip, he couldn’t make the show. So, the agreement was after that show, we would come back to Nigeria to continue because we’ve recorded several songs then, working on the album. When we got to Sierra Leone, a week after the show, he called that he’s not coming anytime soon. That was not the agreement. So, whatever decision he might have made as an individual, he would be in a better position to answer but what I would say is he left the group in 2011.
What was your most successful song?
SLEZ: It’s Lori le.
SAAL: You might say Lori le, but you know in life you go by stages. Lori le is the biggest hit but I think the foundation was made with Aye mi, Na Wa, Tumba Dance. So, it’s not a day’s thing.
SLEZ: Why I would say Lori le is because people don’t want to know where you come from. They don’t know how you started, it’s only what they see now, that’s how it happens. They don’t want to know where you started, how you started nursing whatever you’re doing. But as soon as you get to the peak, the apex, that’s when they now say, ‘Ah, this guy is there.’
Have you guys won any award?
SAAL: We’ve won several awards. Aye mi won Best R n’ B song Superscreen TV. Lori le got us several awards. Best Single in Nigeria (Nigeria Music Award); Best Hip-Hop Song in 2008. We won Hall of Fame Awards in the USA. It was like a Nigerian community kind of award. Lori le gave us that award too. Then the same Lori le was nominated for Kora Awards 2009. Lori le gave us like three or four awards.
What is the high point of your career?
SAAL: So far, I would start with the Nigerian Music Awards, which I think was the biggest award in Nigeria. For us to win that Best Song of the Year 2008, I think it was a big one. Tumba Dance in 2004 won the Best Solo Song of the Year in our country, Sierra Leone. The award was giving by the president. I think I can mention that too. We still have dreams of going higher.
SLEZ: Being nominated for Kora Awards which is one of the biggest awards in Africa, is also one of the high points too.
Are you planning on working with any Nigerian artiste on your next album?
SAAL: Definitely, every album we do, X-Project always has that idea of working with people because we believe in combination of different cultures. For this album, we are working on now, we featured Olamide Badoo, one of the best rappers in Nigeria. We featured Waje, Omawumi, Mr. Raw, LKT, Silvastonr. It depends on the kind of song. We are still in the studio working. If the song fits in for any individual, we would work with that individual.
Have there been any setbacks?
SAAL: I don’t want to use that word, setback. We believe in destiny. Whatever happens in one’s life must be destined or has been destined already by God. So, it’s like challenges. In whatsoever profession you’re in, you meet challenges and those things make you stronger and make you know the thing you’re doing more. So, I won’t call it setback, I would call it challenges.
They should expect something different from X-Project, Not the usual thing because, like I said, we used to be three now we’re two. I think you’ll see more energy, you’ll see something unusual, something you haven’t seen before because the two individuals that are left in the group now. They were not able to express themselves fully because they have a leading vocalist, so there are some limitations. Now, we have the opportunity to express ourselves individually so people should expect something different from the two individuals as a group.
SLEZ: In a group thing, even the Plantashun Boiz, 2Face was not the leading vocalist at that time as good as he is. So, sometimes when you’re a group, you project someone as the leading vocalist but that doesn’t mean others don’t sing or do anything. Now, we are two and we are coming out with a new album. So, I think that album will show people what we are made of.
– DAMILOLA SHOLOLA
This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, October 1, 2013