POPULAR pop artist, Sunny Neji, has been around for a while. The Oruka crooner opened up to ENCOMIUM Weekly on Thursday, July 15, 2010, at the West Town Hotels, Ikeja, Lagos, on issues bordering on the Nigerian music industry and why he left MCSN for COSON.
What has been happening to Sunny Neji over the years?
Sunny Neji is working. I am always working, right now I am in the studio. I want to re-issue my pin number album. We stopped production because we want to repackage it and we’re adding a couple of songs. For a very long time, we’ve just been making music, we haven’t been selling music. We’ve been selling CDs without its content. So, it’s been very, very sad. If you go to our neighbouring countries you would see how much CDs are being sold but the situation in Nigeria is laughable, it doesn’t encourage any investor. That’s why big companies pulled out, the likes of Polygram, Sony Music and some indigenous companies died like Tabansi. Music is not being publicized and to add salt to injury, pirates are on top of the situation. So, that’s why we did a rethink and stopped production and we’re repackaging.
What is your assessment of the Nigerian music industry today compared to when you started?
When I came in, big companies were leaving the country. But before I came in, it was more vibrant, piracy wasn’t that much. The introduction of cassette players, CD’s actually made it very easy to copy other people’s works. Now, compounded the business doesn’t have any direction, no structures. Every artist is a potential label owner, and there are no structures that are supposed to define the industry anymore, it’s a chaotic situation.
The truth of the matter is that the music sector is not as big or booming as people think. We have a couple of artists that are doing very well, but if you compare the number of artists that are doing very well to the number of those that are not doing well, you will understand that we have a very big problem. So, we need to do something to bring back those structures.
What will you call the recurring challenges over the years?
It’s gotten to a point where you begin to think if its witchcraft or something else, why is it that we cannot speak with one voice because this is a challenge that we are all facing now. It’s not as if its only one person’s problem, its something we all cry for. So, I wonder why we cannot stand at a point and uphold our destiny and deal with these challenges. That is just the problem, togetherness. We’ve not been able to speak with one voice. When you are trying to come out of the hole and some people are trying to pull you back. What do you call that? Is it not witchcraft? When you are against yourself and your progress, it is a very sad situation.
When you started, you must have a plan, how far have you succeeded in your career?
That is the point I am trying to make, in music, it’s difficult to plan. If you want to go into business you have a business plan, you can project. But in music, it is not like that because the structures that should make it work are no longer there. Those days, you could plan, when we had the likes of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, KSA, Sunny Okosuns, Rex Lawson, etc. When we had big recording companies like Polygram, CBS and the rest, they could plan. Before they release an artist they would have projected, call all the major distributors, come to Lagos and when they release you, your music is all over Nigeria. But those structures have collapsed completely, right now it is difficult to project because when you’re struggling to project, how do you handle piracy. So, at the end of the day your music might be everywhere but the small money coming will not get to your pocket, they are going to pirates. So, it is difficult to project. That’s why we are bringing some sanity into this business to make it encouraging to investors. We need properly organized structures in the industry.
Aside the piracy issue what will you say we are not doing right?
One, we have major challenges. We need better legislation to protect players in the industry. It is very important. And we need to be seen to be unified. Instead of fighting each other, we can use that energy to tackle our common enemy. So, I think we need to come together, better legislation and create a better environment for investors. In other words, we need to put piracy to an end because we cannot allow them to be operating like they wish. And if we do that no matter what challenges we face, we will be able to deal with them.
What propelled you to dump MCSN for COSON?
I am a member of COSON, I resigned my membership of MCSN because I felt it was time we moved ahead and I felt the way forward was with COSON and COSON represents what we have been agitating for. It represents the future of every act as far as collective management is concerned because prior to this time, there had been this protracted fight between two collective societies, MCSN and PMRS and for years, there were frantic efforts to solve the problem but it never worked. And while they were fighting, artists were suffering, and they could not come together. Then, government deemed it fit to register and recognize one CMO and the government said, the three of you apply and everybody applied with the new body, COSON. So, government saw it fit to give it to COSON. Right now, COSON is the only legally registered and recognized CMO in the country. Of course, when a body has been legalized by the government, who are you to go against it, won’t it be better to work in favour of that since you cannot fight the government. So, I am a member of COSON and I think it’s a healthy thing.
How do you think COSON will better the lot of the Nigerian music industry at the level it is now?
A lot of artists like me have been ignorant for a long time of what was going on. My ignorance was from the fact that I wasn’t close enough, I wasn’t willing to understand what was going on, and I am sure a lot of musicians are living in this ignorance. We have a right that we do not recognize. As an author, you’ve created a musical work, you have a right to that work even though its not tangible. So, nobody should take that property of yours without your permission. For anybody to use that work, you have to give them permission and they are supposed to pay you for it,
What COSON is doing basically is to help you collect that money. So, if you license your work to COSON, they are like rent collectors, they help you collect your money from state to state, so if that’s done, it makes it easy for artists to concentrate on music and shows. So, to a large extent artists are assured of getting what they have not been getting in the past.
What can you call the success rate having completed the Lagos Forum and moving to Abuja?
The response is fantastic, I think people are really tired of the protracted battle and disagreement. We have seen the light and we have decided that we do not want to stay in darkness anymore. We have to come out of the pit and anybody who wants to remain in the pit should die there. But the progressives have decided that we want to come out of the pit and we have come out and we’re going to stay out of the pit. There’s a whole lot that need to be done, apart from the fact that those who own this right are not aware of it and those who use them too are not aware that they are abusing and using someone else’s sweat without payment. There is a lot of adjustment to be done and I think that is what COSON is trying to do. We need to enlighten the users of the works and the owners of the works. When COSON got the right, direction has been fantastic because people are tired of disintegration, so anybody who means well for this industry needs to support COSON.
How soon do you foresee this revolution in the music industry?
By God’s grace, I believe it will come very soon. I think we’ve started to chart a brand new course, positive and progressive for the industry and I think in the nearest future, we shall begin to reap the dividends.
In five years, where do we hope to see Sunny Neji?
In the next five years I am just going to make good music, make people happy and think a bit.
What’s your advice for the young people looking up to you?
You should know who you are, know what you’ve got and the gift you’re blessed with, work on improving it. Do not rest on your oars, do not get to a point where you begin to think you know it all because learning is a continuous process. Work very hard and at every given opportunity give your best and pray very hard too, then leave the rest to God.
THIS INTERVIEW WAS FIRST PUBLISHED ON TUESDAY, July 20, 2010