Some say he is the most successful contemporary music artiste in Nigeria today. Others say he is the best of his generation.
But, there is no doubt that Innocent Ujah Idibia, renowned as Tuface Idibia (and fondly called 2baba by some), one of the best music exports Nigeria has ever produced.
However, despite his phenomenal success and achieving superstardom, including a string of hits from his five albums to date – as well as the evergreen ‘African Queen’ from his debut solo album in 2004; Tuface, with over 16 years in the music industry, has remained humble and down-to-earth.
This is despite the fact that he has performed alongside some of the world’s music biggest superstars, who have also featured in his songs. His biggest achievement, he says, would be winning the elusive Grammy Award. “That would be the height of the whole thing,” he said.
Grammys or not, Tuface is regarded as an African music icon. From Kora Awards, Channel O Music Video, MTV Europe Music, MOBO, MTV Africa Music to BET Awards; Tuface has won virtually every national, continental and international music award on offer for African artistes.
His global success has also paved the way for many other Nigerian and African artistes to shine among world music galaxy of stars.
“There is no film trick around me. What you see is what you get, No hype,” he said. With an award cabinet and impressive resume a whole music generation once dreamed of, that may be the understatement of the year. Interestingly, his record label is called ‘Hypertek’.
In this exclusive, no-holds-barred interview, Tuface bares his beautiful music soul and opens up on many issues, including his controversial relationship with women and his legacy as a music icon, like he has never done before.
SUI: Let’s talk about the Nigerian music industry. How much has it grown?
Tuface: The industry is ripe, a lot of things are happening, many people are getting involved now, and many are interested in artist management now than some years ago. We have more entertainment lawyers, more promoters, and more people that are interested in music business now than some years ago. So the industry is growing. The quality of music and videos and the sound have tremendously improved. The talent has always been there, but these days you find that it is more of packaging than talent. Although, even with talent, you still need to package the product, but it is more of packaging now. I listen to a lot of music these days and you find that it just a few of the artistes today who actually have talent for music, majority is just packaging. But the thing is, entertainment is about entertainment, you know, it’s allowed. Understand what I’m saying?
SUI: The entertainment industry in Nigeria is still evolving and growing in spite of issues like piracy. How has this affected you as an artiste?
Tuface: That is the Nigerian thing. To be honest with you, corruption is the reason why piracy is still a major issue in Nigeria, because if radio stations are not paying royalties, because they run to a government agent and they give them some sort of backing, you can’t shut them down, you can’t do anything about it, because the government is not taking it serious.
If the government knows that these artistes have to pay taxes and they are going to make a lot of money from collecting these taxes, then they could decide to create an avenue where these artistes will make big money and so pay them big taxes, and it goes round like that. If the government is serious, they would make effective laws and enforce it. They would make sure music pays and it will happen but because of corruption, this doesn’t happen. If police see person dey sell pirated CDs, dey no dey look am like crime. He go dey look as, why you just wan collect food from that boy hand, he doesn’t even know it’s a crime, na punishable offence, so it’s serious. The Nigerian government doesn’t take entertainment seriously, it’s not by dashing artistes or anybody money or by you know… but by actually saying, ‘this industry wetin be the thing wey they need to do to regulate am make e tight, so that it can actually be more productive.
Piracy is happening on a massive scale in Nigeria because the law enforcement, the people that are supposed to protect this intellectual property, don’t even see it as a crime. But the government is more serious about dealing with people who vandalise oil pipeline.
Talking about getting royalties from the air play of our songs, we now have collecting societies in Nigeria, like the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON). But the people who are supposed to pay up for these people to work are not paying up, so what are they going to give you? Are they going to remove money from their pocket to give to you? COSON just started, at least they are trying to muscle NCCA and the other bodies that should make all these (royalties) laws work. A few of the Radio and TV stations have actually said they are going to pay, but it should not just be a few, it should be everybody. Only 1% of the people who are supposed to pay are presently complying.
SUI: There have also been rumours about some artistes paying to get air plays, what’s your view about this?
Tuface: One thing about entertainment, music especially is that beyond talent, which you definitely need, you also need good management, good character. A lot involves making that talent work.
E get as you sing the sweetest music for this world reach, but if e no get proper promotion, na just two or three go say ‘Ah, that music sweet o!’ Good music will spread like wild fire if it also gets proper packaging and marketing, because it is a good thing already. Entertainment is about talent, it is also about packaging and marketing.
To answer your question, definitely some people pay money to get air play. It depends on how you want to do it, although it is illegal to pay a DJ to play your music. But it happens, not just in Nigeria, it happens everywhere in the world. Nobody is going to deny the fact that it does happen, but if you choose to go that way (paying for air plays), then it means that you don’t believe in yourself so much.
SUI: Your relationship with women has been a topic of controversy. Someone once posted on Facebook that, ‘after six kids, Tuface is now married now, can he be faithful?’… How do you feel about such questions?
Tuface: The day I decided to go public was the day I gave my privacy away. It’s only natural – if you put yourself out there – that people are going to say different stuff, even when it’s not true. You laugh if you hear the funny ones; you are surprised when you hear the malicious and wicked ones. But what people think about you is none of your business, it’s their business. So, na their headache if dem dey worry. I just look at it and say, ‘okay oh, na you be the police na’(laughing). I just try my best to be a good person, you know.
SUI: You don’t see yourself as a player?
Tuface: If I were a player, they wouldn’t have caught me like that (General laughter)
SUI: How challenging is the role of being a father to your kids?
Tuface: It’s not easy. Sometimes, it is painful, especially when you don’t get to see them as often as you would wish to because of work. Today I’m here, tomorrow, I’m there, sometimes for weeks, months; plus the fact that they have different moms… I didn’t plan for it this way, but it happened and I have accepted it, no shaking. My plan was to have a wife and then have children. Something happened along the line, but I didn’t run away from it.
SUI: But you seem happy with your career, especially as you discovered your talent early in life. Would you encourage your kids to follow in your footsteps career wise?
Tuface: Yes, definitely I will. One already asked me that. If I see that they exhibit any talent, I will definitely encourage them in that direction. I’m not the guy who will tell his son or daughter that you must study this or that. If I see that they actually have genuine talent for it, I will definitely encourage them. If it is music, I’ve been there and still there, it would even be easy for me to be their best adviser.
SUI: How do you feel when you travel out and see how many people actually know your music?
Tuface: It feels good and makes you realise that your work is not in vain. It’s every artiste’s joy to see people actually feel what they do, to know that you actually get results for the whole creative process.
SUI: Let’s talk about highlife. Have you recorded any ‘highlife’ song yet?
Tuface: Yes, definitely, I just did a remix of Victor Olaiya’s song, Baby jo wo. It will be released soon. Highlife used to be our major music but somehow, the transition from old school to new school changed all that.
SUI: One of your hit singles, ‘Nfana Ibaga (No Problem)’, from your debut solo album almost seem prophetic, as you are now a mega star and obviously blessed by God. What inspired that song?
Tuface: That song was basically like an introduction of myself because that was my first solo album, like, ‘okay, I don show’, that was the inspiration (Laughing).
SUI: Some of the major names who started with you have faded away. What is secret of your longevity in the music industry? How do you constantly reinvent yourself musically?
Tuface: Wow. For me, I will say it’s by the grace of God, hard work, and my fans.
SUI: But what are the things you do, how do you constantly reinvent yourself musically?
Tuface: Hmmn. I think I try to blend with the times I passed through, and at the same time, still try to just keep it fresh. I try to do music, not for just the present time, but for tomorrow, that in the future, it will still sound good to your ears and make sense.
SUI: You once told me that you would like to go back to school to study law, do you still have plans to do that?
Tuface: Yes, I want to do that. I can’t say when exactly, maybe in the next two or three years? But I’m definitely going to do that.
SUI: You’ve won virtually all the major continental and international awards for African artistes, but you haven’t won a Grammy yet. Does that bother you?
Tuface: It doesn’t bother me, but I definitely think about it. I still have some things to do. I’m not where I’m supposed to be or where I dream of being yet. So I still have lot of work to do before I cap that, even if I cap that, I would still keep on working (laughing).
SUI: When you first started out, did you honestly think you will get to this level, did you ever dream of this kind of success?
Tuface: I will say yes. Everyone wishes to take his game to the highest level, but what you don’t know is how fast or how long it would take to get there, but you definitely have that dream of getting there. So I had a dream of becoming a successful musician/ artiste. I hoped, worked and prayed for it and I’m getting there.
SUI: There has been a lot of controversy about who wrote your hit song, the evergreen ‘African Queen’. Did blackface actually write the lyrics, as some claim?
Tuface: The song was written by Innocent Idibia and Austin Amedu; Innocent Idibia is Tuface, Austin Amedu is Blackface.
SUI: So, who should get credit for the success of African Queen and did you know it was going to be monster hit at the time?
Tuface: The credit goes to… Tuface, Blackface; OJB, for production; Kennis Music, for marketing; the credit goes to all them and also the fans, especially my Nigerian fans.
SUI: Your wife, Anne, featured prominently in the video. When you were writing the song, was she at the back of your mind? (General laughter)
Tuface: there was no particular person in mind when the song was written, it was written with the general idea to show respect and love for the African woman.
SUI: Why did it take you so long to finally settle down with Anne?
Tuface: I don’t really have an answer to that question, because I don’t know. I can’t explain why I don’t have an answer to that, but somehow, by the grace of God, we are still together.
SUI: Do you think education has a role to play in anybody’s success?
Tuface: Success is relative, but having an education is also very important and I would encourage anybody to get an education. Although you find that in some cases, some people didn’t even have access to education but they are very successful people today. All the same, education is important; it’s a plus and a very good advantage.
SUI: How come the much anticipated Plantashun Boyz reunion never worked out as expected? Do you foresee another try at a reunion album or concert in the nearest future?
Tuface: We have decided to do something but as it is right now, we haven’t really talked about it or planned for any particular time because we are still on individual projects. But it’s definitely in our minds.
SUI: I know you like football. What clubs do you support?
Tuface: Over the years, I have changed my support for many clubs. At different times, it was Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid. So I won’t come out and say I’m a fan of any club. I don’t know, I guess I’m a fan of good football (General laughter).
SUI: You have met famous people globally, which one stands out most and why?
Tuface: O boy! I will just go for Wyclef. The guy is just too much. He has the kind of spirit I like, simple, friendly, intelligent, talented, focused, playful, down to earth, serious. He’s just my kind of person.
SUI: Who’s your favorite Nigerian music act and among the upcoming ones, which do you feel can become the next Tuface or make it as big as you have done?
Tuface: I’m not even going to answer that because I have so many friends and wouldn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings by mentioning one person’s name and not mentioning another. But I have many favourites, I love their music and many of them have different attributes that I like.
SUI: I know you like W4 (General laughter)
SUI: Which African musician would you say has had a great influence on your kind of music?
Tuface: Definitely, Fela is a big influence. Bongos Ikwue, Oliver De Coque, Hugh Masekela from South Africa, there’s plenty of them, the list is long.
SUI: At what point did you realize that your music career had finally reached that breakthrough point?
Tuface: I think it was when I won the MTV Europe Music Awards. When I got that award, it was like okay, there’s no going down anymore. I have to keep on working, keep on moving.
SUI: Despite being a superstar, you must have had some most embarrassing moments?
Tuface: Most embarrassing moments? The funny thing is, I can’t remember right now (General laughter). But I don’t like to put myself in any embarrassing situation.
SUI: You’ve mentioned in past interviews, how the name Tuface came about. The name also sounds like you have a multiple personality, a man of different parts. Was that the impression you hoped to achieve when you chose it as a stage name?
Tuface: No. I chose that as a stage name, not because of any multiple personality but because of the fact that people in public will see me on TV, read about me in the papers, hear about me on the radio and it would create an impression for them, until they get to know the real me. The TV, radio, and papers are just one side of the whole story. But when you get to know the real me, every other thing now looks like film trick. So, Tuface is an artiste – the public figure, and Tuface, the actual me.
SUI: You’re still a humble person, despite your success. Is fame sometimes a burden for you?
Tuface: Yes, it is. It takes away your privacy and freedom to do some kind of simple, basic things. Like I can’t go to Iya Christopher to sit down and eat amala, the way I dey do before (General laughter)
SUI: How much is Tuface worth today?
Tuface: I never gather, but I dey try.
SUI: Abroad it’s easy to be to tell how much a musician is worth, but in Nigeria, we don’t like giving out figures.
Tuface: We don’t want armed robbers to come visit us anywhere (General laughter).
SUI: Some people say that despite your achievements in the music industry, they don’t see you as a role model because of the many ‘baby mamas’ dramas, what’s your reaction to this?
Tuface: If they say I’m not a role model, so be it. Let them not follow my footsteps. Let’s leave it like that.
SUI: But do you see yourself as a role model?
Tuface: No, I’m not a role model. I’m just a guy that’s living his life. I’m not forcing anybody to do anything, so you if you feel you want to follow my footsteps, it’s your choice. But I’m not going to apologize for the choices I have made. I’m not going to apologize for accepting my responsibility, saying yes, it happened when it happened and I’m not going to run away from it. I didn’t tell anybody I was a role model in the first place, so, if anyone says I’m not a role model, it’s their opinion. Let them live their own clean life. Let me live my own ‘nonsense’ life.
SUI: Do you have any regrets?
Tuface: No regrets.
SUI: At your recent traditional wedding, you reportedly got car gifts (SUVs) from the governor of Akwa Ibom state…
Tuface: Well, as per the gift we got, wedding gift… Yes, we got a jeep.
SUI: Because the report in the media was that the governor gave you guys two SUVs?
Tuface: Yes, sorry, one.
SUI: Back to your lovely wife, what are the qualities that made you choose her, and finally say ‘this is the one for me’?
Tuface: Wow. I have known her for a long time and for me she has a gentle heart, a good heart and that was the major quality that attracted me to her.
SUI: When you look back at your early days to today, what are some of the things that you are most grateful for?
Tuface: I think I am most grateful to my parents for the way they brought me up and the things they taught me when i was growing up, how to respect people, how to live and let live. Those things have built my character today.
SUI: How many women have you shagged? (General laughter)
Tuface: Oh boy o! I did not keep a record, so I don’t actually know. If to say I know I for don dey count dey come (General laughter).
SUI: Outside music and movies you are going to get involved in, what are the other things that interest you and why?
Tuface: the funny thing is, everything, but I’ll just say real estate. Somehow you can never go wrong with real estate, man.
SUI: What would you consider your biggest achievement?
Tuface: It would be collecting the Grammy (award) o! That would be the height of the whole thing.
SUI: If you weren’t singing, if you weren’t Tuface, what is it you would have become?
Tuface: Maybe, I would have been a goal keeper for one football team. Although I didn’t play football very well while growing up, I dreamt about it.
SUI: What inspires your songs and what makes a Tuface song or album different from the rest?
Tuface: I try to face reality with my music, I try to talk about real things and relate it in a way that whoever is listening to my music can relate to it as well.
SUI: Nigeria just lost a music icon, Fatai Rolling Dollars, Did you ever get to work with him?
Tuface: No, I didn’t have the opportunity and the pleasure of working with him. May his soul rest in peace, he had a good run.
SUI: Wyclef contested the election in Haiti. Would Tuface go into politics someday?
Tuface: There’s a lack of dignity in our system presently. And when you speak up, dem go just look your life. ‘no mind that small boy, him just dey make noise’.It’s crazy. But it could happen, although I don’t see myself contesting for anything. It’s too much wahala.
SUI: I know you are currently working in the studio, when do we expect your new album?
Tuface: Soon. But I’m not releasing any album this year, just a couple of songs while working on my next album.
SUI: Who are the artistes currently signed under your Hypertek label?
Tuface: Right now, we have Dammy Krane, Rocksteady and Tuface. They are presently working on Dammy Krane’s album.
SUI: How do you unwind?
Tuface: I love watching movies, before I used read books a lot, but somehow I no come dey get time for book again, so I watch movies these days, and a lot of documentaries. I’m a TV addict, so to speak and I flip through all the channels and wide range of programs
SUI: What is the most interesting movie you have seen recently?
Tuface: It’s the series, Game of Thrones. The script, the dialogue, the action… is out of this world.
SUI: When you look back in your career now, is there one thing or things you wished you have done differently?
Tuface: Yes, there are a lot of things I wish I could have done differently. I wish I had gone to a proper music school to learn how to play the keyboard and guitar, know how to score music professionally… But, it’s not too late though.
SUI: What would you want to be remembered for?
Tuface: (laughing) I want to be remembered as the artiste who came and was very plain and open, no film trick around me. What you see is what you get, No hype. na me be me, you know. I want to be remembered as that guy who came and didn’t try to brag that he is (Aliko) Dangote, my money never reach Dangote level.