Samson Olawale, a mechanical engineer by profession turned percussionist has created a niche for himself as a successful entrepreneur in the musical industry. In this exclusive interview with OLADIPO OLUWATOSIN, he shared his experiences on how the entertainment industry can contribute immensely to the national and economic development. Excerpts;
How long have you been playing this drum and what inspired you?
Actually, I started playing percussion at the age of 12 but not until I became 18 years did I go professional. I could recall that it all started from a Cherubim and Seraphim Church, where my passion for playing drum became manifest. Although, a mentor who happened to be a lover of good music took me to his brother, Fabulous Adeking by name, a famous Juju singer and I picked my percussion career from there.
However, it was a bit difficult then because money was not forth coming from that angle, but I got another help to meet Segun Awe, an African beat musician, for an audition as conga drummer, though I had a little knowledge in playing conga but I started working with him anyway and that lasted for only four years between 1989 -1993.
But you eventually dumped Segun Awe for Colour Band, now Lagbaja Band, what led to your decision?
Actually, you need to know that “human desires are insatiable.” I decided to move to Colour band in the year 1995. Lagbaja turned out to be a music genius that values gifts in man. In the area of performance, both are good in African rhythms. Also, in terms of remuneration, Awe paid between N30 to N50, but Lagbaja was different. The first event I went with Lagbaja, he paid me N350 and N200 for conga, this motivated me to move away from Segun Awe. And I eventually graduated to be the conga percussionist player in Afro-beat Band led by Femi Kuti in 2001, there I had the opportunity to tour the world.
In every profession there is always a mentor, so who mentored you in the area of playing percussion or were you born with it?
Actually, I don’t have a mentor but I think Remi Kabaka inspired me a lot. Although, he played Apala for Art Alade, but the man is now old and lives in London.
Does that mean you have a relationship with Dare Art Alade?
No, but with his father. Dare Art Alade might not know me because he was very young then, I used to go to his father’s club because I had passion for the drum. It was inborn, no one taught me. Nobody is my inspiration. I did not go to them to teach me how to play, but I watched them play. Remi Kabaka was my one source of inspiration then Papachico and Samson Ogunlade. These are my three main sources of inspiration. If you see the way I play now, it is quite different from theirs; I just liked them but not to be like them.
How have you been able to further your education while playing percussion?
I finished my secondary school before I was taken to Fabulous Adeking, and that time there was no family support for me to continue my education, I had to sponsor myself.
Are you saying that you sponsored your academics through proceeds from percussion?
Yes, percussion paid my school fee because when I finished my secondary school, I realized I was low in education, so I went to Lagos State Polytechnic, where I had my National Diploma (ND) in mechanical engineering, but I have not practiced the profession, but percussion paid my school fee.
What are you doing to encourage young Nigerians to take interest in playing percussion?
Actually, I have been teaching a group I gathered several years ago how to play percussion and they have learnt a lot. Even in South Africa, we have a group called Drum Café and in collaboration with my friend there we have agreed to replicate that in Nigeria, so as to improve our percussion skills. Very soon, we would have what I called Nigerian Drum Café.
What is your take on Nigeria’s cultural promotion and development? How can it add values to our earnings at the international market?
I noticed that we Nigerians don’t value our culture and the values embedded in it. We always want to promote other people’s culture and character to transform ours, it can’t work. A friend started a campaign ‘Nobody is born with Culture, we learn culture. So, let’s learn Nigerian culture & sell it to the world. Our cultural richness is very important. We must be proud of our culture and engage in it.’
To brand Nigeria uniquely, we need to use our local resources to build our tourism industry and earn integrity for our nation in order to strengthen our Naira. Do not copy other people’s content to suit ours because it is slavery in disguise.
Another annoying thing about many Nigerians is that they feel Made in Nigeria goods are not good enough. The question is, when will our own brand be good enough to be consumed? It is high time for us to start investing in the Nigerian development, capacity building and start the Brand Nigeria campaign for people to travel to Nigeria.
Take United States of America as a case study. There are two products that Americans are selling to the world, Brand America and Travel America. These project consultants are polishing the names and destination that are great in America for people to visit but that does not mean that everywhere is perfect and great in America. There are still ghettos and places you have to get clearance before visiting because they are notorious destinations. But American government will not showcase those places to the world? We need to brand the good side of Nigeria too, to attract investment.
Can you tell us some of the projects and programme you have participated in?
My creative skills as a famous Nigerian percussionist pushed me forward to feature in many festivals and projects within and outside the boundaries of the African continent. I participated in the playboy jazz festival in California, Bonaroon festival in America, Canada Festival, Asia, Africa festival, John Scoffield project to mention but a few. My album titled ‘Igbadun’ which comprises of gospel and secular rhythm is moving the entertainment industry and making waves.
Lagos will soon celebrate 50 years. What impact will entertainment have on promoting the ‘Lagos @50 campaign?
My best side on stage is my style of playing the Conga, chanting and coordination. I have a lot to reveal to many tourists across the world visiting the state for the celebration to know and feel our cultural richness. My kind of entertainment which is not common here in Nigeria can also lift our cultural value in the world tourism.
What is your advice to the younger generation?
Actually percussion is not money spinning in Nigeria unlike in the West. What I will advise the younger generation is to do whatever they lay their hands on well, and not look at the economic situation of Nigeria. Analyst said the best time to invest is now because the pain will make you to be prudent in spending and create ways where there seems no way. Top brands in the world started their businesses during economic crises and we are celebrating them today. Do not despise your little beginning because those experiences are your message. They should look beyond Nigeria’s problem with the hope that one day, people will appreciate them.