The name, Olumide Edwards Adegbolu, may not ring a bell. But Olu Maintain surely does. Adegbolu's hit track, Yahooze, has more or less become a household song. In this interview with 'NONYE IWUAGWU, the crooner explains how he got into music, why he lives in a hotel and how he copes with scandals and stardom
How did your musical career begin?
It started over a decade ago, in 1997 to be precise. I was in a group then called Maintain, and we recorded our first single, Domitilia, that year. It went on radio in October 1998.
Singing for me was an evolution of many things, because while growing up, I was more like what people would call an introvert. So, my safe haven was TV. And I had this unique talent of mimicking people. This led me to mime other people's songs. In 1989, for instance, I mimed songs by Bobby Brown, Mc Hammer and so on. This led to me writing their lyrics. Later, I started writing my own lyrics and then went to record the lyrics I had written. Then we formed a group and recorded a song. Everything was a process.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I'm an indigene of Ondo town in Ondo State. I am the second born in a family of four. I am 32 years old.
How was growing up?
Growing up was okay. I grew up in a very good family. My father was a medical doctor and he was also in the Army. My mother was a nurse. We moved around a lot, because as someone in the army, my father was always posted to different states. I was born in Lagos, then we moved to Enugu, Maiduguri, Ibadan and Ondo town.
Growing up was exciting because I had a very liberal man as father.
So he supported your musical career?
My parents are the kinds that allow you to take your destiny into your own hands. But they guide you. They didn't force anything on us. They gave us the opportunity to choose. It has paid off, because I would not have been who I am today if they didn't encourage me. Most parents don't support their children going into music until they make it. My parents supported me from the beginning, financially and morally. The first music launching I ever did in Ondo town in 1997, my father gave me N10,000 and his words of wisdom to me then, which I still hold close to my heart, was, 'When you look at your neighbours, God is trying to show you what is possible.' And who are my neighbours? They are my peers, D'banj, Tu-Face, R.Kelly, Jay Z and Lil Wayne. So, through them, God is trying to show me what is possible. It is now left for me to determine what is impossible.
How come you didn't think of studying music in school?
Music is not something you study in a classroom. Every career has a school and, for me, the school of music is the streets, because experience is the degree. So, I went to school of music, but it was on the streets. In the classroom, I studied Accountancy at the Ibadan Polytechnic between 1997 and 2001. Accounting has helped me to be prudent in terms of managing finances. I am like a sponge and I learn everyday. I educate myself every now and then. There is still so much I want to do in life. For me, education is something I will acquire till I die. I learn every day. Education is experience.
What caused the break up of the group Maintain?
The only constant thing in life is change. We have been together since 1997, but it was a few members of the group that remained together and brought out hit songs from 1998 to 2004. We just got to a point in our careers where change was inevitable and we had to pursue our different goals in different directions. We all wanted to try something else. In all fairness, we knew it was best to move on in separate directions instead of slowing one another down.
Do you think there might be a reunion?
For me, I'm trying to build a legacy. Maintain gave birth to me and it's like a parent to me. I am Maintain's son. Will a son go back to his father someday? Yes, obviously he will. But as a musical group, as friends, as business partners, only time will tell.
Maintain will always be a part of me. I carry it wherever I go, and that is one of the reasons why I didn't drop the name. I want people to know exactly where I am coming from. We are first cousins and we chat with each other always.
The song, Yahozee is about fraud popularly known as 'Yahoo, yahoo'…
The song appeals to everybody_ little kids, youths and the elderly. The song has a unilateral connection with people. They connect to the dance in the song and the song is an ambassador for the dance. People have been working from Monday until Thursday and they decide to unwind on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It is because you owe it to yourself. That is what the song is all about, that you should get out the champagne and relax after a hard week work.
Nobody is interested in how you got to where you are. Everybody is interested in results. Nobody cares if you read all night; they only want to see good grades. Life is based on what you do. Even Jesus Christ was misconceived. Every work of art is subject to criticism. The song has nothing to do with yahoo, yahoo.
Has the song denied you a visa?
No. It has made me an ambassador for giving people visas. As a result of the song, I have a very good relationship with diplomats who love the song. The song has rewarded me greatly.
After 'Yahozee', you started 'spraying' money at events, why?
That is my way of paying tithes to the streets. So, whatever I am paid at a show, I give some to the people. If I am paid N2 million, I will spray N200,000. It is either I spray the cash or give out something I have on me, like my belt, which may cost much more. Recently, I gave out my blings at a concert. They cost thousands of pounds.
I give back to the society that has given so much to me.
You bought a Hummer jeep and returned it because you could not maintain it.
I will answer this question very soon; sooner than people think.
A lot of people complain that you are arrogant.
I am human, very sensitive. But there is a thin line between seeing a man as being arrogant and being envious or jealous of the man. It is the natural state of the human being to be selfish. Arrogance is a matter of perception. You can only do your best and leave the rest. I always try not to point an accusing finger at anybody because all the other four are pointing at me.
How come you live in a hotel?
I have not spent 14 days at a stretch in this country since November last year. It has been impossible for me to move into my house. I travel out of the country and when I come back, I spend like four days in different states and travel back.
We heard you bought a house.
I have bought a house, a three-bedroom apartment in Anthony area of Lagos. But I have not moved in yet.
I have very sensitive taste when it comes to interior decoration, so I like to be there when it is decorated. But because I am not always around, I can't get that done. It's not by choice that I have not moved into my house yet. Yes, I am not the only busy Nigerian artiste, but everybody has their own schedule. For me, things are now at the peak. I may decide to move into somewhere else.
Tell us a bit about your group, Kentro World.
Kentro World is a group made up of people that have been with me over the years, but behind the scene. The basis of forming Kentro World is to reward their loyalty towards me over the years. I feel this is a platform for stars to be born. I see Kentro World as a promotion for the boys. I see it as a way of showing appreciation to them, giving them a chance to be stars, and extending my legacy as an artiste. I have 180 per cent confidence in them that they can make it.
How did you manage to convince Femi Kuti to do a 'collabo' with you?
We were in a studio in London and there was this instrumental we were doing. The producer introduced the Saxophone beat on the keyboard and it just changed the route of that instrumental from Hip Hop to Afro beat, which gave birth to this concept of merging Hip Hop and Afro beat. We decided to bring in the king of Afro beat on that track. We thought he would turn us down, as he hadn't done this before. We went to the shrine when we got back to the country. We approached his sister and she told him and he accepted. He agreed that we should record it in the country and work with our time frame. We recorded the song Lady.
Why did you give it that title?
I titled it Lady because I wanted it to be similar to the song about the African woman sung by his father.
Should we look forward to more collaboration?
It has opened a lot of doors. People now see me as someone that has matured. It has expanded my fan base. When you do a collabo with someone of Femi Kuti's calibre, it makes people see you from a different perspective. We are planning to shoot the video. For me, a duet should be because there is a fundamental reason for wanting to blend two different brands, and that is what I am trying to show to the world.
Are you working on another hit after Yahoozee?
Yahozee was released on May 17 last year. A new album is coming out in October, and I know that it is going to be a hit. We have recorded about 30 songs and the challenge now is picking 12 that would make the album. I don't just want to make a 12-tracker album; I want to make 12 hits. I want the album to be one that people will listen to back-to-back.
Who is your girlfriend?
I am not in a relationship now. A relationship is not something you go looking for. I want to allow nature to take its cause. When it is time for it, it will come.
Are there no ladies for you to choose from?
The problem is not that there are no ladies, the problem is there are too many ladies and it makes one's choice complex. The problem is separating the brand from the man; I mean separating Olu Maintain from Olumide Adegbolu. It is not a problem, but it is emotionally tasking.
Has any lady broken your heart?
The thing is how many times has my heart been broken? It has been broken three times. They say once bitten, twice shy. But the way love is, you go into it blindly and you get these results. And one is never wise with love.
How do you keep female admirers at bay?
I don't keep them at bay; I love them. Why would I keep my fans at bay? They made me, so I am very accessible to them. There are only three things that make the world go round; women, wine and wealth. It's a privilege to be appreciated by the opposite sex. I don't abuse it. Fans are the solid foundation that this legacy is built on, and I take them just as fans.
How have you been coping with scandals?
You must always acknowledge the fact that for everything there must be a price to pay. To attain success, scandals are one of the prices you pay. Good press and bad press are inevitable, because sometimes, depending on how you manage them, they both have their highs and lows. It just shows that people care about what happens to you, because once there is bad press about you, people who love you would start asking questions, and the quest to know the truth expands your brand. People who write bad stories think they are harming me, but they are helping my fans to know more about me by finding out if what is written is true. I am still here.
Why do you always wear 'blings'?
'Bling' is Hip Hop. It shines; it stands out. The thing that makes a star stand out in the big sky is because it shines. So, when you are a star, it is an obligation that you shine.
You can shine in a lot of ways. It could be in terms of what you stand for or in terms of your appearance. I want to shine and stand out, and the 'bling' is part of it.
Critics say you don't really know how to dress for events.
We are humans and always prone to mistakes. And mistakes can be objective or subjective. What I feel is good fashion sense might not tally with the next man's idea of what it is. Fashion is a thing of the mind. It is a matter of opinion. It is how you best feel is comfortable for you. As long as I can defend what I am wearing and the reason I am wearing it, it's okay. I am casual, sporty, corporate, conservative and loud.
What is it about you that most people don't know?
I am a shy person and people don't know that. I won't say I am anti-social, but I don't like clubbing. I don't drink and I don't smoke. But when people watch my videos, they think I do those things I portray. But I don't. I am a mystery.
Now that it looks like you are made, what more can you ask God for?
I cannot ask Him for anything more. He has done too much for me already. If I dedicate the rest of my life to being grateful for what He has done for me, it would still not be enough. I just thank Him for what He has done.
What is your vision like?
In five years from now, I would be older and more experienced. That would be the key foundation of what I would be reflecting. I have a plan and I am trying to execute the plan. I tread carefully and try to act more and say less.
Do you have any advice for up and coming musicians?
I would give them my father's advice. They should look at their neighbours and they would see that God is trying to show them something. That is all they need.
Everything about life is time. Everybody has the time to shine, but they should pray to God that when it is their time, He would give them wisdom to know that it is their time and make the right decisions. You can't get anywhere in life by trying to pull the next man down, because it is through him that God is trying to show you what is possible.
Who are your role models?
My father is my ultimate role model. It is not because he is my father, but because he is a wonderful man. He is not only my father, he is my friend. Nelson Mandela, Barrack Obama, the late M.K.O Abiola, Governor Fashola of Lagos are also my role models.