I took a break from music to focus on business —African China
Chinagorom Onuoha, popularly known as African China, is one of Nigeria’s foremost reggae/dancehall sensation. The Chief Executive Officer of 45 Entertainment commenced a professional career in music in 1999 releasing notable songs such as Crisis, Mr President and No Condition is Permanent among others. Born in Orile in Lagos State and known for his radical and egalitarian lyrical tendencies, African China was said to have been compelled to abandon music for business. But in this interview with Newton-Ray Ukwuoma, he opens up about his life outside of music among other things. Excerpts:
Many politicians do not like your music back in the days. How did it make you feel?
I couldn’t really worry much. For me, I was happy about the impact of my songs. I believed that someone needed to speak for this country, and I did quite often. Even now, when I go to events, people keep greeting and welcoming me so warmly. Sometimes, it is overwhelming. You know what they tell me? They say, “You said it. But nobody listened to you. All the things you said are still happening today.” “Mr President, food no dey” was released about eighteen years ago and people are still hungry till date.
What inspired you to write those songs?
The spirit that lives in me. It was the spirit that saw tomorrow. I didn’t sing about those things on my own. They were prophecies as anyone can testify today. And, of course, the ugly events and the anguish of the people were also a motivating factor. When my colleagues were busy singing about love and girls, I chose to speak into the present and the future of Nigeria.
These songs: Mr President and Letter to Mr President, did they earn you any ugly brushes with the powers that be at that time?
No. If they tried, it will only encourage me to do another song. I was waiting for any action. Let me tell you, the government is not dumb. We actually have smart governments. When they listen to your songs, they know what you are saying, they know you have facts. Some of them are following me on Instagram, some are following me on Twitter and on Facebook. And they see my posts. Most of my posts on Facebook are political. They know that I do my research. Eighteen years ago, the newspaper was the only way we knew about the government, but in today the internet has made things a lot easier. I was not confrontation with anybody.
It has become a maxim that artistes who attack government are often not successful. How true is that?
Watch the kind of music they dance to especially the ones we find on social media, you would see that those songs are the ones that support or encourage what they do. And these are people who are supposed to take us to the next level. Then you ask yourself, where are we going?
So, how have you been coping?
Yes. I have been taking care of my business aside from music. Because if I don’t do it, these people want to see me beg. They want to make a scapegoat of me to those who might want to oppose their activities. I had to take care of my business so that I don’t come to lick asses or butts.
Do you think they succeeded because you have been out of the musical radar for too long?
No. They didn’t succeed. I simply took a break to reinforce. My fire is not out yet. I am here. I am not living a beggarly life. I am successful and I still have my fans. Though I cannot compare myself with any of these contemporary artistes because my music and my fanbase is more focused and people-oriented. People are going to see more of African China in the coming days.
What do you do now?
I run an event company. I am into property and real estate. I buy, build and sell. Sometimes, I buy, build and keep for myself. I have a salon called China town. I am an entrepreneur in short. And I am also planning on opening a lounge very soon in Owerri [Imo State]. We just acquired the property. My lounge will open soon. That is basically it.
If you are going to sign an artiste, would you sign a female artiste?
I wouldn’t lie to you; a female would not be the first signee for my record. I would like to sign a male artiste because in the industry, female artistes are regarded as the weaker link. If I have about three male artistes, I could make the fourth a female, so that the male artistes would properly guide her.
How did you get into music?
At a very early age, I discovered that I could dance, that was back in the days of Michael Jackson and break dance; John Player; Benson & Hedges concerts. I had a fling with dancing, break dance in particular. While I was dancing, I also began to mime songs like Chakachaka, Brenda Fassie, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Lucky Dube among others. I discovered too that I was doing pretty good at it. My elder brother suggested that I go to a music school, which I did, but dropped out. I ran into church. I joined the choir.
You started from the choir?
Yes. And then went out of church, to the streets.
Will you be going back to the church?
I still go to church, even though I don’t have a particular one, because these churches are becoming like politicians, they want to pin you down. I can go to Synagogue today, Redeem the next and House of the Rock after.
What is your take on the issue of tithing, a topic that is rather gaining ground on social media?
Tithing has become a serious issue in Nigeria today at least after Daddy Freeze began to speak about it. I think I support Freeze. We are not the one robbing God; it is the men of God that are robbing God. Once upon a time, these men of God did not have even bicycle, but now they have private jets, they have universities among other things. One would think it would have been only proper for them to allow the congregation, people who went extra mile to build the church and the universities, to at least afford these schools. But that is not the case of our big churches. People whose sweat built the schools can’t send their children to the schools. So, why am I paying the tithe?
Don’t you pay tithe to the churches you attend?
These days, I don’t go to the church any more. My church is in my heart. My wife keeps begging me to always go to church. I tell her to take the kids to church. The church is not for me because when you go to church, all they preach is prosperity. Let me ask, why are gospel singers not making it in Nigeria?
Do you have an answer?
It is because they tell them that they are doing it for God. “Hello, man of God, but why are you not doing your preaching for God? Instead you are making money.” These gospel artistes can’t go to shows because of the songs they do. I used to go to church before I backslide. And that’s me. I began to sing secular songs. Trust me since I started singing secular songs, I am okay.
What is your take on Nigerian police after your last experience?
The truth is in the police force, we have the good, the bad and the ugly. And I have come to realise that the younger officers are mostly the ones polluting the system and the senior officers are the ones trying to correct them. My encounter with the senior officers was much pleasant. For example, if you run into the police, once the junior officer starts harassing you and finds out that you know your right, trust me, the senior officer would show up to free you. Thinking about it now, I think they work hand in hand. I think they are the same. The government must sanitise our police force.