“Say what you want but Mr. Eazi insists Ghana has an influence on Nigerian Music”

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Mr. Eazi has a scar, blackened and faded by time and age; it runs for about an inch or so from his left eye. They tell a story, his eyes, in the way he pulls down the corner of his eye while making an argument, his brows moving as though they had a muscle of their own independent of his neuromuscular system.

Eazi is focused on his phone; he smiles at it, brushing his hands through his hair. Soon a sound blares from his phone, a humorous monologue is playing. In the video, Eazi (acted out by Instagram comedian, Oluwakaponeski) is on his own – denied by Nigeria artistes and producers, turned away by his musician friends in Ghana. Eazi smiles, his eyes twinkling with mischief as he reposts the video on his Instagram. Life is

Life is Eazi; nothing will rob him off his happiness without his permission. Not today, or tomorrow.

Finally, he puts down the phone and we settle for the interview.

Eazi is clad in a black shirt, patterned elaborately with flags of different African countries. He is sitting on a sofa in a friend’s living room – where later that day a number of other guests will gather for an evening of laughter and good music. Eazi could easily be mistaken for a university student or a recent graduate. There is playfulness – boy next door kind of feel – in the way he is dressed and in the manner in which he speaks. He stares with curious glint in his eyes, as if he knows nothing and everyone else knows more than he does. But despite this, Eazi appears comfortable and confident in the world he has created for himself.

I begin to think of Eazi as a post-modern Pan-African man, much in the same way you’d think of most young Nigerians: tech savvy, a mishmash of borrowed and indigenous cultures. Only Eazi is not random. He performs at sold-out concerts around the world. And even though he is conscious of his heritage, his brand tells a story that doesn’t pander to Western stereotype of what Africa should or shouldn’t be.

In a way, Eazi is perhaps West Africa’s joint child: his sound is neither here or there as he so elegantly borrows influences from different places across the region and fuses them brilliantly in his music, creating a signature sound that many have begun to imitate.

Alongside Tekno, Eazi is arguably 2016 biggest wave maker, churning out hits after hits that have found home in clubs around the world and in the heart of Nigerians – and Africans across the globe.

A child of the internet, Eazi’s musical talent was loved by the internet long before he – Eazi – fell in love with his music and Nigerian, even, heard of him. His quick rise to stardom wasn’t a lone work. He was, in fact, propelled to stardom by the efforts of others who believed in his talent, people who saw what he didn’t even see in his own songs and talent.

My colleague, Chukwukere interrupts, he points out to Eazi that the first time he ever heard of him was from a friend who’d returned home from Canada during the summer holidays. Eazi agrees. Africans in the West were the first to appreciate his talents, after Ghana, and then the Caribbean before Nigeria and the rest of Africa.

Eazi recalls the first show he earned money for performing his music. It was in London. The organizers of the show had invited him to perform, confused as to why these people loved his music so much, Eazi – who at the time had no manager – convinced a friend to pose as his manager. One thousand pounds was the sum the show organizers called, but this was countered – albeit, with little seriousness – by Eazi and his pretend manager. Two thousand pounds, was the counteroffer. The show organizers agreed. That show, and others that followed in London, was sold out. And the trend continued across multiple countries till his sold out concert in Lagos last December.

Eazi’s rise was organic, untangled to any marketing or PR strategy or begging for free airtime or shows. He rose because his music was good; people loved his sound, his boyish – at times – soulful tone. Eazi – unlike most artistes – have no street credibility to brag about, and he doesn’t brag about being from the street. He isn’t. He never hustled the way most upcoming artiste hustled to get to where they are.

“It was his grace,” Eazi says. “God has been good.”

Eazi, in so many ways, is a perfect example that Nigeria’s music scene is changing, first. Quality, over noise and empty lyrics.

A mechanical engineer by training and academic qualification, Eazi, who had worked for tech startup, phonetrader.ng, before being sucked in almost completely by music, sees his music as a product, the same way a developer seeing a software as a product. He applies his own version of the scientific method to his musical work, testing new music on a sample group before release and using technological tools to make detailed analysis before making a decision. Perhaps, you and I might have been part of a Mr. Eazi test without knowing.

The Life is Eazi concert in Lagos wasn’t just a careless decision made on assumption, it was a well thought out decision made after Eazi observed that in the last few months, Lagos accounted for over 60 percent of his follower count. So he studied other trends online before deciding on hosting the Lagos concert, which, as predicted, sold out. This pattern of decision making he had applied in his other concerts in London, Ireland, Ghana, etc.

Eazi is first a business man who understands his brand and his market, brilliantly deploying technology when and where necessary, thus resulting in his music being “self-sufficient.” His success, he says, is an “undeserved success,” yet he wears this new found success so well, confidently.

He had always underestimated himself, “I plan for the best, but also expect the worst,” Eazi says, pulling the side of lips into his usual boyish smile that beguiled his age and experience across multiple sectors.

Before the Lagos concert, Eazi notes, indigenous rapper, Phyno, was the biggest influence. Phyno believed in his talent and knew that he – Eazi – could pull off the unbelievable feat – that few artistes not named Olamide – have ever pulled off, with little or no marketing and PR. Eazi doesn’t invest much in advertising or PR. He’d learnt during his startup days how to sell products on a small budget and this knowledge he applies to his music business.

And even though he hasn’t attended church in almost two months, Eazi is religious and believes wholly in the power of the divine. This divinity from heaven, Eazi says, is the reason for his success, not his hard work or talent or ability.

*******

Mr. Eazi stretched out his leg, crossed the left one over the right, before burying one of his right hand in between his outstretched legs, leaving his left for gesticulating and emphasising his point. We’ve been talking for over thirty minutes.

Before settling on the name ‘Eazi’, he had gone through other names, including Tosin Swagger. He laughs at the name, a throaty laugh that seems to rise from deep within and then fizzle out once it left his lips.

I ask Eazi about his music spiced with that unique sound that he is known for up and down West Africa and across the world. “My music is an expression of my personality,” Eazi says.

His lyrics come mostly from his experience even some of his inane, although catchy, chorus like “you think say the world dey revolve around your bum bum.” It all comes from his experience, he declares.

Even though he had been in showbiz for a while, hosting parties and recording music during his undergraduate and graduate days in Ghana, Eazi avoided the spotlight, choosing instead to use cartoons as artwork for some of his musical releases because he was conscious of the dent music might leave on his personal brand. Eazi’s plan throughout his school days in Ghana was to rise through the corporate ladder. He wanted, always wanted, to be a CEO.

Eazi picks up the bottle of water next to him, he drinks from it, makes a face before turning to me as I asked him the question about his Twitter comment that had trended for near on 24 hours.

The same internet that fell in love with Eazi now threatens to pull him down. But Eazi isn’t ready to be pulled down. His true fans understand him and what he meant when he posted that tweet, Eazi says.

His first reaction on seeing the reaction from Nigerians at his tweet – which stated unequivocally that Ghana has an influence in Nigerian sound – was to laugh. He thought it was funny, really, and was ready to move on from the drama. But first he insists that people are taking his statement out of context completely.

And now as he talks about the Nigerian sound, Eazi’s voice raises, a sign that he was making a passionate argument about something he has been trying to say but not everybody understands. His tone becomes philosophical.

“What’s the highest grossing single of last year, globally?” he asked. His eyes darting from me to Chukwukere and then on his manager, who had entered the room minutes ago.

“Fada-Fada, Phyno,” I answered.

“No, I’m talking globally.”

“Drake’s One Dance,” I say. This time my answer was correct.

Eazi makes the argument that One Dance is a global sound, borrowing influence from different cultures and countries. From the Caribbean to the UK, to West Africa and the USA: this, Eazi points out, shows the brilliance of the team that worked on the song; their ability to fuse different sounds into one, creating a piece that anyone around the world could dance and relate to.

From Justin Beiber to Drake, you’d find a growing number of musicians infusing dancehall and other sounds into their music. In doesn’t diminish their sound or make them any less original. The next wave of music is coming to West Africa, Wizkid had predicted and Eazi agrees, completely. Wizkid, Eazi says, has always called for other African artistes to be united for when this wave comes so they do not make the same mistake that he – Wizkid – made.

We do not grow by staying at a place. But by going into uncharted waters, learning the style and fusing it into our own life. That is growth, evolution. And it doesn’t remove the authenticity from anything or anyone. Eazi’s argument appears to be towing this line.

He further points out that he wasn’t in anyway trying to undermine the essence of Nigerian music, or questioning its authenticity, instead he was trying to point out that our music has grown so much that it now combines sounds from other places, including Ghana.

He discovered this recently while working on his soon to be released EP, Accra to Lagos. The EP, Eazi explains, will feature Nigerian and Ghanaian sounds fused together in different songs to create a trans-country phenomenon. He has a number of A-list Ghanaian and Nigerian artistes and producers on the EP. Whilst the Nigerian producers worked on their beats, Eazi observed that underneath the layers of instrumentation and synths was something very much Ghanaian (a Ghanaian bounce, he called it).

He claps his hands: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 5, 6, imitating a Ghanaian beat. He invites me to sing any mainstream Nigerian song, so we can test out his theory. I decline, but he continues anyway. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 5, 6, he claps.

Our music habit has evolved to a point where we now take influence from other places and own it, making it ours completely. This, Eazi argues, is brilliance. The things Nigerian producers do – things people go to school to learn – is pure magic; especially how they fuse different sounds and make them uniform.

If you think it’s easy, go to the studio and try recording on a beat, Eazi challenges me. Music isn’t easy, especially when you have to calm the storm from different sounds that may or may not be compatible. Eazi uses a humorous metaphor to explain tghe difficulty in mixing sounds and borrowing same, he tells us about his inability to cook noodles and egg. Try what he might, the egg is always too salty or something else is off.

Eazi’s mother is from Iselle Uku, Delta State. He recalls his maternal grandfather’s records of highlife music. He enjoyed them. But he was surprised to hear that same highlife sound in Ghana highlife. Eazi cannot explain the similarity of highlife in Ghana and highlife in Southern Nigerian. Or who influenced who. But either ways, a sound pattern travelled through countries and found their way in the homes and heart of thousands, none questioning the origin(s) of their indigenous ‘sound’.

Eazi, without knowing it, has unleashed an argument – that is deserving of academic research – on what the African music is or isn’t. What is “Naija sound?” This argument will most likely play out for a long time, both on and off social media.

Beyond music, Ghana has had a whole lot of effect on Eazi. Without Ghana, Eazi will not be the man he is today. In Ghana he first ‘chyked’ a girl, had his first heartbreak, became broke, earned money. Eazi was born in Nigeria, he grew in Nigeria, but he became a man in Ghana, went through those crucial formative and emotionally tasking years – when a boy begins to transition into a man – in Ghana.

Despite the hate-love relationship between Nigeria and Ghana (a complex relationship that has affected everything from both countries’ government diplomatic relationship to the famous, never ending jollof rice war), Eazi argues that both countries are alike in many ways. Although Nigerians will fail to see or agree to this, but Eazi insists that whatever works in Nigeria will most likely work in Ghana, and beyond.

He tells me the story of how he sold Lacasera drinks in Ghana, taking bottles of the drink across two countries to his second home. He soon became a Lacasera distributor in Ghana. Same with shawarma. Seeing how popular it has become in the street of Lagos, Eazi said he approached some guys that make the fast food, promising them double of their salary if they come with him to Ghana. He set up his shawarma business in Accra. No need asking, Eazi made his profits here too.

*******

Minutes later, after our conversation ended and we stood listening to Eazi talk about his father – who insists on calling him Tosin most times, but also manages to refer to him as Mr. Eazi once in a while– a phone is handed to Eazi by his manager, a TV station is on the line. They are asking what his controversial tweet meant. Eazi, who stepped out of the room to answer the call, leans on the stair wall, brushes his hand through his hair, as he speaks into the phone. I wasn’t sure if the look on his face was irritation or exhaustion. Maybe it was his phone face – whatever that means.

Later as we make to leave, ace designer, Mai Atafo, saunters in. He seats next to Mr. Eazi, right after greeting some of Nollywood and Lagos finest gathered in the room. Atafo turns to Eazi, makes a joke about bringing girls with crushes on Eazi, before zooming in on the latter’s Twitter gaffe.

“Zagadat!” Atafo exclaims, before doubling over in wide guffaws.

Eazi gives his gentle, almost boyish smile.

Obviously, he was tired, really tired, of explaining his tweet. Eazi is ready to move on. Life is Eazi, isn’t it?

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