by Tolu Ogunlesi
The first time I met ‘Kissbaby’, 21, he was a security guard at the Silverbird Galleria in Lagos. I was driving out of the parking lot, and as is standard practice in Lagos, tipped him. Then I became curious. I wanted to know what he did with all the tips he got. What I heard was somewhat surprising. He told me he saved up all his money to pay for recording sessions at music studios.
By the time I meet him again, a few months after the first encounter; he has left his security-guard job. “The salary is too poor; not enough to fulfil my needs… mostly my studio stuff.” That is not all. “The work is not encouraging,” he says. “People always underrate you whenever they see you putting on security uniform.”
But his job is about the only thing that’s changed. The passion for music is still as potent as ever. “As you see me, looking at my appearance, you see music in me. Even if I am not there, my shirt is smelling of music!” he declares. Even the job was meant to be a way of furthering his musical ambitions. “The main reason I decided to work was because of my music, so I’d be able to get money and come out with my album.” His decision to get a job at the Galleria, he says, was influenced by his desire to network, to seek a “connection” that’d advance his budding music career.
The Galleria (a popular hangout for celebrities, and home to one of Lagos’ biggest music stores) is part of the Silverbird Group, which is arguably Nigeria’s largest and most prominent entertainment conglomerate, encompassing radio, television, beauty pageants, and music festivals. “Different types of people always come in… I met them,” he says.
He started work on the album in October 2007, just after he got the job, and about five months after he arrived Lagos from Warri, his native town, in the oil-rich Niger delta region of Nigeria. He says he had already established a reputation doing shows in Ughelli, a prominent town east of Warri. He left all that behind to start afresh in Lagos, a city he describes as “peaceful when you’re gentle, [but] bad when you’re a bad guy.”
While working at Silverbird he was introduced to the “Music Governor” of the Nu-metro store*, who decided what albums made it onto the store's shelves. “I met with him, luckily we are from the same state. I told him I’m an artist, he promised to give me money to book for a [studio] session, for me to try my ability. I went to see him in my security uniform. When he saw my appearance he said ‘are you sure you’re an artist? If you’re an artist why are you putting on this security uniform?’” The ‘Governor’ asked him to come back the next day for the money.
It’d take much longer than the next day for that promise to materialise. Kissbaby remained undaunted. “I took it as a challenge, that instead of waiting for him, let me do something and then show him.” So he gathered some money, and went to the studio. “The first salary I took from [there] plus what my colleagues gave me, I used to do my first song.” That first song is titled “Only One.” And then finally caught the attention of the Governor, for good. When he sold his mobile phone, in order to get feeding money, it was the Governor who bought him another phone.
Kissbaby is supremely confident about the future. He already has four songs recorded. He tells me that even the name Kissbaby is a presage of things to come. “Whenever you call me Kissbaby, I see the future – it looks so bright and great. God wants me to be a musician. The name is a symbol of greatness.” Which seems to be why he is hesitant when I ask him for his birth name. (It's not because the original name’s a mouthful: “Adedeta Oghenenyore.”)
His confidence about the future does not end at who he will be in a few years. It extends to “where” as well. “Two years from now I’ll be going to the [United States] to contest anybody contestable in music!”
However, being an ardent member of Christ Embassy Church, back home in Warri and now in Lagos, he acknowledges the importance of putting his faith in God. “Without God you cannot do anything. When he says go, you’re out already. I’m still waiting for him; he said it’s not time yet…”
Interview conducted in Lagos, Nigeria in 2008. I was in touch with Kissbaby for about two years after that, but have sadly since lost contact.
Nu-metro stores no longer exists in Lagos. The South African chain shut down a few years ago.