Cob­hams Asuquo


as i grew older and i gained more un­der­stand­ing of the in­tri­ca­cies of liv­ing as a sight­less per­son in a world de­signed for sighted peo­ple, i was faced with the loom­ing pos­si­bil­ity of fail­ure in my life. But what i ac­tu­ally con­sid­ered to be much worse was that peo­ple were ready to ex­cuse my fail­ure be­cause of my dis­abil­ity; which brings me to my first les­son, do not ex­cuse fail­ure for any rea­son, on any ac­count. - Cob­hams Asuquo (The Gift of Blind­ness, TEDx Eus­ton 2012) Meeting Cob­hams Asuquo, one is in­cred­i­bly awed and en­er­gized not only by his pres­ence but his dis­played in­tel­li­gence and zest for life. Many have con­fessed that he leaves them with the feel­ing that they have to do more. Born blind, this sound ge­nius re­fused to let the world de­fine him as dis­abled and was de­ter­mined to step out of his his­tory and cre­ate a bet­ter one. Cobahms prob­a­bly has a mil­lion se­crets to his suc­cess, but one that stands out is his child­like abil­ity to trust and be­lieve. Sev­eral awards and lots of in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tions later, this just seems to be the be­gin­ning for him. In this in­ter­view with KONYE CHELSEA NWABO­GOR, Cobahms talks about his every­day life, his re­la­tion­ship with mu­sic, and his de­but al­bum “For You”.

how did you be­come so con­nected to the world with­out be­ing able to see?

By be­ing smart and sen­si­tive and judg­ing all of that is rel­a­tive. This is what I know that I am - quite aware of my space and go­ings-on around me and go­ings-on in the world. Sight has not been a lim­i­ta­tion be­cause for­tu­nately I am blessed with the abil­ity to read. If you can read and you are in­ter­ested enough in go­ings-on around you, you can be just as con­nected to the world as any­one else. A big part of what helped to shape my sense of aware­ness, judg­ment and at­ti­tude is just my love for reading and en­gag­ing in mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tion. I like to think that I am a big pic­ture per­son but then again the level of that is also rel­a­tive. All th­ese things In­flu­ence how my per­son­al­ity builds.

What got you into mu­sic, and at what point did you de­cide to start pur­su­ing it se­ri­ously?

It is dif­fi­cult to say what par­tic­u­lar in­ci­dence or sit­u­a­tion drew me to start mak­ing mu­sic. From as early as when I be­gan to have cog­nizance of con­scious­ness, I had be­gun to make mu­sic. I would puff my cheeks and play the 12 bar blues, I would lock my­self up in the bath­room and whis­tle just be­cause I en­joyed the re­ver­ber­at­ing ef­fect. So I have al­ways made mu­sic. I am not sure I can put my fin­ger on when it all started but it might be the fact that I en­joy my environment and a lot of my in­ter­ac­tion with my environment is au­di­tory and based on what I feel, hear smell and not so much what I see. mu­sic is an art form that’s very heavy on hear­ing and sound and that might have nat­u­rally and or­gan­i­cally trans­lated into me mak­ing mu­sic. This is me try­ing to an­a­lyze the sit­u­a­tion but what I know is that I have al­ways made mu­sic.

you’re awe­some with the pi­ano and gui­tar, how did you de­velop your skills?

I have had to pay the price to de­velop my skills. I went to a pri­mary school for blind and par­tially-sighted chil­dren, Pa­celli School for the blind. There were times I would steal my way into the mu­sic room by any means pos­si­ble, le­gal and il­le­gal, just to play on the pi­ano or to play the gui­tar. I re­mem­ber one par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion where I made my way into the mu­sic room through a bro­ken win­dow, just to play the pi­ano. Every op­por­tu­nity I got to sit in front of a pi­ano, I played and prac­ticed. And men­tally, I am al­ways sit­ting and mak­ing mu­sic in my mind and try­ing to work out the dy­nam­ics of sound. It’s some­thing I am con­stantly do­ing in my head or when I am sit­ting in front of an in­stru­ment. The de­sire to be great at what I do helped me build pro­fi­ciency on the pi­ano and other in­stru­ments.

have you faced any bar­ri­ers as a mu­si­cian/pro­ducer due to your vis­ual im­pair­ment?

I have had my fair share of chal­lenges as a pro­ducer be­cause of my be­ing blind. I had to prove to mu­si­cians that as a young blind pro­ducer, I can cre­ate great mu­sic. So its two things rolled into one sit­u­a­tion, you are 15 years old and try­ing to pro­duce peo­ple who have gath­ered their ses­sion money from God knows where. On top of that, you are blind. It can seem like a recipe for a failed ses­sion if you don’t have faith. I had to prove I could do it and that meant work­ing 10 times harder than any­one else in my po­si­tion and of course, have peo­ple who were will­ing to take a chance with you. Every time I men­tion that, I re­mem­ber some­one like Big Bamo and the main­tain group who took a chance with me and af­ter that I be­came con­fi­dent enough to pro­duce my first sin­gle ‘Catch Cold’. It be­came pop­u­lar and the flood gates opened from there So its two things rolled into one sit­u­a­tion, you are 15 years old and try­ing to pro­duce peo­ple who have gath­ered their ses­sion money from God knows where. On top of that, you are blind. It can seem like a recipe for a failed ses­sion if you don’t have faith. on. more peo­ple were will­ing to take a chance know­ing I was ready to go the ex­tra mile and put in more ef­fort just to make my sound dif­fer­ent.

how do you de­fine your­self as a mu­si­cian?

First of all, for me, as a mu­si­cian, defin­ing your­self is not some­thing you sit down and do con­sciously. It’s on­go­ing and pro­gres­sive. It happens as you make your mu­sic, as you grow, travel, ex­pe­ri­ence the world and come into a dif­fer­ent level of con­scious­ness and dis­cover your life’s pur­pose. But what jumps at me when I think of defin­ing my­self as a mu­si­cian is - I think of my­self as a con­sum­mate mu­si­cian who en­joys mak­ing real, or­ganic, live mu­sic; one who un­der­stands and ap­pre­ci­ates mu­sic as an art form and would rather ex­press mu­sic as such. I un­der­stand the com­mer­cial value of mu­sic and the need for mu­sic to ap­peal to peo­ple but I also un­der­stand the need to al­ways grow my mu­sic with ex­cel­lence in mind. I would de­fine my­self as some­one who is con­stantly seek­ing to de­velop his craft, hone his skill and just cre­ate great mu­sic at all times. Cre­ate mu­sic that’s soul­ful, be­liev­able that peo­ple can con­nect with and has the po­ten­tial to gen­er­ate the power that comes from real mu­sic be­cause real mu­sic is a pow­er­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. This is what de­fines me as a mu­si­cian.

Does be­ing vis­ually im­paired, by any chance, make you hear mu­sic dif­fer­ently or deeper?

I don’t hear mu­sic dif­fer­ently be­cause of my vis­ual im­pair­ment. I know a lot of peo­ple who can see and whose in­ter­pre­ta­tion of mu­sic is def­i­nitely very com­plex and very so­phis­ti­cated. I ap­pre­ci­ate the works of peo­ple like Hanz­ima and Steve Glass who are mu­sic com­posers who score for movies and the com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor is just pay­ing at­ten­tion and build­ing that skill to a place where you can ex­press what you hear on a more com­plex level. Any­one can train to be adept and par­tic­u­lar about their sound if that is their de­sire. Though the lack of sight def­i­nitely re­duces dis­trac­tion for me, a sighted per­son can also hear and ex­press mu­sic in very com­plex forms.

over the years, your mu­sic has al­ways some­what held a mes­sage. Was it al­ways your in­ten­tion to use mu­sic as a ve­hi­cle for reach­ing the world, or were you just writ­ing songs you liked?

It’s al­ways been a mix of the two. It’s im­por­tant for me to cre­ate mu­sic that I en­joy but it’s also im­por­tant for me to find mean­ing in what­ever I do. No mat­ter my pro­fes­sion, what­ever I do would need to have a mes­sage, some­thing that is deeper and far reach­ing than just the prac­ti­cal­ity of do­ing the job and this ob­vi­ously comes through in my mu­sic. Then as you grow older, you re­al­ize that as a mu­si­cian, you ac­tu­ally are a voice and an in­flu­encer. When you un­der­stand the im­port of that po­si­tion, you be­come more in­ten­tional in terms of how you use it to in­flu­ence peo­ple. So even when you are not say­ing any­thing, you are say­ing a lot and I re­al­ize the power of that in mu­sic. mu­sic is a form of lit­er­a­ture and lit­er­a­ture in it­self is about life. my mu­sic ex­presses life as I see it, as I be­lieve it should be. I don’t be­lieve there’s any mu­sic with­out a mes­sage, what mat­ters is if it is a mes­sage that you agree with. Even if the mes­sage is just to dance and shake your body, then that’s the mes­sage, that’s what it wants to do and ul­ti­mately makes you do.

Why did it take you so long to re­lease your de­but al­bum?

I was work­ing on other peo­ple’s projects. One of the hard­est things to do is to work on your pro­ject while work­ing on other peo­ple’s projects be­cause you do not have the lux­ury of man­ag­ing your time the way you would like to. I had em­barked on a num­ber of projects be­fore my own al­bum, signed on artistes, tried to man­age them, recorded other artistes com­mer­cially, and just gen­er­ally done work in the mu­sic space. I had to shut down and pay at­ten­tion to mov­ing my pro­ject to the next level. Tim­ing is also an­other im­por­tant fac­tor. I had to wait for the right time to put it out. It was a painstak­ingly long process to record be­cause the al­bum is or­ganic and live. I had to go to dif­fer­ent places to find the right peo­ple I felt would com­ple­ment the pro­ject and would bring the kind of value and spe­cific sound that I was look­ing for. It was a process find­ing the right mu­si­cians and the right hands to help in­ter­pret the pro­ject.

What has the re­cep­tion from your fans been like?

Peo­ple have re­ceived my al­bum quite well and that’s very en­cour­ag­ing for me. I de­scribe it as a spe­cialty al­bum in a sense be­cause it ex­presses my re­la­tion­ship with God which is a very im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship in my life. This is usu­ally a sub­ject of ar­gu­ment in the in­creas­ingly lib­eral world of today but it’s in­ter­est­ing to see that it is well re­ceived by Chris­tians and non-Chris­tians alike which have been very en­cour­ag­ing and hum­bling for me.

Which of your works has meant the most to you, ei­ther for its per­sonal sig­nif­i­cance or the im­pact on your ca­reer?

That ques­tion is akin to an­swer­ing which of my chil­dren is my favourite child. I will not have a favourite child and that’s how I feel about my projects. Every pro­ject I have worked on has its sig­nif­i­cance and is unique by it­self, they all mean some­thing dif­fer­ent to me. They all cap­ture a dif­fer­ent time in my life. I was at Asa’s con­cert the other day and I was lis­ten­ing to the older songs like Eye Ad­aba and I thought, this is what I did with my youth, a young guy at 23 or 24 or there­about, am­bi­tious, try­ing to change the sound­scape, try­ing to do some­thing dif­fer­ent. I’m lis­ten­ing to Timi dakolo and I think yes! I am still am­bi­tious and I am do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent. I’m lis­ten­ing to Banky W and I can see where my heart is, you know just try­ing to drive a new sound. I’m lis­ten­ing to Somi and I’m like oh wow, I can see me grow­ing. So, from pro­ject to pro­ject, I see the sig­nif­i­cance and the time of life that it rep­re­sents for me and I don’t take any time of life for granted or feel like any­one is bet­ter than the other. They all come to­gether and tell an amaz­ing story.

What is your view on the nige­rian mu­sic scene today?

I’m very happy with how the Nige­rian mu­sic scene is grow­ing. I’m very happy that in more ways than one, mu­sic in Nige­ria is be­com­ing a uni­fy­ing fac­tor. For a coun­try as di­verse as ours, mu­sic has be­come a na­tional lan­guage. It’s fos­tered unity amongst mu­si­cians which in turn, is in­creas­ing cul­tural tol­er­ance. And although that’s some­thing that mu­sic does not get a lot of credit for, it’s some­thing that it def­i­nitely does in our Nige­ria of today. mu­sic is eas­ily one of our big­gest ex­ports right now even though it also does not get the credit that it de­serves. As Nige­ri­ans, we iden­tify Nol­ly­wood and iden­tify even more re­cently, our mu­sic as part of our cul­ture and her­itage and that is some­thing to be proud of. It is tak­ing kids off the street, putting food on peo­ple’s ta­ble and has be­come a tool for en­gag­ing the masses even on a cor­po­rate level. There’s so much hap­pen­ing that one can give credit to the Nige­rian mu­sic scene but it has its own chal­lenges in terms of struc­ture, how we man­age in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty and re­mem­ber the peo­ple who con­trib­uted to build­ing it to where it is, in terms of the laws that have been en­acted be­ing en­forced to pro­tect the rights of mu­sic cre­ators, pro­mot­ers and what have you. In terms of be­com­ing a busi­ness, I be­lieve there’s a lot that’s be­ing done and can still be done. I am very happy that it’s grow­ing in leaps and bounds and we can­not take that for granted. I just hope that we will deal with the foun­da­tional is­sues early enough just so that we wouldn’t have gone too far and have to ex­pe­ri­ence com­pul­sory re­gres­sion as a re­sult.

Do you think the days of your kind of mu­sic that touches our soul and cre­ates memories are gone?

I don’t think they’ll ever be gone. If any­thing, I feel that that’s the most rel­e­vant kind of mu­sic be­cause we are hu­man be­ings and as long as we are alive, we are ever in­ter­act­ing and our in­ter­ac­tions have all th­ese dif­fer­ent com­po­nents and parts, in­trigues, joys and pains and ev­ery­thing else of liv­ing. I feel like mu­sic as with many other art forms, ex­presses th­ese in­ter­ests and in­trigues and all that we go through. The kind of mu­sic that I cre­ate con­tin­ues to re­main rel­e­vant as long as peo­ple are happy or sad, as long as peo­ple need to be mo­ti­vated or ex­press them­selves. I feel like all we do is in a man­ner that is melod­i­cally sound, son­i­cally in­tel­li­gent, lyri­cally sen­si­ble and witty. We take peo­ple’s ex­pe­ri­ences and put it to­gether, that’s the mu­sic that we cre­ate. I don’t think Bob mar­ley will stop hav­ing fans or Fela or any­one who has cre­ated real mu­sic for that mat­ter.

how would you de­fine the power of mu­sic and what is the mes­sage you aim to im­part through yours?

mu­sic is pow­er­ful. It is such an in­flu­encer. You think of mu­sic the same way you think of religion, drugs, foot­ball or any­thing that is able to in­flu­ence how a per­son thinks or his views or his un­der­stand­ing. mu­sic is in that space. It’s a very spir­i­tual ex­er­cise. It can make you sad or happy or tense, it can leave you feel­ing hor­ri­fied and that’s why mu­sic is such an in­te­gral part of putting a movie to­gether be­cause it helps you to ex­pe­ri­ence the movie and com­pletes all th­ese sen­si­bil­i­ties. That makes mu­sic a very pow­er­ful artis­tic ex­pres­sion and be­cause I rec­og­nize that from a cre­ative as well as an aca­demic and sci­en­tific point of view, I in­tend to use that to drive the mes­sage and the things I be­lieve in. I be­lieve very strongly in love, tol­er­ance, con­sid­er­a­tion from one hu­man be­ing to the other, free­dom, peace and peace of mind. I be­lieve that its right to have a good time and there are a lot of things to con­sider just with the dy­nam­ics of mu­sic and how it works. I use mu­sic to drive th­ese thoughts and mes­sages that are my be­liefs. I am do­ing that slowly but surely, one day at a time, us­ing my un­der­stand­ing of mu­sic to cre­ate my val­ues and what I be­lieve. That’s what I am about.

Who is your favourite indige­nous nige­rian artiste? and why do you like his/her sound?

I don’t know that I have a favourite Nige­rian indige­nous artiste. I lis­ten to a wide va­ri­ety of Nige­rian mu­sic. I like them all from the old to the very new. It is as wide and as vary­ing as from Olamide to Si­nach to Bar­ris­ter to Inyang Hen­shaw to Rex Law­son, just name it, I en­joy Nige­rian mu­sic gen­er­ally.

What is the best sound in the world to you?

I have never thought of that so I would re­ally have to think about it. I en­joy a lot of sounds and in­ter­est­ingly, a lot of them are not mu­si­cal. I like the sound of crash­ing waves. I think that’s re­ally beau­ti­ful but I won’t say that’s the best sound. I like the sound of my own brain, it sounds like a high fre­quency, a high pitch sound when you block both your ears with your fin­gers, and when you are in a very quiet place. Those are very in­ter­est­ing sounds. Some peo­ple call it the sound of si­lence but I don’t think it’s ever re­ally silent. I feel like it’s the sound the brain makes as it pro­cesses. I en­joy a lot of weird sounds.

can you walk into a room and feel a vibe?

I walk into a room and I feel a vibe all the time, that’s how I live. When you trust and live that way, you be­come adept it and it be­comes like a life­style for you. my con­ver­sa­tions are al­ways two ways, there’s what you tell me and what your body and essence tells me as well. That’s how I ab­sorb and process the in­for­ma­tion that I get when I have con­ver­sa­tions. So yes, I walk into a room and I feel a vibe all the time.

What are the three songs you’re most proud to have in­tro­duced to the world?

I won’t nec­es­sar­ily say they are my favourite songs. One of them would be mr. jailer by Asa, the other would be Great Na­tion by Timi dakolo. I am not sure but I think the third would prob­a­bly be Or­di­nary Peo­ple by me.

What’s a typ­i­cal day in the life of cob­hams asuquo?

It starts with me wak­ing up and won­der­ing if my son crawled into my bed in the mid­dle of the night, try­ing to get him up and ready for school. I like to just med­i­tate and pray and com­mune with my cre­ator. I don’t know if this is good or bad, but the other three things I do af­ter the afore­men­tioned and of course af­ter I have had a con­ver­sa­tion with my wife, I check my mail, I check In­sta­gram and I check Linda Ikeji. I do those three things al­most like clock­work. Then I make a ton of phone calls. I work from my bed a lot, mak­ing phone calls mostly. Some­times I pace my room, go down­stairs, pace the liv­ing area, mak­ing more phone calls. I spend a lot of time in the stu­dio mak­ing mu­sic, vib­ing with my team, mak­ing more phone calls, hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions, and just be­ing in a cre­ative space. Also th­ese days es­pe­cially, I plan, have con­ver­sa­tions about the tour, try­ing to catch a flight. Re­cently, a lot of my days start in a ho­tel and it just goes on and on. Some­time dur­ing the day, I take out time to eat. I might end up in the stu­dio till late; my days run into each other quite of­ten be­cause I’m al­ways work­ing on stuff. I make out time to spend time with my fam­ily. That’s im­por­tant to me so I do that some­time in the evening. my wife and I can some­times sit in front of the TV, catch a good movie and laugh and have a good con­ver­sa­tion. my days are mostly easy, I think.

if you could re­gain your sight, what is the first thing you’d love to see?

That’s a good ques­tion. You would imag­ine I do that all the time but I haven’t re­ally thought about it or what that would be. maybe my wife’s face be­cause I think it would make her happy but I’m not sure. I would have to think about that.

the kind of mu­sic that i cre­ate con­tin­ues to re­main rel­e­vant as long as peo­ple are happy or sad, as long as peo­ple need to be mo­ti­vated or ex­press them­selves. i feel like all we do is in a man­ner that is melod­i­cally sound, son­i­cally in­tel­li­gent, lyri­cally sen­si­ble and witty.

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