KOLABOY: ON TELLING STORIES THROUGH ARTS

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If there is a professional official chart for songs in the Eastern Nigerian music market, Kolaboy’s “Omalicha” (featuring Ejyk Nwamba) must have lived on the top of the chart for most of 2021. Similarly, if the media here had been strong enough, the social media bitter-sweet amorous drama that began as Ugoccie’s cover of “In my bed” by Rotimi and followed by replies from Kolaboy would have been on the top trends. Summarily, Chinonso Nwodo A.K.A Kolaboy was one of the biggest acts in Eastern Nigeria in the past year.

Some members of the Kulture Magazine team paid him a visit at his lodging place just after a concert. We sit patiently at the lounge and after a while, the light skin artiste crowned with a Hilfiger cap that couldn’t hide away his short dreadlocks even with the extra white towel over the cap emerged into the red lit atmosphere. He oozed of a mix of manly cologne and glorious meekness, a scent that awakened the spirits of the lounge. The dark shades shielding his eyes didn’t do enough in masking his reticence. The lounge was star studded with parochial celebrities including Ezegetive, Oga Legend and V.I.C. He greeted these men before sinking into one of the seats before us as we exchanged pleasantries and set into conversation.

Q: Who is Kolaboy?

A: Kolaboy is a regular Nigerian. I’m from Nkanu East, Ugbawka precisely — Enugu State. I was born and brought up in Onitsha: Okpoko, Anambra State. Had my primary — Okpoko 11 [Okpoko Community Primary School, Okpoko Ogbaru LGA] — and secondary education — St. Charles Lwanga Secondary School [Okpoko] — here in Onitsha as well. I did my ND at IMT in Enugu state. Kolaboy is an artist, content creator and actually I started as an actor.

Q: At what point did you realize you wanted to go into music?

A: Initially the music was not there when I started, It was acting and at a point when I was in secondary school and was made the social prefect, the music thing came when I was in SS2. There was this theater group that was outside the school. One day we went for rehearsal, We were sitting and playing around series of instrumentals because it was break time and I just started saying stuffs in my mouth and people started shouting. I’ve never rapped before and there was this guy there who said to me “I think you’re talented”. From there I started going for rap competitions and I normally competed with the older guys but I impressed the audience more. So that was how I kicked off my musical career. The first name I used as an artist was Young Emirez then Onyx. But I found out that people weren’t relating to the name Onyx even though it was derived from an English word but people thought it was a name I made out of a native name like Onyeka or Onyinye. I had to switch to Kolaboy because the first single I recorded was titled Oji and Oji in my language means kolanut and people started calling me Kolaboy so I had to find a meaning to that — “he who brings Kola, brings life”.

Q: How would you say your career was going before you came into the limelight?

A: It wasn’t going so well really as it was hard to conquer a particular region not to talk of the whole country. The ethnic diversity and multicultural nature of the country made it hard for me at first. Since there were no funds, we [Eastern-based up-and-coming artistes of his time] recorded independently with little promotions from our friends that ran small blogs that reached to only our streets and neighborhood. The rap competitions I was attending really helped in motivating me — though in all sincerity, I don’t think I was doing too well with my art then. My first viral content even before the popular “they didn’t caught me” trend [a mimicry following James Brown’s viral arrest statement] was an invitation I did for Phyno’s concert, Phyno Fest under the name Onyx. At the time, I really needed to get every attention necessary before I could start recording and putting out professional content so I started recording covers and working on my social media branding. My first viral content gave me a regional popularity in the East while “they didn’t caught me” took me more national.

Q: What inspires your style of music?

A: I tagged my music brand ” storyteller ” because I feel I always tell a story through my music. I think my music also relates to people that came from the same place that I came from. My music lyrics derive from real stories mostly non-fictional stories of myself. Even when I tell fictions, I still find ways to chip in real stories especially about myself. My style of music isn’t boxed to any genre but my “comfort zone” is storytelling through conscious music.

Q: Which artiste would you say inspires your kind of music?

A: I’ve always loved thinking out of the box. As funny as it may sound, I always loved reading or listening to what I don’t understand. Back in school, I used to read lots of works from Williams Shakespeare. It was hard understanding what I was reading but I was just comfortable reading them. When it came to rap, I started listening to rappers like Immortal Technique who had weird lyrics. These helped me build myself. Then back home, Phyno inspired me as I felt that if he could do so well using my local language [Igbo], I could do same. I love listening to Olamide even though I don’t understand Yoruba. I felt that if I could enjoy listening to a language I don’t understand, it is possible for Yoruba people to vibe to my Igbo songs without understanding the language. I also loved listening to Drake, Eminem, M.I, Erigga.

Q: Have you ever felt like you would have done better as a mainstream rapper?

A: I thought music was just language limited but then I was wrong because people don’t only connect with the language but with the vibe that comes with the song. The most successful rappers in Nigeria are not even those that rap in English. One of the most streamed songs in YouTube is Despacito which was not done in English. Many people do want me to get through to rapping in English instead.

Q:Have you ever thought of doing any publicity stunt apart from music?

A: No I haven’t thought of that as the greatest publicity stunt I’m doing (and I’ve thought of) is my music, the one I did with Ugoccie was only acting. Most publicity stunt people do are with their personal lives and I keep my personal life away from the public as much as possible.

Q: The music industry is filled with envy and competition, how would you describe your relationship with your fellow artist?

A: The best thing to do in the industry is not having a clique. I can work with any artiste. I’m open to work with anybody.

Q:What do you think about the rap industry?

A: These days I wouldn’t call it rap as we’ve upgraded to what I call commercial rap. The song “Omalicha” is a good example. if you are observant enough people don’t do only hardcore rap anymore as they are now understanding and blending to what the music demand is like. It is business, you don’t do music just for yourself so you need to understand what works for the audience out there. Even while switching to the popular demand of the ever-changing industry, I’d advise artistes to always find ways to keep traces of their original style.

Q:What inspired the song ” Omalicha”?

A: As a child, I used to listen to Ollie Gee and I know all his songs but the song “Omalicha nwa” stuck. One day I was somewhere in Enugu and this band group started playing that song and I was like “why can’t I bring this song back”? It’an old song that many people may have forgotten by now. Even while listening to my version, you’d know you’ve heard the song somewhere but you may not remember from where. Samples play around with your psyche and gives you this nostalgia. Listening to Sparkle Tee’s “Hustle Dot Com” would give you a feel of listening to one of Patty Obasi’s tracks. After I took the sample, I said let’s not make it a pure rap. We are going to make it danceable and something people can relate and vibe to. Rap is one genre of music that you can’t predict how people or how many people that will relate or vibe to the song. So I contacted Ejyke Nwamba and told him I wanted us to do this song this way so we recorded it and kept it for a long time waiting for the right time. I knew it was going to be a hit. Before I dropped the official audio, I made an Instagram short clip and within hours, the people had began using the audio in TikTok. I even checked one popular streaming service to see that someone had already extrated the audio and was getting thousands of streaming. I had to drop the official audio ASAP. Another thing that inspired me to release the song was gender based. I understood I had been making songs for mostly the male folks and after the little online drama I put up with Ugoccie, I found out that my female fans have been waiting for something to appeal to them.

Q: You’ve made a lot of songs, which one would you say is your favourite knowing that it’s hard for an artist to have a favourite?

A: My favourites include “Hello mumcee”, “6am” but the most successful is Omalicha.

Q: So what are your plans for your career?

A: I have a lot of collaboration and businesses. My brand is an independent brand and it’d hard. Everything I’m doing now is for myself. The industry is mostly characterised with signing to a record label and when you want to pull out, the label may end up pulling you down. I think it’s grace that has kept my brand growing. I have a lot of projects coming up.

Q: If you’re asked to choose an artist you would so much love to work with, who would that be?

A: Any artist that made it in the industry despite all odds is worthy to work with.

Q:Is there any Mrs Kolaboy?

A:No for now there’s not.

Q:So what about a girlfriend?

A:Currently I don’t. But I have a lot of people that love me that I love too.

Q: What about Ugoccie?

A: Nothing is going on between us. We just collaborated and it came out fine. Something might happen anyway.

Q: What do you think is your selling point?

A: The name Kolaboy is my biggest asset because no other person can be Kolaboy. Everything I do, I create them myself. I studied every Igbo rapper and what their breakthrough was like and I had to carve a niche for myself. The fact that I create conscious music, I believe these are evergreen songs that can never fade away.

Q: What’s your message to upcoming artists?

A: To every artist not just rappers, every young person out there, they should be motivated by people close to them. If people like me that started from the streets can go this far, then you too can go far too. Everybody knows where I came out from, Okpoko. Okpoko is the last place you’d ever believe something good can come out from. Keep being consistent in what you believe, keep improving everyday in what you do, look out to the pioneers that are doing great in your field and find out what made them outstanding, keep praying for grace and build yourself everyday. Try to be exceptional. Take me as an example, when others are doing Amapiano and the reigning stuff, I went out of the box to do a song like Omalicha.

Q: What keeps you going?

A: God’s grace and humility. It is easier to be proud than to be humble. You can’t really know how proud you are until are faced with fame.

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