Interview with Dazaa Dasaa, 29.06.05

Dazaa Dazaa is not only a singer, dancer, composer, designer, choreographer and actor, but also a guardian angel for many people in need. He is a warm-hearted, traditional Rastafari from Nigeria and has been living in Berlin for four years. His life he describes as a walk along many paths lead by destiny – he changed directions from time to time, found his own style and learned to promote his originality. In Nigerian culture music accompanies everyone’s life right from the cradle and although it is for the most part a chanting and dancing culture the spirit of music is understood worldwide, which is what gave path to his road of life.

Why did you come to Berlin?

I think there was no special purpose! Destiny made it possible for me to come here.
When I devoted myself to music, after having walked through so many paths of life and having experienced so many different things, destiny sent me to Berlin. I was officially invited as a musician. That’s how it started. I came to Berlin and destiny told me to stay! Plus, there are also things one cannot learn at home. Migration always provides possibilities - it means learning, integrating, cooperating, unifying, understanding.

Were you already a musician in Nigeria?

Assami buman. Music is in our blood. Right from the day we are born. In our society there are customs for everything. When a baby is born people greet the new life by singing and dancing. So, from the very beginning and throughout my life I was surrounded by music, by singing and dancing. I grew up with it. It was not until I was older though that I started doing music professionally. I did many different things, like bus conducting, a lot of technical jobs, auto-mechanics. I wanted to study mechanical engineering at the university! That did not work out though. I was also quite good at football, which opened many opportunities for me. Music, however, was still always a part of my life – supplementary to the other things I was doing. I didn’t know then that it would be my major thing after all. With football and my general public affairs I got to know many different people. And then at some point I got more and more involved with music - singing for people, sometimes only for myself etc. My mind really started to get occupied with music and I lost interest in so many other things, like the auto-mechanic job I was doing. Before I even had the intention to join the Nigerian Army, but then I figured that I could get killed in the war, so I withdrew from that idea. At one point I wanted to be a professional wrestler! I didn’t have the chance to though, so I continued football. I got into the professional league, which is the Bundesliga in Nigeria. For some reason however, the club had to be disbanded and I decided that football was not my future.

And then I put all my power and energy into music. I studied traditional music on my own and founded several cultural groups. I was one of the dancers in my village and many people knew me. I created a dance group and worked with them. Then I realized that what I was doing was not only for my own people, but for everybody. I wanted to work with foreigners as well; send my message, you know? I started getting into English music. Not in schools, but in different studios, mingling with musicians, exchanging knowledge and experiences with them. It was then that I really got to know how studio recordings worked. I became a studio “rat” – that’s what the gofers were called in Nigeria. I mixed the drinks, carried the cables – those kinds of jobs. That’s how I got to see how music was being done. At that time we still worked with cassettes and turntables. My dreams about being a professional musician started manifesting during my time there. One day we were all hanging out at the studio while a recording was going on and the manager approached me and said that one of the backup singers didn’t show up, and they needed me to sing. He knew I had a good voice and told me to take it as a challenge. Now was the time to prove my talent. I was so frightened, mind you! I was standing in front of the microphone, completely unprepared! After a few minutes my nervousness settled and I sang the backups. So, from that day on I was asked frequently to do backup singing for other groups and one day I got the chance to sing the lead for this one group, whose singer had some issues with his tongue and wasn’t able to pronounce the words properly. When the record was released they asked me to join the group. So, that’s how I got into the music business in Nigeria. I played a few concerts with them, but we didn’t get along so well, plus, this was not my dream! I was there by mere chance, as a substitute for somebody else. People already knew me though, and I continued my cultural, traditional music – either with one of my groups or as a one-man-show! I moved from East Nigeria to Lagos and after I settled down I joined a group called “The Vibration Boys”. I also started a cultural festival called “Man’s Cultural Group” and then I formed another cultural group, only for girls, a childrens’ group – so, I was involved in all kinds of cultural affairs and got to know the music business quite well. Internationally, too – I worked for some Japanese, some Chinese people, not only with music, but I was into film, too.

As an actor?

First I started as a film operator. It seems like with me everything happens by chance. They noticed my technical skills and wanted me to work for them. I don’t really know how this happened. I just got to know this group of people that worked in the movie theatre. I told them that I was a natural with technical matters. I didn’t know how to operate the machine then, but I knew that I could learn quickly. So, they gave me a chance and I did it. The next day they sent me off to operate the projector at the local movie theatre. They said I’d have two weeks to familiarize myself with the machine. After one week I had it! So, I got this job, but really it was only to pay my bills and have a secure income. At the same time I was floating with so many different things still. I was constantly busy doing something. Not only all my musical and cultural groups but also other projects that opened up for me through the movie theatre. I learned so much during my time there. Not only technical things, but also how entertainment really works, you know? I discovered that it isn’t just about making money, there is so much more to it. One is to introduce your culture, two is to show your skills, three is to prove yourself and four is to use your ideas. You have to be clever in show business.

After a year I quit the job at the movie theatre. I think I knew all along that I would go back to music eventually, but for the time being it was a great learning experience. I felt like I had learned everything I could at that place and now it was time to move on. However, I did not go back to music right away. I wanted to implement the things I had learned at the cinema, like, I wanted to prove myself, I guess. I joined the “Nigerian Film Cast Association”. I got the chance to do a casting, which I did. They even decided to use my name for the caption. The film is called “The Call of Dazaa”. This film really brought me into the scene. The film was released in Onitsha and then was sold in Lagos and all throughout Nigeria. That really gave me a boost! I did another film after that – “Broken Heart”, and a third, but that one was never released. Many opportunities opened up for me, I was chosen Assistant Secretary of the “Nigerian Filmmaking Association” and more and more people started to recognize me. However, I always felt like things in this business were going in a wrong direction. We wanted to promote our culture, but our culture was being hidden. Instead people wanted to show off - imitate other artists from the east or the west. They were never really presenting their own thing. I tried to talk to people about this over and over again, but nobody would listen. So, I withdrew and left the NFA. Then I felt like I needed to prove my point and made a traditional film called the “New Young Festival”. I recorded the tradition of my people. With one of the most popular festivals we have in Nigeria. It is also done in Berlin every year. This year it will be in August. Everywhere in the world all the Igbus celebrate the “New Young Festival”. I recorded this tradition live – it took me five years in total. I gathered footage on film, videotape, tape and photos of about 2.5 hours. I gave the copies to the people that helped and supported me and kept the master for myself. It has not been released publicly yet. Half of the old men I interviewed and worked with on this film have already passed away. I’m sure however that there will be a time and place for this film to get its due recognition.

You did go back to making music after that. What is the music scene like in Nigeria? Is it rather traditional or would you say it is European/American socialized?

When I was a little boy I remember the music having been very original, very traditional. The older I grew however, the more and more things changed. Before I came here, only few people were playing the real thing. Most of them imitate American or even British music, famous artists in general – just because they want to make money. They lost all the principals of show business, which are to promote your own thing, to be an original – not a cheap copy, an imitation! I was very disappointed, watching so many good musicians selling themselves to the business to make money! In Berlin things are different though. People here appreciate originality and tradition much more. I don’t know what the situation back home is like these days; from what I see on TV or hear from friends that have gone home on vacation it seems like things are improving a bit. One thing I want to do for sure when I get back - and I know that many people will listen to me - is to take them back to the “Garden of Eden”, showing them the way back to their origins, their traditions. This is important, because most of the traditional Nigerian musicians – most of them are internationally well-known - are growing old, so we need young people to continue their work! It would be so unfortunate if Nigeria lost their representation of originality and tradition in music! I feel like I owe it to myself, and I want to do my best to achieve an awareness of this drawback.

Which languages do you use in your songs?

I sing in Igbu, my mother tongue, in English and German, and I also sing a bit Turkish as well. I have been to Turkey and was fortunate enough to learn a bit of the language. I experimented a little with it and included it in some of my songs.

Do you find it difficult, considering the variety of different tribes and therefore languages in Nigeria, to combine these in the music? Is there a general language that everybody uses and understands?

Before I came here, music had no language to me. The only importance is the ability to move the people. When I was in the east, people from the north and west were singing and dancing to the eastern music. When I lived in the north, we started an Igbu cultural group and when we performed, the Awusas, the Yorubas and the foreigners were dancing and singing to our music – no matter whether they understood our language or not! When I lived in the east I used to go to Yoruba shows, too, and the same thing happened there. The mental comprehension of words is not important in music, as long as you’re being your own self! The spirit of music translates every song right within yourself! So, language is not the problem in Nigeria. The problem is that most music producers are foreigners, who only want to make money out of it. The promoters, producers and vendors are only looking for the commercial venture. So, I am hoping to convince people to go back to their musical roots! See, when I was a young man 90% of the commercial music was traditional music, they were hit songs that sold all over Nigeria and even outside of the country! I was surprised, when I got to Berlin and went to the “Haus der Kulturen” for the first time, I found three or four Nigerian music albums there. Since I’ve lived here I’ve gotten to love German music and when I was in Turkey I got carried away with all the Turkish songs that I was introduced to. The Polish songs I know are very traditional songs and I love them! So, language is not a musical issue at all!

In terms of producing and selling your music in Western Europe as opposed to Nigeria. Can you compare both situations?

One thing I learned in life is that two things are true for everybody: One thing is luck and the other one is contact, connection. No matter what is going on in your life you have to have the patience and endurance to wait for your time to come. Luck only works with time so you have to be patient and wait. If you get to know people with a great network of contacts, you must wait for the right time to be introduced to and recognized by them. Then, once you get this connection you have it made! When my first album was released it barely sold. However, I got so much positive feedback from the press and music journalists! I knew - and I knew it all along – that my music was better than most of the songs that were in the charts then. The fact that I didn’t have the connection really lagged my progress behind. It is so much better here in Europe, because people just go for what they want! Like, with how I met Mahide (Anm. D. Red.: Mahide Lein ist Kultur-Vermittlerin und Chefin der Agentur AHOI - Kunst + Kultur) – she saw me perform at a concert and was like “Wow, I’m going for this guy!”, even though she didn’t know me. We do have Talent Agents like that, who go out and look for artists in Nigeria, but they are very rare. Once you have your connection the market decides whether you’re going to shine or not. You can be the best musician in the world, if you don’t have the luck and the contact, you will remain unnoticed!

You said you want to go back to Nigeria at some point. Do you consider Berlin a temporary destination on your way to somewhere else – how do you feel about Berlin?

I haven’t decided yet.. Berlin has become my second home! Of course I want to visit other places, other countries, but always come back to Berlin. I feel like my destiny is in Berlin. Here is where the seed has been planted and here is where it wants to breed.

We still have a problem with radical right winged groups here in Germany. Have you encountered conflicts of racist nature living here?

I think to some extent it is normal. Even in Nigeria it is an issue – when a white man takes a pretty Nigerian girl home with him, the boys are jealous, but nobody affronts them! Here, however it is a touchy subject because of the Nazi past. As for my skin, there was an incident
with some skinheads when I lived in the East. Four boys and a girl threatened me with a gun once at the U-Bahn station. It was in the summer. A friend and I were riding our bikes around and these guys started threatening us. After a while one of them said “Hallo, lass mal, der ist Rasta”. Let him go, he is a Rastaman, you know. Then one of the others started smiling and said “Tschüs, Rasta”. In fact, my dreadlocks help me a lot. People respect the Rastafari culture. It is known that the Rastaman is a man of the people, I guess.

Is Dazaa Dazaa your name at birth or is it a stage name?

My name is Kenneth Dazaa Aniama. Kenneth is an English name, but I don’t want people to call me by that name, since I’m not English. Dazaa is my Igbo name. It means “light”. At home people used to call me “Bushman”, because of the way I live! At some point my manager then told me that Dazaa sounded much better and more appropriate than “Bushman”, so we made it Dazaa Dazaa.

Let’s talk about your foundation. What was your idea behind creating the Dazaa Foundation?

I had already established the Dazaa Foundation in Nigeria. I worked a lot with those in need – children, pregnant single women, elders. I was part of many different charities. When I got here I discovered that helping other people is not only a Nigerian issue, but a world affair. People are in need all over the world and so I continued my work in Berlin. I also joined many other foundations here, like Unicef, Children’s International Cross, etc. I believe that working for mankind is our duty! I try to contribute a little bit to peoples’ happiness. I play for children, for the elderly at the nursing home, the handicapped home; from time to time the hospital invites me over and I play for the patients. They don’t have the money to pay me, but that’s not important, I play to give these people a little bit of joy. Now, my foundation back home is still growing, too. A friend of mine looks after it. The idea is to get recognized, to be able to help the less privileged, and the more my name gets noticed the better for the ones in need, too. The foundation is a helpline and focuses especially on the children in my area, Ofuma and Nguavo helping them to build their future. I would like to get much more into the search of talents, too. There are so many opportunities for these kids to be recognized and lead to a career in music, or the arts in general. We also support people that are in acute need of medical treatment, but are not able to pay the hospital bill – our part is to negotiate with the hospital, raise money and support the patient psychologically. Right now, we’re organizing a football competition in my hometown. It is called the “Dazaa Aniama Coup”. The eleven best players will get the opportunity to get trained in a good club.

Currently you perform with your group Dazaa Dazaa & the Spring Water. You’re a songwriter, a composer, a dancer, an entertainer, a designer, a percussionist and a performer! Which part of the whole process do you enjoy the most?

I am an artist. That’s all I can say. An artist is not complete doing just one thing. I don’t want to put a name on it really. My work is described and criticized by the people, not by me. My job is to do the work as best as I can and then the people will tell you what they see.

You are the head of the group, but you work with other great musicians as well. Sunny Chung composes and plays guitar for instance. Do you do the compositions together?

You know, composing music is not only writing songs. It also comprises teamwork. I do the compositions by writing the songs and finding the melody, whereas Sunny actually writes down the sheet music and assigns the instruments. The other members of the group are part of the composing process, too, because they create the background of the song and align the flow of the music on the computer. Those are things that neither Sunny nor I can do. Sunny is a guitar wizard, he creates the chords by listening to my singing and then writes down the notes. Sometimes he comes up with ideas of melodies and we arrange them with other ideas. We have so many songs that are just sitting in our archive, waiting to be included in an arrangement. We understand each other that way and that’s what makes our work worthwhile. Good music calls for perfect understanding. Same thing with dancing. I hear the song and almost immediately have an idea for the moves, and it doesn’t matter whether it is African music or Arabic, Indian music. I just go with the flow.