Who wouldn’t be excited going to do a one-on-one interview with Iyanya? Well, that was me last week when I caught with the “Kukere” crooner at his Lekki Phase 1 residence in Lagos. I tried to keep my calm and look real professional as a reporter and Entertainment Editor. No doubt that I had to wait over an hour when I got there for Iyanya to get ready and see me but it was worth the wait as he came in as calm and polite as ever, this even made me respect him more! He’s persona is totally different from what we see on stage, he’s a total gentleman. I wasn’t going to let this one time opportunity pass me by, so I came fully armed with all my questions that gave me the full story of his journey so far! He was very gracious and took time to explain everything; his hiatus from the music scene, R&B in Nigeria, his split persona (Iyanya Vs. Desire), and lots more in this exclusive interview with OnoBello.com today.
Looking back, it wasn’t hard to spot the talents embedded in the 2008 MTN Project Fame winner, even while he was in the house. What was contestable was if he was able to turn the talent into a money making venture.
Born in Calabar, Cross Rivers State of Nigeria and raised Iyanya Mbuk surely had some extended tough times while trying to convince Nigeria that we were starring at one of the biggest artistes to emerge in the recent era of Nigerian music. After winning the 2008 Project Fame, Iyanya went on to release a very commercial self-named track which held audiences spell-bound and stood him out. He followed up with a video for the song and also another spectacular R&B single titled “Love Truly.” Without wasting time, his debut album “My Story” was released but the spell was short lived as Iyanya soon took a hiatus leaving everyone asking “where did he go?”
When Iyanya resurfaced in 2012, he came with a whole new brand and single that infiltrated the airwaves steadily till it became the rave of the moment. The dance move to the song was also peculiar. The single “Kukere” went on to win the Headies Best Pop Song award in 2012. In his usual style followed up with several singles, only this time, he was taking no chances as he did not release any R&B song till his sophomore album emerged. Iyanya has got so many waves making singles including collaborations with D’Banj, Wizkid, Flavour amongst others.
Recently, it feels like he has got the Midas touch and everything he touches turns to gold with multi- million Naira deals, hit making singles and touring the UK, US and Canada with his now side-kick and protégée Emma Nyra and co-owning a record label Made Men Music Group (MMMG) with manager Ubi Franklin, however, this wasn’t always the story.
OB: For how long where you making music before you got into Project Fame?
Iyanya: Before the days of Project Fame, I will say two years… because I worked in a bar for two years where I used to play. Within that time I became quite popular in Calabar, so I did radio jingles, played at shows and Christmas Carnivals… it was fun.
OB: Describe what growing up was like in Calabar
Iyanya: Growing up in Calabar was fun. I grew up with my parents and as a child nothing makes you happy than waking up to see your parents alive and not just alive but they are looking after you so it was quite a beautiful experience for me.
OB: So you didn’t really face any huge challenge with them where your career is concerned?
Iyanya: No, not at all, they have always given me their support. Most people think because they want to pursue a certain career, that provides them with credence to start abusing their parents, not wanting to go to school, not finishing chores at home, that’s wrong… I didn’t change at home because of my career and my parents knew it was what I was born to do so they have always supported me.
OB: During your days coming up, have you always had this big picture in your mind that one day you will be this famous and successful?
Iyanya: Oh yes! I used to go into the rest room and stand in front of the big mirror and perform. It got to a certain point that it became too glaring that all this will happen.
OB: Did you take any step or approached some label executives during your days coming up?
Iyanya: Oh yes! I actually approached a few people to believe in my dream but it’s quite unfortunate that life does not give you what you want the first time and that’s not because you don’t deserve it but it’s probably because it’s not the right time so I wont say I dislike or have any problem with any of those people because they actually made me work harder and discover other channels to my greatness.
OB: Someone said on an on-air programme that KCee was instrumental to your success in a way, how true is this?
Iyanya: Yeah, the truth is Kcee was one of the first people that saw my talent and looked out for me. The first time I came to Lagos for music, it was through Kcee. When I got to Lagos, we did a few songs together then I went back and called him that I am coming in for Project Fame, he was very happy… after Project Fame he took me in and that’s how it went.
OB: How was life after Project Fame?
Iyanya: After project Fame, I expected life to be easy but it was not it was just a platform. I realized there were no more housemates and judges but it was me and legends, great people, and I had to make sure that my voice was heard. First I had to change my sound, then I studied the market, I also hung around few artistes and got inspired by them.
OB: You took a break between your first album and the time Kukere came out, what where you up to in that period?
Iyanya: I knew Kukere would come, I am a person that loves to win so if I am not winning; I do all that it’s possible to make sure I win so that was what happened in that period. I knew Kukere was going to come but I also knew there was something I had to do. It’s great when people don’t see you for a while and when you finally show up, you come out rebranded with something ten times better than what they used to know… Talking about the brand, it has nothing to do with my physique because I have always been into body building exercises and all but people were used to seeing me in suit so the whole physique was concealed.
OB: Your album is titled “Iyanya Vs Desire” which depicts your R&B side versus the Kukere type of music, in your view, between Iyanya and Desire, who is winning?
Iyanya: I will say they are both working for each other. There is no Iyanya without Desire. Desire made Iyanya. Why I titled the album “Iyanya Vs Desire” is because they always have to battle, when I’m on stage it’s both persona that come out, I can’t just be Iyanya or Desire.
OB: You must really be elated with your new MTN deal, tell us about the feeling
Iyanya: It’s a blessing. I am happy that it came, it took a while but when it came it came good. It’s a complete story right now.
OB: You have always been even-tempered and focused, how do you keep this outlook on things?
Iyanya: I just don’t take things seriously, except the right things.
OB: So what’s next now that you are at the peak of your career?
Iyanya: I’m in the studio doing what I do.
OB: You are walking on a new album?
Iyanya: No not at all, as an artiste, the only reason why you remain relevant, why you are famous and why people will give their money to you is because of your music, so you have to keep working and that’s what I’m doing… and when I realize it’s time to drop something, I go into my archives and pick out one or two.
OB: Most Nigerian artistes are now looking beyond the shores of the country for their big collaborations, are you looking to feature any of your foreign contemporaries?
Iyanya: Yes, definitely but I’m still working on it, when it’s time I’ll let you know.
OB: You were an R&B artiste but you rebranded and you have given us your own kind of music, will you say it is because R&B cannot work in Nigeria?
Iyanya: If I have to be sincere, I wouldn’t say R&B is really working in Nigeria, artistes like Banky W for instance are doing what I can refer to as ‘good music,’ so for now, what’s working in Nigeria is ‘good music.’ If it’s good the people will embrace. However there are few people doing R&B and it’s working for them. These are people that there is no song they sing that does not showcase their voice, for instance, Praiz, Waje… these are hardcore R&B artistes.
OB: You definitely look good and fit, how do you whip yourself into this physique?
Iyanya: I just do my push-ups and do my regular weightlifting, nothing more.
OB: With this physique, your female fans must be giving you close markings, how do you deal with all the attention?
Iyanya: I try to take it easy but I’m kind of used to it.
OB: Any other thing you will like your fans to know about you?
Iyanya: I’m thankful to God and to all my fans. So far it’s been amazing. Someone asked me five years ago where I will be in five years time and I said the brand will be bigger, I’m saying it again, in five years time Iyanya – by God’s grace – will be one of the most respected men in Nigeria and I am not talking about music only.
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Here’s his latest video “Jombolo” featuring Flavour
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