Highlife music has been considered as music for the older generation by the younger ones in the society today, who have embraced the Hip-hop and R&B genre whole heartedly.
Ugo Stevenson is one of the highlife artistes who has stood the taste of time in the highlife genre, winning the Nigeria Best Highlife artiste Award in 2008 as well as other honour to his credit.
Ugo who is also an entertainment activist, in this interview with Chinedu Hardy Nwadike, expressed his hope and believe that highlife music cannot only regain its place as the number one music for a Nigerian, but can also be used as a tool for change in the country.
Ugo Stevenson after 2008
In 2008 I was honoured with Nigeria Best Highlife Artiste plague, in 2009 we released the album ‘Onye kem’, which was among the most successful contemporary highlife albums in the market. In 2010, we came up with ‘Oke nmanu’ which is not yet in the open market, but the singles have been playing on radio stations. This year, we are working on another album titled ‘Unban’, with two singles already playing in radio. We have not released these albums because I and my group are planning our 20 years on stage. We’ll be celebrating that with an event tagged ‘Loud Highlife’ which will be coming up around October this year.
Highlife and today’s music industry
High life has never gone mad, what most people are doing is a shortcut of highlife. Call it hip-hop afro beat, it’s all a shortcut of highlife. They are only doing highlife the way they understand it. Proper highlife should have a philosophical content in the lyrics, you must speak of moral and social issues, the artistes are to talk about political issues in a gigantic form for people to buy the message.
Highlife is not about the vulgar lyrics we see today, talking about women and sex. That is why the highlife of today has not gone down to the elderly.
We are still keeping the highlife rhythm alive, and by the time we drop these two albums in October, people we know that Highlife music is the Nigeria’s number one authentic contemporary music.
Highlife artistes and the internet
Highlife artistes have not used the internet as such, unlike their hip-hop and R&B counterparts. Bongo artistes often times don’t look at wide coverage, they are event musicians and always gear at making their moment from the trend at any point in time. Most of them don’t think beyond their environs and so don’t border about their songs going on the internet.
But we still have our songs online on our websites and others like bongolife.com. internet is a global thing and we are still coming there.
Ugo and the movie industry
I studied Theatre Arts and in the course of my training as a student, I learned so many things of which acting and directing is one of them. I’ve acted in some movies and has been a co producer in others.
It is funny that people want to know you with one identity, probably as a musician, but for someone like me with the training as a theatre artist and the talent, I can do anything an entertainer can do, ranging from music, acting and being a master of ceremony.
I’m not a politician, politicians are people who live for the selfish interest of their party or group, I’m just an activist, which is what I’ve been doing all my life. I fight for the well-being of others especially for entertainers. That I do not appear so rich today is because I have invested so much on other people.
Right from my school days, I’ve been doing this, I was in the school senate and other associations as well the office of the Secretary General of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, (AGN) Imo State Chapter, which I currently occupy. Being in these position does not make one a politician, although people can see you as such, especially when you align with the government for the common good of a particular group of people.
Govt and the industry
Government has done their best, starting from the last administration which created the office of the Special Adviser on Entertainment as well as luring the organizer of Nigeria Music Award (NMA) to the Imo State.
The current administration retained the office of the SA on entertainment which is good. They also created the Centre, a fit that I commend so much. But they should ensure that the centre has facilities which artistes can use free of charge, not just erecting a building that will stand for just its name.
On Uche Ogbuagu
Uche has done his best in his capacity, but I’ll have to state that his problem is not vision, but fund. Because I can count the number of time we have done something together. He always consults us, and I believe that if the fund is made available he can turn things around.
Govt Favour Bongo music
The kind of music anyone listens to is his choice and no one should complain about it. if the government chooses bongo music, then it’s their choice. It encourages the other groups to work harder for them to be heard.
Imo Music Award
it is not proper to limit the whole to only Imo State based artistes, because we are all struggling to be relevant in the industry. Entertainers should be struggling to win awards in the national level and not dwell in Imo State alone.
We have something like that already running, what we do is to select our best artistes in the state and honour them in an event.
Another one is the Ekwe Award which can be seen as Igbo Music Award. The award is going to hold this year is targeted to help in the preservation of Igbo Language and music as well.
Won’t it help the state?
if anyone says that nothing is happening in Imo State, he is not well informed. The NMA came to Imo State because of what we have here.
NMA in Imo was political
No, it wasn’t. Two things were involved, the government then was willing to sponsor the event, and you must know that Imo State is the home of musicians in Nigeria.
The best of Nigeria left here, in the likes of Charly Boy that later became the PMAN president, Tony Okoroji, Onyeka Onwenu, Aex O, J Martins and Kelly Hansome all left here. How can you say that nothing is happening here?
The event can be organized anyway, but my fear is that the content for assessment may not be found, since it is mostly the highlife artistes that have albums in the open market.
Even though Highlife originated in Ghana, it is still the authentic Nigerian music, every other genre is a borrowed culture. So highlife artistes should go back take back their position in the country where they preach moral and change. artistes run the society, there is promiscuity everywhere because what the children are singing everywhere is sex.
I’m calling on the true musicians to come back an model the society, because with music we can fight vices like Boko Haram, Kidnapping and the rest of it.