A Life in Music: Darey

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In these perilous and uncertain times, there are different roles for music to play. For the popstars whose musical output can be defined by trends, the music can serve as an escape- a tool through which our minds are diverted from the things that currently plague our human existence. Think of Mayorkun’s Geng and Falz’s Bop Daddy which found success in quarantine and inspired social media challenges. On the other side of the coin, there’s the music that serves as a balm- to provide healing for a world that is hurting. Singer, Dare Art-Alade has constantly sought to use his art to speak to the times. After a five year hiatus from releasing music to pursue some of his other creative interests, he’s back. In the time away, he has been working hard building Livespot- a world-class production company he co-founded with his wife, Deola Art- Alade where he serves as the Chief Creative Director. 

Dare has lived a full life. For those of us of a certain generation, our first experience of Dare came when his smooth voice was part of the package that came with the drive back from school and after school lessons while he worked as an OAP with Cool FM. He would then go on the Project Fame reality show making it to the final stage and then getting his break in music with two calling cards- being the son of a music legend, Art Alade, and a degree in Music from the University of Lagos. These days, he’s been tapped as a coach for the Nigerian interpretation of the global, The Voice franchise. 

Dressed in all black and a facemask that stays on all through the 2 hours we spend together, he shows up at CC HQ alone and on time- something that’s rare with artists of his profile prepared to talk about the latest chapter in his musical journey and some of his creative exploits. 

You’ve not put out music in five years, give or take. What happened? Was that a deliberate reason or was it just you having other interests?

Everything else was happening. Expanding the empire so to speak. As you know Livespot 360 is providing solutions across advertising, digital, experiential marketing, production, entertainment, and all that, so we’ve been busy building platforms. Livespot Festival, Born in Africa Festival, Falz Experience I and II, Headies- creating and executing a lot of those platforms and that’s just maybe on the event side. Advertising is also there- doing campaigns for different brands. Some of our clients include Nestle, Heineken, Nigerian Breweries. It takes a lot of time. As the Chief Creative Director, all of those things I’m involved in my own capacity and support from the team at Livespot. I guess I was lucky even to be able to record while all that was going on but in terms of releasing music, that was the only thing we weren’t able to do. The goalposts kept shifting because of what was happening at the time. We’ll be pushing to get a song out then one client would just come with a request and our attention will shift there.

I’ve always been curious about some of the guys of your generation. I think of you, I think of someone like Naeto, it always seemed like you guys saw music as a stop. It seemed like you cottoned on pretty early that you didn’t want to do this for the rest of your life. From the outside looking in. You did it and then you kind of realize, okay, you know, I want to do other things. Is that correct? 

I think to readjust your question it was more about realizing early on that you can’t bank on music alone. The music was great. Making money touring but the margins are few and far between if you really check. Then coming from where we’re coming from, in terms of back then we didn’t have what we have now for marketing, tools, and socials. We innovated a lot of things that people are enjoying now. I guess we shaped algorithms in many ways that we don’t even realize. The practical thing for some of us was to see if this music is not making the kind of money that it’s supposed to make, then you need to diversify early on. That’s what we were doing. We had one of the biggest color centers, as far as Dulux was concerned back then in Abuja. We were doing renovations, my wife was an interior decorator. So, early on, we grabbed onto that business acumen.

Was she the one that opened your eyes to it?

It’s a partnership. That’s one of the things you get by rubbing off of someone who does that as a job. By virtue of that relationship, a lot of things started coming up. How can we turn this into a profitable business? You know, not just get on stage and perform. There are so many other elements involved. That’s what really gave birth to Livespot360 because there were a lot of things we wanted to do as far as entertainment was concerned that nobody was able to. We didn’t find the solution to it. So we’ve had to create it ourselves. It’s like, this is what we want to do how we want to do. Nobody can do it. So let’s start putting pieces together. That’s how that came about.

Let’s talk about the new EP. What inspired it? Why did you choose the title, Way Home?

You know, with everything, you want to tell a story, a story that will resonate with people. I think I’ve done that all my career. There’s always something to whatever it is that we’re putting out. Whether it’s Love Like a Movie or an event, you know- Stories are the best ways to appeal to people’s emotions. Way Home is really about finding self. It’s also speaking to Nigerians, Africans, and everybody else, not just at home but abroad as well. It’s for everybody who is looking for their way home, in terms of Africa, in terms of Nigeria, and in terms of culture. For example, if you’re heading home from work, there are certain things that remind you that this is the way home. Like the guy at the nearby mosque making the call to prayer, you already know this voice even if you hear it from a million miles. You don’t realize it but these cues have been ingrained into your subconscious. So things like that, that I could no longer feel. What this EP is for me is like a soundtrack for that journey: the melodies, rhythm, storytelling that brings out an emotion that forms a part of your life story. I’m using it to also encourage people to come back. In Nigeria, we have Detty December which is a thing for us that people don’t realize. You know, everybody’s coming home.

You know, I talk about that Cardi B trip a lot. Like the government can do whatever it is they want, but nothing can advertise Nigeria like Cardi B’s Instagram during that weekend. I still remember it. From the Zenith roundabout where she’s like “yo this shit is like Disneyland” to the strip club videos. 

We were coming from a strip club. That was my first time at the club. I hardly go anywhere. I had to be there as the ambassador for the culture. On our way back to the hotel, Cardi B and her team were freaking out over things that we take for granted. They were like “what?? Nobody told us about this!” People on the road that had no idea who she was kept yelling at us to move our cars out of the road. It was so real. It wasn’t like any of it was planned. Although we had a schedule as to where to be and when, but a lot of things we did in the middle of it were not planned. Like going to the orphanage, going to Ebeano, picking up things for the kids by herself, along with us filling up carts, waiting in line, just things that we do normally. 

It seemed like she was very willing to get her hands dirty. How important is that when you’re dealing with people of that status? 

It’s all relative. It depends on who, the vibe, the mood, the timing. If the stars align, those things will happen. However, there’s only so much you can plan without it looking contrived. I mean, I remember when we went to the orphanage she told everybody in plain terms- I want to spend time with the kids. We were there for two hours. Playing football with the kids, just laughing. It just comes from a place where you know that this lady is remembering where she’s from. We may not have been there. We may have seen all this on social but we’re all human and to be able to relate to people on that level and of course, donate all those things. I mean, a lot of us do it without cameras being there but it’s just a nice reminder of our humanity.

How do you keep your work fresh and socially conscious, even though it’s not like you’re dropping a new song every week or every other day? What’s that process like for you? What inspires you to write? Then take it from that to the finished product.

There’s no set formula. It’s about the vibe, how you feel, or how it comes to you. Sometimes you’d be like, okay you want to tackle a topic. Let’s talk about hardship, what we’re all going through right now. Like Jah Guide Me, for example, it was so real because we were all living that reality at that time. Lockdown, COVID, horrible news. Then you have people close to you contracting it. And the economic recession hit. Just think about a guy on the street. What’s he going to do? You think of those guys who have to pay rent per day and are based in one obscure place. People who pay to bathe or take a dump in their neighborhood. If you drill down, that’s a lot of inspiration around us. Sometimes, you don’t even think about it. It’s just vibe. Jojo was like that. Just chilling, start having drinks in the house, Pato comes through. Play the beat. So it really depends on the mood or the person you’re with. Sometimes I write, sometimes I have the song written for me. There are so many ways to skin this cat.

You know, when we’re doing what we’re doing, we’re thinking about the future. Nobody can predict it. Of course, nobody knows tomorrow, but if you put your best in today, make sure your mix is right, your master is right, your video and messaging transcend time. Time will be the judge.

I think sometimes artists feel like they’re weighed by two pressures. It’s either the feeling of “I need to do shows in December”, and then there’s “I’m trying to make stuff that’s bigger than me. This moment is bigger than me.”

The truth of the matter is, the period of this lockdown and maybe between 2022, you’re probably going to hear the best music out of Nigeria, especially the ones that were recorded in this lockdown. Because artists can now realize that the way we used to rush before, an artist may record a song this night, and by the following morning, he puts it out. What is chasing you? Yes, it might be a great song. What if you chill and listen, have some A&R, and some right people who can help you critique your sound? Just separate yourself from it. That’s my own process. Once it’s out, it’s already gone. Before it gets out, what can you do to revise, edit, adjust, and make it better? I think that’s what this time is giving people. They may not realize it, but maybe it’s the fact that they have a bit more time.

Who did you work with for the EP?

I worked with Pheelz predominantly. There’s a song there that’s produced by Password. I kept it really small and really tight. We knew the direction we wanted. There’s a lot of songs that didn’t make it through. We just picked the best that told the story that we wanted to tell. Patoranking is on the EP. Teni is on it as well. There’s a song on the EP that is like a letter to Hushpuppi, If I could write him a letter. It’s cool because we, the young ones are losing our way and that’s the truth. If we’re not able to do things or say things or carry ourselves in a certain way that brings some honor to our family name, then what are we living for? Of course, everybody wants to be rich, affluent, and what-not. But to what end? How do you achieve those things? What are you using your wealth of knowledge for? There’s a song in there that addresses that. It’s not just for people like him but for everybody who’s going off-track. There’s inspiration. There are funky vibes. It’s almost like a split project.

There are seven tracks on it. The first three tracks are all vibes and pop culture tracks. Those ones are ‘Lamba’. I’m just enjoying myself. But despite that, in terms of storytelling which you can see from the videos, there’s some powerful message for the motherland, like the symbolism, the colors of Africa, the fact that regular people are in the video and you can see them in their elements. So in terms of breaking boundaries, that’s been there from the get-go. The styling is edgy — gele, leather jackets, and synchronized color bodysuits.

What young artists are you listening to right now?  

Simi and AG are doing good. I mean, we worked together on Naked, Pray for Me, Orekelewa, in terms of writing. In some places, you will even hear their vocals. 

Oxlade. There’s Joeboy of course. Fireboy, Tems, Teni, Boj. 

I listen. I hear some of their records. So bits and pieces here and there, but you know, from time, I’ve always advocated diversity. I’ve always preached it. Variety is the key. Everyone cannot do Afrobeats.

For me, Afrobeats is just what we have accepted as calling music that is coming out of Africa. It’s just like an umbrella term. But there still needs to be that delineation.

The problem with the term itself is very obvious. The genre is Afrobeats in its pure form. The fusion of jazz and African rhythm and all that, as spearheaded by the founders. That’s between Fela and Orlando Julius, on who invented the sound. It doesn’t even matter. When you hear Afrobeat, leave it alone, that’s Fela. When you then put ‘s’ to it, that’s not from us. As far as we were concerned, when I was doing Carry Dey Go with 2baba, it was Afropop as a genre. Its sing-along-ability level is high, it’s catchy, it’s groovy, and all that. Then, you’ve got Afro hip-hop and all the other breakaway genres that you can create from that. So when they started saying Afrobeats, it was for those guys to understand that this is what’s popping and coming out of Africa. So like you said, it is a generalization for what’s coming from here. We need to use this opportunity to educate. It’s important. Because where would you put Johnny Drille? Would you say he’s an Afrobeats artist? So what happens then? And then there’s the “World” category. What do you mean by “world”? Even you that are doing R&B are a member of this “world”. The segmentation is something that’s still coming. You know, the conversation will be had where we’ll clarify, but at the moment we’re all Afrobeats artists. That’s fine.

With a lot of the music that’s coming out, the new culture allows for people to put out two-minute songs. It’s like people aren’t trying to make long songs because it doesn’t work for streaming. It’s the new trend. How are you adapting?

It’s there on the EP. The attention span of the typical audience is waning and there’s an influx of new music. There are too many new songs coming out every day. And where do you want to start? It’s best if you can go straight to your point within the first 15, 20 seconds.

It influences the writing process. It influences the arrangements. There’s really no time to be dwelling on a song for too long before it gets to the hook. You can do all that when you are performing on stage. You can even do a ten-minute version. But for radio and streaming platforms, you need to go straight into and keep it simple. Nobody wants to listen to your music and be wondering what you’re trying to communicate when there are bigger problems facing them in life.

Do you see this changing anytime soon? 

When I was on the radio as far back as 2003, did anyone tell you that Nigerians will be proud of Nigerian music like this? 95% of the content on the radio was Wild Wild West, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Will Smith, and Britney Spears. That’s what they were giving us. That was the look of success as far as the music industry in the world was concerned. If anybody said that Wizkid, Burna Boy, would be doing this much back then at that time, you would say it’s not possible.

So you’re doing the Voice Nigeria 3, as a coach. Again, that’s a full-circle moment for you because you’ve been on Nigerian Idol, Project Fame, and others.

I was on Project Fame. And I hosted Project Fame West Africa. I’ve been a host on Idol and a Guest Coach on the Voice. As a coach, I’m just trying to bring the vibe and create a conducive environment for the talent to express themselves. It’s very symbiotic so I feed on them and they feed on me. If they’re not doing enough, I want to give them that extra push to spur them on. If they’re doing too much, I want to help rein them in. At the end of the day, nobody is perfect so it’s just about aiming for some semblance of sense.

I’m really looking forward to it. Connecting with the judges- Yemi Alade, Falz, and Waje. I also really love that we’ve got two hosts who are female in Nancy and Toke. Female empowerment is important and this can inspire a generation of people. The vibe is going to be nice. 

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