While the world was held to a shocking standstill during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Damilola Abdul-Razak Afolabi was putting in final touches to his new album Zaza Vibes and working on other side hustles including helping new businesses conduct feasibility studies and drafting business plans. The talented vocalist popularly known as L.A.X. scored one of the biggest hits of 2020 with Lose My Mind which was accompanied by the album, Zaza Vibes. The album boasts of stellar hit singles like the Amapiano-driven Go Low and guest appearances from Tiwa Savage, Simi, Tekno, Mr. Eazi and Peruzzi among others.
It’s a Friday afternoon and L.A.X. is dressed in his Cult tee as we both sit around a little dining table at the Zaza Mansion. We spend about thirty minutes discussing a number of topics surrounding his career. Being a one-time protégé of Wizkid has obviously put him in a position where fans seem to have high expectations of his craft. The talented singer who appeared to initially have a hard time meeting up to those high expectations seems to have finally found his juice since the release of his pandemic anthem, Lose My Mind which he said was inspired by true events as with several of his other songs.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I’m very chilled, very cool. I don’t like stress and I love music so much. I just like to vibe, that’s me.
If one word could describe you, what would that word be?
I was actually thinking you’d say ‘love’ maybe, because looking through your social media, you seem to talk about love a lot.
That’s why I’m saying ‘amazing’ because I like to share love. I feel like people don’t really get so much love in the world that we’re living now so I just like to show love as much as I can.
I also noticed that you’ve been doing so much in terms of charity. What’s the motivation behind all of that?
About that, it’s something I normally always do privately. So when I started doing it publicly, a lot of people that know me have called me, and they are like, this is not something they are used to seeing me do. Why I started doing it publicly is just to motivate people. I feel like as I’m doing it, some people are seeing it and they are going to want to follow that. In this world that we are living in now, we have to keep giving. Coupled with the fact that the pandemic has brought a lot of people down. All of that is why I decided to show people that despite all these setbacks, you have to continue giving and showing love.
About your new album, Zaza Vibes, it’s been getting a good reception. Is it what you expected of the project or you feel it could do better?
I feel like I’m excited about it because usually when I’m recording or doing music I don’t really pick a particular set of people that I want to target with my music. I just do it for the love of music and I’m excited that a lot of people have been listening, a lot of people have been playing the album. I feel like it’s surpassed what I expected so I’m happy about that.
From the title, Zaza Vibes, the album offers the impression it’s just about vibes and your love for music?
It’s about music that will stand the test of time. ‘Vibes’ obviously is something that is used to explain how amazing something is. The reason why I dropped the album is basically to drop music that even if you listen to in ten years time, you will still relate. If you listen to the album, you’ll see that that’s the ‘vibes’ that’s on it.
What’s your favourite song off the album?
My favorite song on the album changes every two seconds. But for now, I feel like I’m in love with Sempe at the moment. I just shot the video as well. Every song means something to me so I love every song on the album.
Because it’s not my usual sound. If you listen to Sempe, it sounds Caribbean. It sounds out of this world so when I listen to it, I’m like ‘O my God, did I record this song?’ It gives me the same feeling every time.
With this album out now, do you feel like, ‘yes we have hit the big break now’?
I feel like I’ve always had listeners, I’ve always had people that follow me and really just vibe to my sound. I don’t want to look for a big break or no big break. I’m just doing it to continue showing people that you need to step it up every time.
The Amapiano sound is the wave of the moment now and you sampled it on Go Low. How did that come about?
I think Amapiano is amazing. When we were doing the song, we did not go to the studio to say we wanted to do Amapiano. We have Afrobeats in it as well. It’s not fully Amapiano, so it was just something that after I recorded we decided to change the vibe a little bit, to make it sound more appealing to what is in vogue right now. The plan was to fuse the two sounds together. So instead of just going one way, we did Afrobeats and Amapiano and put it together.
What do you think about the Amapiano sound itself?
I think it’s amazing. I feel like even South African house music to now, there is no really big difference. It has been sounding good from time. 2 or 3 years ago, I did Gwara Gwara. That was in 2017 and it was inspired by South Africa ‘house’ music.
Go Low has close to a million views on YouTube and over a million listens on Audiomack. How does that make you feel considering all the work that you put into that particular song. You said earlier that the song was you testing Amapiano. Do you think it’s paying off?
I’m happy about it. When I go and perform, on Instagram and on Twitter, everyone’s talking about the song and everyone is playing it. So, I’m happy about that. You know, when you are working and people appreciate what you have done, you feel relieved and better. I’m happy that people are vibing to it.
Lose My Mind dropped during the lockdown and it went on to be one of the biggest songs of that period. Was that something that was planned or it just happened?
Most of my songs, especially the ones that are love songs are based on true life story or some story that I’ve heard from somebody. So I always try and make it as personal as possible. For Lose my Mind, it was just a true life story that I was trying to tell people about and fortunately it was about the Corona season so I just decided to drop it. I was excited about the acceptance as well. A lot of people could relate to it because it was corona time and they needed somebody beside them.
EMPIRE handled the distribution for the album. What’s the relationship between Razaki Music and EMPIRE?
It is a partnership, shout out to EMPIRE. They’ve done so well you know in promoting and bringing a lot of exposure to the L.A.X. brand. I’m excited about that. We’re planing to work on future projects. The deal is just to make sure that the music is going across the right channels.
What plans do you have on ground for your record label, Razaki Music?
A lot of people have buzzed me. They want to partner with Razaki Music. But if I’m doing something I make sure that I do it well. So my plan is, this year, by God’s grace we’ll unleash a lot of artistes, we’ll give artistes single deals, record deals and just try and, you know, just keep pushing the music.
You are talking about single deals for artistes. We’re seeing that becoming increasingly common in the industry as opposed to longer term record deals. Can you shed some light on that? What’s the rationale behind that?
Yes that’s because it takes a lot to sign an artist. It’s crazy, like you have to put in a lot. What I’m trying to do is, for the people I can’t really help fully, I’ll try and do single deals for them. If it’s an album deal, we’ll sign partnership with bigger labels to create more awareness for people that really need it, and just create a platform for them to thrive.
You mentioned earlier that it takes a lot to sign an artiste, and you know particularly in Nigeria, it’s common to find battles between labels and artistes. What do you think makes it so difficult for labels and artistes to part peacefully?
I’m not even talking about the falling-out part. For the falling-out part, I don’t really care. If I’ve done my best, I leave the rest to God and let you do whatever you want to do. I feel like, the strength, the commitment in signing an artist, you have to be there, you have to make sure that everything is fine. You have to be hands-on and I have my own career too that I’m pushing. So you have to make sure that everything is working, everything is in place and I feel like that’s what most labels don’t have. That’s why if one major artiste is out of that label, they find it hard to break another artiste because there’s no structure, there’s no channel. If you look at Sony [Music] now, they sign like 1 million artistes but they have a structure. They operate in a way that they know that once a project drops, there’s the A & R, there’s the marketing person and everything is structured. But in Nigeria, we’re still doing it the same way: drop a song, if the song doesn’t hit, move on.
Going through your music videos, the quality stood out. What role do you play in the creative process of those videos?
I’ve been independent since I was 10. I was in secondary school then. But when I got into the university at 14-15 years old, at that time I was living alone and I’ve always done everything myself. So from that experience, I take it to my life, my music and everything. I make sure that I’m involved in everything that takes place with my music. So, for my videos, I feel like creatives like to have a level of freedom at their work so that they can show their talent. But I make sure that I monitor everything and if I don’t like something, I make sure that I state it. If I have an idea, I’ll tell you. Then, we can work on it to make sure that my vision of it is what is actualized.
Coming up, you were affiliated with Wizkid and the Starboy label. What’s your relationship with him like?
Our relationship is amazing. Even before the album dropped, I sent it to him already. He listened. He liked it. We’re cool. Most times, I send him some songs before I drop them. If I’m in London, we link up. He’s my big brother in the industry. I make sure that I keep in touch, and he keeps in touch as well.
You’ve been putting in a lot of work in the gym. What’s your routine like? How do you keep fit?
Last year, I worked out everyday. But this year, I’m planning to work out just four to five times in a week. I’ve also been reading a lot about fitness, and how to gain muscle. Workout is an essential part of my life and if I don’t do it, I might fall sick. I just keep working out and helping people work out as well. I have friends that come over to work out with me. I’m basically just working out to stay fit without building excessive body mass in the process.
What are your future plans in and outside of the music?
Due to the pandemic, I started doing other businesses aside from music. Studying in school helped me learn how to write business plans. So I’ve written a lot of business plans for companies, done a lot of feasibility studies for companies as well. That’s what I did last year aside from recording my album. Moving forward, I’ll be doing more of that. I’ll be doing another album this year, by God’s Grace. I’m just going to be all about the music and hustle, and make sure that I’m better in every aspect of my life.
What should we expect from the album you’re dropping?
For this album, I’ve not gotten the inspiration yet, but I’ve been recording. I like to be direct about everything I do. This album that I dropped, Zaza Vibes, is just about vibes, sweet music, good music. For the next album, I’ll like to have a direction. I’m still thinking about it. I’m still trying to find inspiration. Once I get it, we move.
If you could give upcoming artistes two pieces of advice, what would those be?
I’ve always been saying this. I feel that for upcoming artistes, the first thing is to find your sound. It might take so long but once you find it, everybody identifies you for that sound. I wish I knew that from the beginning. Secondly, fame comes and goes, so you have to think of what you want to be remembered for and that’s everything. Like “if this guy says he’ll do something, he does it” and “if this guy does this, then he does it because he wants to. I don’t feel like you should follow the crowd. Just make your own way and just live for integrity, because fame and money can run out. And another thing, I don’t have too many friends.
So they shouldn’t keep many friends?
They can if they want to. It’s a personal choice. But I just like to keep my circle small.
Photos by 22.jumpstr