In this interview, Raphael Ehis Oboh, alias Oligbese 4 Sale, a musician, tells JETHRO IBILEKE his story of grass to grace after sleeping under the bridge in Lagos for seven years. Now in stardom, he assists upcoming artistes
Tell us about yourself and your early life
My name is Raphael Ehis Oboh, aka Oligbese 4 Sale. I am from Ewohimi in Esan North-East local government area of Edo State. I attended Adolor Primary School and later Edo College here in Benin, but I completed my secondary school education at Pilgrims Baptist Grammar School, Ewohimi. My growing up was very, very rough. I lost my parents at a very tender age.
How did you come into music?
My whole life has been music. It is my calling. It has been all my life: I play Afro-Reggae. When I was younger, one of my uncles who was taking care of me, had to drive me back to the village because of my love of music. Then I used to follow Majek Fashek in Benin.
What challenges did you face in the beginning of your career?
I had a lot of challenges in life like every other person. I had financial challenges and inferiority complex, because I was just nobody among the living, there was no hope. I was just trying to make ends meet here and there. But thank God today, where there was no hope, God has made a way for us; we are now like a light to upcoming artistes.
What was your experience like when you came to Lagos?
After my secondary school education, I had to leave for Lagos in search of greener pasture. After arriving at Lagos, I had no where to stay, so as a street boy, I had to hang out under the bridge, where I met a couple of my colleagues who were also living under the bridge at Obalende by Police Barracks. They were barbers, so, for me to survive, I also had to learn that profession. I had my own shop where I did barbing under the bridge for about seven years and also trained some boys.
How was your struggle for survival like?
From the money I made from barbing, I enrolled for GCE exams because I didn’t go back to check my WAEC result after leaving the village. I also wrote JAMB and got an admission to study Business Administration in the University of Benin, but I couldn’t go because of financial constraints.
I remained a destitute for 11 years. To make matters worse, the Lagos State Task Force came and destroyed my pako (plank) shop under the bridge. So I had to move to Ajegunle and began working as a bus conductor for a couple of months from where I raised money and I joined a cousin of mine I met at Ajegunle to start selling fairly used clothes. We used to go to Kantagwa to buy, then we hawked them on the streets and sometimes to Queens Barracks in Apapa, Falomo Barracks in Ikoyi and sometimes at Obalende Barracks.
How were you able to pay for the recording of your first album?
The money I made from hawking clothes was what I used in recording my first album, Do Something, Pamurege, released in 2003. Actually, I finished the recording in 2001, but there was nobody to take the job. So I had to begin hunting for marketers until I met Progressive Sound Park, an Igbo man that said ‘Oligbese, this job is good, let’s see how it goes.’ I sold that album that made me where I am today for N30,000 and I was paid in four instalments.
For me, I was not too bothered because what I was just after is, let it go and let me see what the outcome will be. And as God will have it, it was the album that took me to limelight, it became a hit everywhere. But even at that, there were still no shows coming. I was doing it because of my passion for it. I never knew it could bring such money. I never knew it was a money-making career.
Describe you road to stardom
The first show I had, they brought me to Benin to play and they paid me N300,000. I almost passed out when I was paid the money in cash, because then at Ajegunle, we just went to shows to play and dance. I didn’t sleep in my house that night.
Thank God the show was very successful. When I arrived back in Lagos, I became like a king among my colleagues. From then on, life started changing, and I bought my first car, Benz 190, after which I went to my first tour in Europe in 2006. I went to Italy, Germany and Austria.
When I returned, I did my second album I Get Before Na Story and it became another big hit again. From then I started hustling and by the grace of God, I decided I needed to settle down as a man and to also go back to school. I married my wife, after two kids, I decided I had to go back to school to study Business Administration. And from then on, things have been so good. Right now, I have three albums to my credit. Currently, I’am working on another album and it’s going to be out very soon.
Tell us the story behind your name, Oligbese 4 Sale?
When I was recording my first album in the studio, I had no money, so whenever I came to the studio to work, if a session costs N10,000, maybe I had N2,000 and so I would beg and beg and beg. It continued on and on and on like that for a long time. So each time I came into the studio, the manager would always say, ‘this Oligbese (a Yoruba word for debtor), is coming again.
Then, when I then came out, people were like saying that I act like Daddy Shoki and that’s one thing I don’t want. I wanted to carve my own unique identity which I wanted to sell to the public. What makes an artiste is creativity. You need to be known for something. So I decided to create my own image. That’s how I came up with Oligbese 4 Sale. At times some will see me on the road and ask ‘Oligbese, they never buy you?’ That is my identity, it separates me from any other artiste. It is a brand I’ve been able to build up over the years.
Who are your role models in the music industry?
My role models include Majek Fashek, Lucky Dube. Then there’s one boy, Stanley Okorie, he is not too popular but he is good. He sang Jesus I Love You oh.
What is the role of talent in music now?
Right now the industry has taken a different shape. The industry is not about talent this time, it’s all about money. If you have the talent and you don’t have money, you will die with the talent. If you are coming into the industry, if you want to take music as your profession, you need education, you need money. These two things are very, very important.
How would you assess the quality of music of today?
Right now we are in the era of noise making. I agree with you that music of today does not compare with music of the past. But I will say we work with trend, it is a trending profession. Every year, a new trend comes out. So for you to be in the game, you need to follow the trend. But like I told you, you cannot compare music of yesteryears with the music of today.
Right now, we are dancing to noise. Right now, the youths are taking over, so you need to know what they want to hear, then you need to follow. If you don’t, you’ll be an artiste of the past. But thank God the thing is coming back now. Good music is coming back again. But most of artistes of today can hardly play any kind of musical instrument. This is because we are in a hurry. In those days, if you knew how to sing, if God gives you the talent, the next thing is you go learn how to play musical instruments. But these days, once you know how to sing, you go to studio to record because these modern computerised musical machines have made it possible for them. And it does not stop them from making money.
How serious is the challenge of piracy to the music industry in Nigeria?
The biggest challenge facing the music industry is piracy. It has come to the extent that we now agree with piracy in Nigeria. We have chased them up and down and we are tired. So we now have to live with them. We’ve tried everything possible but we can’t fight them. We are tired of fighting them. Their union is too big. You cannot contend with them. It is a fight that we artistes cannot win and it appears the government is not paying enough attention to it.
Right now, you even see some artistes paying a pirate to pirate his work. That’s the kind of country we are in, because they want to be popular and many of them are in a hurry. They want to make an album today, they want to make the name today. But it is not like that. It takes some process. You do your recording, you promote and then you get accepted.
How would you described the level of entertainment in Edo state?
Here in Edo State, entertainment is lying low. I don’t want to use the word, dead. It is lying low. It is only God that will touch someone who will raise the level of entertainment in this town.
What have you achieved as an activist?
Like I said, am not just a musician, I am also a human rights activist. I have taken up several projects. There was this girl, Esso, who had kidney problem, I started the project to raise money for her medical trip abroad before Maleke joined it. I thank God she is alive today. I have also assisted artistes and I am still doing it till date.
Why do you think Edo born artistes make Lagos their home?
Like my late elder brother, Sunny Okosun once told me, he said, ‘Oligbese, don’t do things at home.’ I asked why, but he said I won’t understand. He advised me to go close to the Hausas, Yorubas, Ibos. I was wondering why he said so but he told me that where we come from, they don’t value and appreciate what they have.
Yes, all my life I’ve been in Lagos. I came back in 2010 because of my studies. And since I came back, my career has dropped because they don’t value what they have here. They like what comes from that side, importation. If they come back, they remain stagnant in one place. So there is no need to come back because the society here is not giving you back what you give to them. Nobody will call you and invest on your music in Benin. They will rather buy you beer. That’s all. They are good at criticising, judging, calling results. So if any Edo-born artiste makes Lagos his home, don’t blame the artiste. If you have value for your career, don’t even come.
What is your projection for achievement in the next few years?
I told God, He is my future. I don’t make resolutions. I allow God to do it for me. But I tell you, I am a positive thinker. I’am a positive person. I don’t believe in failure. My strength is determination. Even from the word impossible, if you put an apostrophe after the I, it turns to I’m possible. That is what I believe in. For me, there is nothing that is impossible, it depends on the approach you give to it. It might take time.
Some people do say, Oligbese you cannot make it again and I say don’t worry, watch. The owner of the expression is God, not man. So for me, two years from now, first and foremost, I hang my degree, am happily married with three kids, and I said God, I want to work for the money that will take care of all my need for the rest of my life in the next two years. And thank God, am a landlord today. So everything that music will give to somebody, I think I’ve a little from it. I am seeing myself like a beginner for now. That is why I work hard everyday. Where I want to get to, I’ve not got there.
What is your advice for upcoming artistes?
Don’t allow financial challenges to deter you because if I had allowed that to be my problem, I won’t be where I am today. And like I tell every upcoming artiste, if you want to take up a career in music, please look for something else to do so that you will be able to raise money to keep going because music is not a business you invest in today and expect to reap today. It is a time-taking business. As for me, I am into different kinds of business.
They should learn to be very very humble, because many of them are too proud. If you don’t want to serve, no body will serve you. I served. I washed Daddy Fresh’s clothes. I was an errand boy to the late Isaac Black. So you must serve. I have served.
In Benin here, the upcoming artistes have the problem of pride. And you know that pride goes before a fall. That is why they are not making any statement right now. Allow your works to speak for you. Let your work speak for you, not you speaking for your work. Here it is the other way round. So I will advise them, don’t be in a hurry, have God by your side?.
Then they must be ready to work hard. Entertainment industry is not a lazy man’s job and it needs money. That you’re an entertainer does not mean you cannot do another job. If you have anytime to do other woks, you work, because you need money to package yourself, to make you look good.
Why are you now interested in politics?
I have always had that mind of fighting for the people. I believe in charting a good course. I believe I have that calling to represent people well. Looking at my life from the beginning till now, I’ve always been a fighter, an activist.
For me, I wouldn’t want to start from elective position right now. I’ll rather like to get an appointment first, maybe as special adviser on entertainment or commissioner for arts and culture before I now go for any elective position. Unfortunately, politics in this country is all about money. If you don’t have money and godfather, there is nothing for you.