Before meeting Nigerian musician, producer and songwriter Cobhams Asuquo – I hear a lot of awesome things about him and his work. I am particularly curious to understand how he works around his equipment and production – being blind – yet – hands down one of the best producers hailing from Africa.
When we finally meet in Nairobi during his time as producer at Coke Studio Africa season III, I start to understand that things actually aren’t as complicated for him as I feared they’d be. Like most professionals, he’s got a manager and an engineer – Sola (who also doubles up as his right hand man) – I discover that things work for him, pretty much the same way they work for most of us with the gift of sight, if not more seamless.
Cobhams is a jolly good fellow. There’s almost always an air of laughter around him while on and off duty. For the first two days, I am keen to introduce myself to Cobhams every time I meet him. But on the third day, he says, “I know its you.” Of course he does. It’s rather silly how the human ability to see deceives us to think that everything must be – because we see in a certain way.
By the second week working around the same production – we’ve become buddies and constantly enjoy exchanging opinions on cultural topics. Cobhams’ mind is beautiful. If you are shallow, he’s the type of person you could never have a conversation with. No offense. I am taken aback by his sentiment that he hasn’t experienced Nairobi’s pulse properly as he had “expected more and heard amazing things about this city.” I know Nairobi is all that and more, and I am also curious to know what ticks Cobhams. “I like great food, fine restaurants, events where things are happening just like acoustic sets and great company,” he says.
I immediately set up an upcoming evening for dinner for his crew to meet mine. I have invited a few of my close friends, most of whom are musicians, writers and colleagues at Coke Studio Africa. We dine at Karen’s Que Pasa. It’s the best thing to dine with Cobhams – trust me. Small conversation turns into important life lessons. Some of the topics we discuss change the ways I have been thinking and end up inspiring me big time.
Cobhams has got so many genuine qualities that I wish every human being possessed. For instance, he’s open speaking about his blindness and greatness (unbeknownst to him), all in modesty. “I don’t wish I could see or feel that things would have turned out differently if I did because things might have actually been different for me. I think that seeing can also sometimes be a distraction. At this point in my life I am passionate about empowering people to realize that they can be,” he tells me and my assistant Tracy.
Cobhams is the writer and producer of the phenomenal song “Jailer” by Nigerian French singer, songwriter and recording artists Aṣa. “Jailer” finding a life of its own in this big saturated world of music, has left Cobhams more than content. “Wow!” He marvels when we explain to him how big that song was/and still is, to us and in Kenya. He explains how he wrote the song out of frustration. He supposed it was an irony that those who deny us opportunities and chances are just as much denying themselves as much, just like a prisoner and jailer are both inmates – “depending on how you look and them and where you are looking at them from.”
Somehow we end up talking about the debate on who needs to be empowered more. The boy child or the girl child? Cobhams says, “Men need to be taught to be leaders and take responsibility. A man needs to be taught to take bullets for his family,” directly telling me, “It is important for your cause as a supporter of the girl child to support the boy child. For in order to give the girl child the attention and the positioning that she deserves, their needs to be real men … It’s in the place of empowering the boy child and to make him understand the power of a woman’s intuition.”
This guy is deep. I’ve sared.
We also talk about books and I discover that we share some things in common. We both love to read and we both recently made a conscious decision to read an African author after every book by a random author. I tell him about my love for George Orwell, Hermann Hesse and Zukiswa Wanner.
In the last hour of dinner, former Prime Minister of Kenya Raila Odinga happens to sit on a table close to ours. These things only happen when you are dining with Cobhams. Cobby insists that he has to meet Raila so I work my Publicist magic. We end up being the only peeps at the restaurant who take pictures with Raila. They end up discussing music and African politics. It was really cool.
In the last 40 minutes of dinner, another one of my great friends – Blinky Bill makes it! He just came in after a studio session. They talk studio time and musical notes with Cobby. “Do you love Franco?” Asks Blinky. “Like who in Nigeria doesn’t listen to Congolese music?” They start to sing out Lingala tunes as we head out of Que Pasa, way past 11:00 p.m… “Kekekekeke Gala Mingeli …”
“I have to stop or people will think I am crazy,” Cobby says as we get to the parking lot. But in the real sense I am the one looking crazy dancing to no music 🙂
BONUS: Coke Studio Africa TV Show represents a great wealth of music from Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Mozambique and Uganda. For the first time 29 artistes from these countries will in the new season collaborate in a unique format of mash-ups. The show will feature performances and collaborations from popular artists who have made a mark on their local music scene.
Notice I haven’t really talked about his music production? Look out for the continuation of this post: Talking Music with Cobhams Asuquo