For over 2 decades, Innocent Idibia has kept his hold on the pulse of African pop music. How has he competed at the top through generations of change and artistic evolution?
“Make I bring D’usse and Heineken?” Larry Gaaga asks, smiling through his thick salt-and pepper beard. Ever the stellar host. He beckons to an assistant, who leaves the studio with a new directive. Once you walk through those doors as his guest in Lagos, he offers you D’usse Cognac to “soak body small,” chased by an energy drink or coke. You also get a plate of rice and turkey, ordered from a neighbourhood restaurant. In my 3-year friendship with Larry Gaaga, he’s never missed this ritual.
Baba dey come. You know say him busy, you for don tell am earlier,” Gaaga explains. A long-time friend and collaborator with 2baba, he’s concerned about how long I have waited for 2baba. So, he reassures me that 2baba is close, before calling in a producer to play some of his unreleased records. As I give feedback, he nods, asking questions about potential guest appearances. In one corner of the room, renowned disc jockey, DJ Neptune sits staring at a MacBook laptop. He’s occasionally contributing to our conversation about life in the music industry and COVID-19. Neptune is happy with the performance of his hit single, ‘Nobody’, which features Nigerian musicians Mr Eazi, and Joeboy. “Na God give e that one,” he says, opening his palms up to the heavens in appreciation.
We’re in Larry Gaaga’s Lekki studio on Lagos Island. A large frame mounted on the wall holds a photo of 2baba. It is fitting because this is the artist’s favourite stomping and recording ground. This space has blessed him. After hitting the limelight in 2000 as a member of local group Plantashun Boiz, 2baba would come out of a bitter split with a solo career. Since then, he’s built immeasurable success and left a legacy of artistic excellence. With 7 albums in his golden discography, audiences have enjoyed endless gems. It has traveled across the continent with a lifetime of evergreen hits. For two decades, Innocent Idibia has stood tall as an example of sustainable success in Africa. Now, in the latter part of his incredible career, much of his current success is tied to his ongoing collaborations with music entrepreneur and executive, Larry Gaaga. Brothers in life. Siblings in sound. Friends for ages. In 2017, 2baba recorded his smash hit record, ‘Gaaga Shuffle’ in this room
Don’t worry, 2baba don almost reach,” Larry Gaaga tries to placate me. “Him go get time for you. Una go talk.” When 2baba arrived, he was in a hurry. The 44-year old took long strides in his sunglasses and Gucci Oversize denim jacket, waving his greeting with “How far now?” he’s ushered into the studio, where he greets Neptunes and Gaaga. A retinue of handlers and technicians were on his heels, scurrying through with equipment. The singer had committed to an event with Google. He was scheduled to have a mock zoom presentation, and everyone had to leave the studio. “It won’t take time,” I was assured by Tayo, his media manager.
“Most times, I try to say ‘hey guy how far na? If I get problems with you, you think say na the best way to get my attention be this? Or you think say na the best way for us to solve this thing be this?’ But at the end of the day if he still persists, we’d solve it amicably. Or if it’s not going to be amicable, then we get it legal. If you dey talk something about me, or you dey accuse me of something, the only way to go is legal,” he says.
2baba’s other controversies have been personal. With 7 kids from his wife and two other past relationships, his love life has been the subject of public scrutiny, and the source of endless jokes and memes about masculine virility and celebrity indulgence. It’s a reality he’s embraced. Taking care of his large family is one of his greatest joys. Being a family man has defined his existence for good.
At this stage of your career, is there anything you feel like you haven’t achieved?
Yeah man. There are plenty things that I know that I haven’t achieved. As you know, I started from a different era. I started from the era of cassettes. We scaled through cassettes, we entered CD. We have scaled through CD, now we’re in the digital era, you know. I think I have achieved a whole lot from the cassette era, being part of a group that was one of the biggest groups in the continent at that time. And then to my solo movements, from the early days which was a CD market. I think I broke records in that time: highest numbers of CDs sold, awards and all that stuff.