Isolation with Brymo: Nigeria’s Mad Music Scientist – Joey Akan

In the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic in Lagos, Brymo cuts a lone figure sitting behind his house and having a small party for one. It’s a peaceful spot in this large compound, far away from the energy and laughter of his curious kids who want to play chess. His right hand moves a half-smoked blunt to his lips, where he drags it with relish, smiling as he stands up for a hug. The 33-year-old takes a puff, lets it roll around in his lungs, and exhales. To conclude the ritual, he sloshes a drink down his throat.

“It’s Orijin and coke,” he says, “Do you want one?”

“Yes.”

“Smoke?” The blunt was offered.

“Yes.”

His face lights up some more. He beams as he hands it over. Smiling with the happiness of a man who’s just found something in common with a new guest. Weed can be a number of things, but right now in the uncertainty of the times, it’s a unifier. Lagos, Nigeria is on lockdown to curb the spread of the Coronavirus which has confounded the medical community, decimated the global economy, and altered everyday life as we know it. Brymo was also a casualty. His headline concert in March was postponed to protect his fans from picking up the dreaded virus. To get to his home, I navigated 10 police checkpoints along deserted streets empty of the usual bustling activity.

Handing me a glass of his special brew, he sits and retrieves the blunt. Sharing his chair is a copy of Dan Brown’s bestseller novel, Inferno.

“This is one of the few times you should

This is one of the few times you should move with the crowd,” Brymo says. “When they say you should stay at home, you should stay at home. It’s as simple as that. I’d never do anything with the crowd but I’d stay home.”

Independence. Brymo’s obsessed with it, referring to it by a grander synonym—freedom. You can find it in the centre of his existence and as his sole compass for navigating life. He acquires this freedom via rebellion, pushing against everything that isn’t in line with his personal choices.

As a teenager, he dropped out of university, choosing music over his father’s wish for higher education. As a signed artist of Chocolate City, where he was first introduced to pop stardom, he tore up his comfort, for a life of inspired alternative music. Even as a large section of music enthusiasts continue to call for him to make music in the vein of ‘Oleku’—his legendary collaboration with former label mate Ice Prince—he’s ignored them. The crowd has never impacted on his personal choices until coronavirus showed up in his city.

After his tumultuous exit from Chocolate City in 2013, and the ensuing legal battle, Brymo flipped the switch on everybody. He abandoned convention, linked up with producer Mikkyme Joses, and launched a creative journey that has so far culminated in five eclectic albums. In that time, he’s deliberately moved away from pop consideration and recreated himself into one of Africa’s most critically acclaimed musicians, focusing on understanding the human experience, relaying it via heartfelt poetic lyrics, ambiguous activism and live performances. Every show he’s announced since then has been sold out. Every venue packed. Every critic silenced. But it isn’t enough.

Yellow,” his 7th studio album offers another chance for him to further extend his legacy. It was crafted from hedonism, Brymo tells me. After the 2018 release of his 6th studio album Oso, Brymo pursued reincarnation. He spent the next 16 months gliding through secret parties, where the alcohol rained, controlled substances poured, and life was the merriest he’s ever experienced.

“Crazy random parties. Drugs and women. I remember I used to be very direct so I could just offend the women, you know,” Brymo recalls, shaking his head in excitement, the blunt now done. “I’d just say things like you look so beautiful and I want to give you multiple orgasms. And the girl just goes, ‘Brymo you can say that just because you’re a star? You can’t say that to me, that’s rude’. And I’d just go ‘oh I’m so sorry, it’s the alcohol. and it would never happen.’ It was wild. A fucking wild time

It was also a time when he finally became more vocal about his place in world music. He trumpets himself as the best, champions erotic love, and chastises anyone who dares use the word ‘underrated’ to qualify his art. That energy translates when he speaks. Brymo gets lost in his imagery, walking up and down in erratic movements, charged with passion. To get the interview, I chase him around the space to ensure my audio is intact. In one hour of conversation, we both broke a glass, my phone was knocked out of my hand, and my mind was stretched.

Through it all, Brymo paints a picture of a musical scientist. A mad man with a method. Nigeria’s very own sound maverick.

How much more do you want for yourself?

As much as…I don’t know the quantity. I know the ‘why’. I know the length of time. I want more as long as I’m alive because as long as I’m alive, I’m going to be free. Freedom is the theme. When you want more, freedom is the only way to get more and enjoy it in peace afterwards. The aftermath of success is more important. It’s the only way to get more, and say “it’s mine and I’m taking a break for three years. When I’m done, when I blow it, I’d go look for more. The choice to blow what you’ve made is rare. To make a profit and have profit in bulk is rare. It’s a tangible amount to buy a house, to buy cars, to buy a jet, to buy a yacht, to be Bill Gates, it’s rare to make money. So how do you do it to be that rich and to have people talking to you as a rich man not as a greedy man? I don’t think there’s any other way than the open dreaming part.

I believe that the reason Bill Gates became the first man to put a computer in our hands—to put software in our hands—was because he was the most open guy about it. He was the guy talking about it the most and everybody was like ‘yeah we can do this’. Since he was the guy talking about it, of course he was going to be the guy doing it.

That’s just the point because that way, people will deliberately stop you, they now become your stepping stones. And on every level you get, some people will try to stop you, some will try to shun you, some will try to put you under. Some will try to kill you, some will try to bury you. Some will try to harm you. It gets more dangerous as you go farther.

But you’ve gone farther. What’s the danger that you’ve experienced for yourself?

Nothing matters. Freedom is all that counts.

Do you think you’re free?

Oh no! I’m not free. I’m just constantly taking some of it back. Nothing in the past that held me is still holding me. The past must lose its hold on me. The essence of freedom is not to be free. It’s to continue to take more of your freedom back as you get older.

So freedom is not an end in itself. It’s a vehicle..

It’s a process. It’s like going to an airport in Dubai where they have like four hundred gates. Yeah something like that. It’s the same thing. You’re all just boarding a plane. But you just go through separate gates because there are so many outlets.

Why are you weird? Do you consider yourself weird?

I don’t know what weird means.

Are you different?

Deliberately, yes.

Why are you different?

Survival, Joey. I don’t know why. For all of my life I hated classism. I hated the fact that people have to group themselves in classes. Because it takes the same effort to find intellect no matter who you are. To be intelligent means to be still. And to be manual you need to become auto. Do you really think science is ever going to go past both? Digital is just a word they created for the third perspective, the neutral in the light bulb. It’s just a word for the middle. It’s always about automation and manual. That’s all that is going on.

So it’s just binary?

It’s a duality. It’s a duality working as one. Anytime they come together and they create something, we say ‘oh it’s digital.’ Where there’s the hardware and software and everything is going together. We say cars are going digital. Does it mean cars don’t have bodies? Yes, but they won’t no longer have fuel poured into them.

I see how you create conversations. You make connections between things that people would not think about. You sort of teach, you enlighten and then you declare. Why? Where does it come from?

Those are the three principles of bringing dreams to fruition. It is as simple as what it is. You think the thought. Then you campaign for it. And then you do what you said you will do. For everything you ever campaigned for Joey, tell me that somebody at some point didn’t come along to help you do it. That’s what democracy is about. That’s why Christianity is still hot. Islam only survives because there’s Christianity. Islam just created the other side of the coin. Christianity is trinity. Light bulb is trinity. Democracy is trinity. That’s the family; father, mother and children. The children are judging the parents. They don’t have the right to, but they do.

How does it feel to know that you’re one of the few artists that can do whatever they say they will do?

It doesn’t mean much because I’m still under the law and principles of the universe. Principles of time. Do you know the only time when everything is okay according to the world?

When? Tell me.

When you are a bad person. When being a patriarch, when being a misogynist, when being a rapist, when being a fraudster. When being a corrupt official. Do you know the only time it is safe? In old age. You know the only time people need to be rich?

When?

Old age. Because you’re supposed to get richer as you’re older. I don’t think you’re supposed to get money and then save it and then necessarily invest to make more money. You cannot take on more than one responsibility in a job or profession. If you take on more than one, you’re going to fall apart. You’re not going to be successful. You must blow up from one source before you can start channelling investments into other things. So that takes time and I’m still subject to that. So that means that if I want my peace of mind, the only way to be rich in this life is to make more money than you can finish. Really. Let’s get serious. If you have 17 businesses bringing you N5000, you’ll be fine. I promise you, as soon as you have just one place for 5k, you’re going to plug it into a debt. You’re going to plug it into a school fee. That’s what happens to people who do that mostly. The only way to be rich is to make more money than you can finish.

So, expansion?

You have to make more money than you can finish. And for everytime you make money, you have to spend a lot of it. The guy from Amazon, Jeff Bezos has been so good at making money that when he gave his wife $30 billion, he made it back so quickly. He’s just so skilled at making his money back, but he still had to spend half of that money or so. Yeah, he had to. What’s the difference? Jeff Bezos lost $30 billion. Do you think it’s different from you when you lose 2 million? You think it feels different? Oh no man. It doesn’t. He was pissed.

How does it feel to always provide more?

To give more is the only prerequisite for giving more. See, the feeling of ‘everything is mine’ is limited to youths. There’s something boys and girls lose that we don’t talk about. The confidence of youth. And it doesn’t return. All that’s left is showing and proving. Why the fuck did you go to school? For degrees? No, they want to see how long you can continue to be examined. How long you can continue to take the tests and pass the exams. It’s the same thing every time in life. So everytime the cycle returns we just say ‘aim higher.’ The cycle will come and go. If you hold on to what has been given to you in the cycle you’re not going to get what’s coming next. It’s why the rich will tell you to quickly invest your money. So there can be hope of more returns and then more money. What do I need to invest in? Invest in the life of an artist. I have invested tens of millions into lifestyle just so I could put out “Yellow”.

Tell me about what this lifestyle is in relation to “Yellow.” How did you get from nothing to Yellow?

Of course, there were musicians before there was theatre. The life of an artist is what created the idea of a theatre, because the artist is a different character in every phase of our career. That’s why I make one album every two, three years. So that I could truly live and experience things. And guess the most beautiful thing about life? you only need two to three good experiences to have a bag of experience to share. Set some dreams. the universe will take you through rough patches and then take you through galloping roads and then through smooth sailing and then you’re on a jet. If you get lucky then you might go to Mars. Those periods are not more than a year and half. And as you go, you’re reporting and reporting.

So what did you do for Yellow?

For Yellow, I just became a different person from who I used to be. Which was a different person from who I used to be before that. What happens is, if you decide to put money into your lifestyle, whether you move into a bigger house or you decide to get a bigger car. Or you decide to step up your budget for your work or your project. You want to go touring, when all of that starts to come, you need a phase to arrive there. For instance, in 2013 I had no true experience to share, even though I had stories to write. I was skilled at poetry. I had studied so many poets. I almost understood the essence of poetry and how they are constructed. When to use humour and when not to. I just kept reading poetry for maybe ten years. So I sort of was prepared. I didn’t have any experience, but I needed to aspire. Those were the qualities of the artist I’m trying to become. That was the most important thing.

When we talk about a renowned artist from Africa who is respected globally. Who is doing numbers on the global scale that the world is scared to talk about. That even he himself is afraid to talk about. Humbling success that I cannot brag about. That I cannot do giveaways in public about. The kind of success that humbles you, that makes you quiet. I wanted that, but I didn’t have the experience for it. So I just put in place the machinery for the quality of an artist that can attract that kind of success and share it with the people I was working with (Chocolate City).

And as the universe would have it, they didn’t want it. And everything started falling apart. And before I knew what was going on, I was being dragged. I was furious because I left the university for this. I would never quit music for anything. So I needed to fight through that to get my career back. No, I’m not going back home to tell my mother that I failed. I’m the only child. What’s going to happen? What am I going to tell my father? My father would just be like ‘wow, well done. You got tired ehn, let’s go to the river and catch fish.’ (laughs)

And then you began the move.

And so I began the move and that was a rough experience I didn’t want. And it resulted in an experience that made my first free album, Merchants, Dealers & Slaves (M,D&S) as believable as it was.

Beautiful album.

Why do you think so? Because you knew I was in court for two years. When I was recording the album, I was in court. I’d be in the studio about to record a song and I’d receive an email from a lawyer and it goes ‘next court date is in four days…’ That’s why you see, when you listen to M, D&S the energy was on high. The vocals were pitchy. I can’t sing some songs on the album. I’m like ‘why I dey sing like this that time na, the vocals too high.’ That was the only way. To either be mad or be subdued. But I couldn’t be mad in public. I couldn’t be mad on TV. I had to make sense. I needed to take the facts of the story and put it together and present it to the public and the court. That experience that made the album, more than the album made the experience.

How was the reception?

The experience. Everything is riding on that experience. That was literally my entrance into music for advocacy. Yes, into rebellion music. That was the entrance. I was speaking about the fight with the label and the industry and then I was making rebellious music. Putting punches at the government. I take my oppression local but my aim is the jugular of the federal government. Everything I say is about the government. But the proof of what I’m saying, is in my war with the music industry. That’s all. My fight to see a better hunting ground for me and my kind.

Why do you think the music industry is not receptive to your kind?

No, they are receptive to it. What happens is very simple and it’s most common among us dark-skinned people; the person your age or younger, cannot tell you what to do, no matter how right they are. No matter how much sense they make. Also, that makes sense because you are going through your life’s history. It would be difficult to listen to somebody else no matter how right they may be. Because many times people have messed you up, told you to do something and have left you hanging. So it all makes sense why things are like that. With M, D&S, that experience was rough but it made me. Then I realised at that point in time that what you go through are stories. And these stories are what you report on the other side. These stories take two years max anyway.

Why two years?

Max, when I was a beginner. Now my cycle takes about six months. That’s why I said that Jeff Bezos knew how to make money, but he made money back so quickly and he gave some of it away and boom, he did it again. Bill Gates was making millions in seconds at some point. What in his head told him he could be making money at that speed? He was just making money every microsecond. He practiced and practised and got better at it. And as you get better at it, the cycle becomes shorter. If it took two years then, I just said so far it’s two years, I can survive another two years. I knew then also that things got better as you go. And ever since then, I never put myself through any shortcuts anymore. I go through processes. And what is the aim? To be free. My freedom.

Because as long as I’m looking at my freedom, I’d only make choices that guarantee that. And making that choice is going to get you battered. It’s going to get you cursed. It’s going to get you disowned. And you’re going to live through it, convincing everybody one at a time that yo, I’m just here for your entertainment though. (laughs)

Because freedom’s what it’s all about?

In the end. And then you take it back there and they start to enjoy it. I’m saying this, but they’d forget it, you can print it. And just when they start to enjoy it, you say

‘hey! stay back!’ And they’d be like ‘mad man has come again.’ And you go through it all over again. They get tired of you and they don’t want to see that other side anymore they just keep giving me money now every day. That’s how you get rich.

Why did you go naked in ‘Heya’?

‘Heya’ was necessary. If you listen to Yellow, you can see black people themes again. After ‘Heya’, people were sceptical. People were sounding like ‘who are you talking to in the song?’ Everything is just sketchy. Literally, ‘Black Man, Black Woman’ for instance is a more literal version of ‘Heya.’ Heya was philosophizing and meshing a lot together and keeping it in simple pidgin English. But a few folks wanted to use it to jab Brymo’s songwriting and say the lyrics were very weak on Heya. No they’re not. They were designed that way because Oṣó was the journey to finally go back to Yellow. To go back to happiness. To go back to Brymo releasing an album and people going ‘damn! we are freaking enjoying it. We love it’.

Oṣó was dark.

Oṣó is way darker than anything I’ve ever made. Because that’s exactly what precedes light. If Oṣó didn’t go that dark, there wouldn’t have been Yellow. It would have been impossible. Oṣó is the reason why everyone thinks Yellow is a beautiful and happy album. Even though it’s just another Brymo album and it’s literally as dark as Oṣó. But the language is literal. There’s a guy I call John Mayer, He’s one of my favourite artists in the world. He writes literally, but when you’re listening to his literal story, you start to tell yourself that it’s super deep like Fela. Oh, they are actually Libras. Both of them are the same sign as my father and my manager.

I’m Libra

Boom! Libras know how to say things directly and they sound fucking deep. They sound so deep. Sometimes it takes only a Taurus to listen to a Libra and understand that it’s literal. That’s how I feel a number of times. And every Libra that I know who is a songwriter or singer, they all write that way. John Mayer says things directly. When I say things directly, it becomes offensive. But the Libra says it directly, it can be humorous, it can be funny, it can be indirect anger. I only have outbursts, but in the sense of a Libra, like my father, I get to learn humour. And I get to learn a level of detachment that astounds me like how the fuck are you so detached? How are you acting like you’re not scared? What’s up? So I like to write literally sometimes even though they have hidden meanings behind the words and that’s what I did with Yellow. So it gives it a brighter outlook than Oṣó.

How did you create Yellow?

]I think I already told you everything. But in the actual process, I just spend a lot of time with friends you know. Crazy random parties. Drugs and women. I remember I used to be very direct so I could just offend the women, you know. I’d just say things like ‘you look so beautiful and I want to give you multiple orgasms.’ And the girl just goes, ‘Brymo you can say that just because you’re a star? You can’t say that to me, that’s rude.’ And I’d just go ‘oh I’m so sorry, it’s the alcohol, and it would never happen again. It was wild. A fucking wild time. I’m talking about 16 months. (laughs) From like April right after Oṣó dropped.

16 months of hedonism?

Yes. Extreme hedonism. And it was fucking good Joey.

What is the nature of your activism, and the point of it?

Remember, freedom is at the core of my needs, of my desires. How do you get freedom if you don’t study the times before you make utterances? There are days when there is no clarity and you have to speak in codes. You cannot be bare. Do you realise to be bare, is to pass judgment? People think speaking clearly is just using plain English, no. To be clear is to pass judgment. To say exactly what you’re thinking, but you can do that every time. There are days when you just go ‘fuck all this shit and just say it as it is.’ You know on that day that there’s drought, and all the lions are trapped seven stories down the hill, and they have not eaten in six weeks, they cannot climb to where you are Then you scream and your name echoes through the land. And you become gods among men. If after Yellow I go out for a month, the mystery would be lost.

At the heart of everything is freedom.

Yes. And I can never enjoy freedom if other people don’t enjoy it too.

Okay, that’s why you fight for people or sing for people?

Yes, I fight my wars and educate people about it. Some people follow me in my troubles from M, D&S. Those are the people that look like my niche followers, whom by the way, I’ve refused to name. It’s such a huge trend that I think is the most mediocre shit going on right now.

Some people would argue…

I think it’s very mediocre and it’s cheap. That’s the most problem. That’s the biggest problem with music. Whatever two or three people have done, don’t touch it. Don’t name your fans. It’d die with the decade. The decade is dead, Joey. The expression has been deepened. Do you remember the ‘Oleku’ of 2010? Compare that to Yellow. Stop and do it. It’s a decade later, lightning would strike again and everything can sort of repeat itself again. That’s why Yellow is happening. Expression has been opened further. I’m just happy to be the guy who observed into the patterns and tapped into it again. Because things happened faster than they did before. So many people played their hands last quarter of last year too early.

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