By Tersoo Achineku
I must admit, that exact question was dumped at me on so many occasions in the week leading to our interview that I was tempted to invest in a baseball bat to ward off future inquires.
With most musicians in our country slowly buying into the concept that Nigerians are dance zombies, who can’t get enough of high tempo tracks, it is indeed a thing of note when someone decides to step out of the crowd and dares to be different. Over the course of two weeks, I’d reviewed the few remaining women in our music industry and decided to kick start a series of interviews aimed at promoting members of the female gender who are still holding it down. Now, there’s no way you’d expect me to write down the above explanation and reel it out time after time to my friends who, to be frank, are more interested in taking pictures with notable personalities than actually helping my ministry so yes, I was this close to buying a baseball bat.
I was just about to viciously split a piece of meat in half when my phone vibrated. Half agitated that I couldn’t massacre the delicious looking ‘obstacle’ on my plate immediately; I picked the call and heard Aisosa’s voice on the line. Since Ruby’s manager, Toda couldn’t make it that day, she’d sent in a replacement to help soothe the interview for her principal. Jerking up from my seat, I was immediately hit with the realization that my interview was about to hold in under ten minutes, I was more interested in dealing with a piece of ponmo. Dragging myself to reality, I jumped out of the restaurant and unto the first motorcycle I could find, our office studio, my main destination.
My first heart attack of the day came when I reached the studio to find it locked. LOCKED! With Ruby barely minutes away, our venue for the interview was under lock and key, a serious recipe for disaster. I slowly contemplated my next line of action. I could always run away, sneak into Benin Republic under a new alias and start afresh in a place where Ruby or Ovation will not be able to trace me. Luckily, reasoning trumped desperation and I soon found myself calling Sunmisola to find out where he was. Almost in sync, his SUV turned into the street and to say that I was relieved would be an understatement. Heck, I was this close to giving him a big hug. Within minutes, Ruby and her entourage were knocking at our gate, and I walked out to act as a one man welcome party.
A lot of people say that first impressions matter. But nah, it doesn’t. Impressions are mere perceptions by individuals on a new subject or topic and half of the time, they’re wrong because you need to communicate with that subject or topic before you can make an accurate deduction. So I will be frank when I say that Ruby wasn’t exactly what I expected. Clad in a simple gown looking radiant even without makeup, she oozed an air of confidence and maturity. Maybe it was her gait, or her smile or her countenance, but I had to stop myself from prostrating to greet her. But like I mentioned before, that was just my perception and as usual, it crumbled in minutes.
As usual I began the interview by asking about her foundation and childhood and that’s when I got to meet the real Ruby Gyang, not the person that my subconscious had spawned. With the first words out of her mouth, it suddenly struck me that I might have indeed been wrong about her. I had to do a quick reassessment to make sure I was still with the same person.
“I had a very happy childhood. I am from a Christian family of six kids who grew up in Zaria. I had four sisters and two brothers, and we had a lot of love and noise even. My late dad was a professor and my mum was part of the University administration. My mum was musically gifted, and I guess she passed that down to me. I had a large extended family that was a real part of my life. In totality, I would say that my childhood was excellent.”
She’d changed! The Ruby I was with had this teenage vibe to her and that was really exciting. I must admit, I did picture us going on drinking binges, pulling phone call pranks and signing along to Fun’s We Are Young. Reeling myself into reality once again, I continued with the interview.
“The 90s was a crazy time for my childhood. At that time Nigeria, was embroiled in a lot of crises ranging from religious to political turmoil and it did affect me a lot. You had to walk around with a branch of green leaves then to show that you’re peaceful. I was very young then but that energy permeated really. My favourite childhood memories really bordered around music and mischief, really. I remember being very well behaved but having spurts of rebellion. Beating me then was nothing, as I was really hyperactive. I had a wild imagination, and was very curious and determined. My role models were my parents alongside my elder sister, who had a major influence on me. I wanted to be many things, even a super hero but the constant was that I would eventually enter the music industry.”
According to Ruby, she always had a knack for music. Like many entertainers today, she began in the church where she honed her musical prowess. She explained skipping classes sometimes just to watch a cultural music troupe in Zaria, and in her words; “I would brave the beating just to watch them because I was that involved in music. However, I did love school. I was just a struggle to full focus in it. I found out I could juggle both. Since I was planning on being in the music industry overtime, I convinced myself to complete my education.”
To those who don’t know, the Chocolate City of today started from way back and yes, Ruby Gyang was part of its foundation. She explained that after her high school education, she met Jesse Jagz and M.I and they started the Loopy Crew. “What is meant to be is meant to be. We had a passion for music and it drew us together. At the time, it was a mere crew and eventually M.I sold us the idea of taking things up a notch, and so we started our own movement. I was the Vice President, M.I was the President, Ice Prince was in charge of P.R and we took over Jos before the crises began.”
Ruby was introduced into the industry with the song ‘Okay’ and she explained that the song was an uphill task indeed. “I watched Nneka on T.V., and I was inspired by her brave move to fuse the local tongue in music. We just put it out and didn’t expect people to vibe to it. It was difficult since that was the first song I did in pidgin.”
Through the interview, I noticed a reoccurring factor, her relationship with Chocolate City. She was full of praises for all of the acts including the Short Black Dude.
“Jude is a giver. He never stops giving at all and that is one thing I’d love to inculcate. Jesse and I are very good friends, and we have a child together. Most people who have a child together and aren’t married cannot stand each other but we’ve managed to make things work. I have been able to juggle family and music with the help of my family. They’ve been really helpful. I guess that’s one of the perks of being in an extended family.”
The mentality of the average Nigerian musician these days is simple; make the audience dance no matter how stupid the song might seem. As weird as it seems, that is sadly the case today as pop music has taken over, relegating other genres of music to the background. With her main concern being soul and R‘n’B, Ruby explained that despite the fact that dancehall music is the norm, Nigerians also need to reflect, and you definitely cannot do that with drums slamming into your ear drums.
“I focus on the audience that appreciate my kind of music. In the same vein, it doesn’t hurt to do music that makes people nostalgic, but that doesn’t need to become part and parcel of your creative process. Not everybody listens to one particular kind of music so I have survived so far by servicing the few that prefer my kind of music.”
‘Good Man’ is basically Ruby Gyang’s biggest export till date, and it earned her a Headies Nomination. She gave a lowdown of how the hit was born.
“Good Man was written by M.I. At the time, I convinced myself that that would be the kind of song I would love to play on my wedding day, but when I started to play to a few men, they loved it and told me that it wasn’t supposed to be a song relegated to just unions alone. According to them, ‘The song praised men and their efforts in providing and comforting their partners’.”
“I didn’t expect to be nominated at all. It was a surprise to us, and it showed me that there are people listening to my craft. It pushed me to become better even, and I found myself reinventing my style of music in total.”
Ruby explained that she’d still be relevant today even if Chocolate City and/or Loopy Music didn’t exist. She noted that she’d always had it in her to do music and it didn’t matter which platform it came, she’d still be doing well. Furthermore, Ruby examined the music industry of today, and gave her opinion on the current situation of things in the society.
“Our industry is growing, but we’re not as organized as other sectors. Nigeria has become the beacon of entertainment in Africa, and all we need is to get structured as they are abroad. There was a time when you had to develop your craft in order to be called a musician. I guess those people left and their replacements were young people who had little or no musical training, and are more interested in trial by error processes. One of the issues we have today is the fact that musicians are not ready to learn and train themselves. We have few people who can hold their own in the industry, and this is because they have invested in themselves and have trained themselves. The listeners also have a part in the problems of the industry. If you release trash and it trends, then you have a problem. Technology has made things easier, but has made people lazier craft wise.”
In case you want to know how Ruby comes up with her music, she revealed that so many factors come into play. “Sometimes it comes spontaneously, triggered by an experience or situation. Sometimes I hear a sound and things just flow naturally; sometimes someone could assist me with a song, the various techniques are numerous to be honest.”
“To upcoming artistes, I would say develop your craft and please, stop waiting for a record label to come for you. Learn about the business and study successful artistes. Just be sure that nobody is ready to sign an underdeveloped artiste. You have to learn and train yourself to become a music entrepreneur so you don’t fall into financial crisis. If you are looking for a hand, look at the end of your arm.”
Her top ten artistes include:
- Mariam Makeba
- Mary J Blige
- Aretha Franklin