BY OGBONNA AMADI Entertainment Editor His coming into the music industry changed the tempo and rhythm of today’s contemporary Naija Hip-Hop music. The fusion of Congo music genre (Sukous), Highlife and made in Naija Hip-Hop flavour, brought a new dimension to Nigeria’s bid to draw attention to our own blend of music.
Shy and reserved, he prefers to live in the shadow of some of the highly successful musicians he’d helped build as a producer.
And who are we talking about here? He is no other person than The Gentleman of the music industry, Martins Okechukwu, Joshua Kalu Okwun a.k.a. J. Martins.
A determined young man, J Martin began his march to stardom when he was contracted as a student to produce Patty Obasi (of the Nwa Mammy Water Fame), one the most successful gospel musicians in the Eastern part of the country. Once rejected and shot at by an ex-soldier father (who could not come to terms with a son joining the train of layabouts, as musicians were seen as in the past) J Martins’ signature tunes could be traceable in the music of Timaya, P-Square, Bracket, and Congolese international musician, Fally Ipupa.
This is his story Do you have other names apart from Jay Martins ? Yes. J-stands for Joshua. I’m Martins Okechukwu too. My mum named me Joshua and my traditional name is Kalu. My father’s name is Okwun. But I’m called Jay Martins because I’m trying to build a brand that will be easy to connect with locally and internationally. So either Joshua Martins or Justice Martins is how J. Martins came to be.
And did the transformation work ? I’ve been using it for production favorably for more than ten years now. One of the good things God has done for me and which I will request for if I’m to come back to this world, is to hail from Ohafia.Of course Abia is the only Nigerian State to be mentioned in the Bible, in the book of Genesis to be precise. How come a lot of people don’t know where you come from. Do you try to hide your identity ?
No , I’ve never hidden it . But I don’t get to travel often because of my work. So, I was shocked that my people knew me so much when I went home this January. Again I have a time I call creative time. When I get to that time, I stay away from every other activity. I went home this January to see my dad and in five minutes, the whole compound was full with people. Some were calling others on the phone saying Jay Martins just came now. He just came now. I don’t have a problem with the town or our people and I don’t think I will ever have .
Given your fame and popularity, you could have gone home with some of your friends? Christmas would have been a good season for that but then, we’re all busy. Also you’ll have to check the villages’ ceremony calender so that you don’t have occasions that crash into each other. For instance, you only bury once in a month and Christmas time is usually busy too so it’ll be impossible for me to have my friends around.
How did you start your career? I started with singing. Actually,. My mum was a Choir mistress so I think the seven of us caught the singing bug from her. I’m the third in the row and the second son. From singing, I took to playing musical instruments. And I got into production while in secondary school in Onitsha. . Along the line, I went to three schools when we moved to Enugu. Later, I did prelim in Mass Communication at the Institute of Management and technology (IMT) and then had a direct entry rather than internship. In the six years that I spent there , I was fully into production because it’s in Enugu that you have legends like Pat Obasi .Then, Glorious Praise was the name of my production and I tried not to be among the noise makers. I produced for only gospel singers back then and I’m still actively involve in Church choir till today. I play the keyboard for my pastor and for my God father. I had a rough time growing so, Dr David Ogbuenu, a pastor put me through school.
My father didn’t support my music and at a point he tried to kill me too. Who tried to kill you? My father. He shot at me once He has a gun? He’s an ex-military man . He was doing the right thing based on the information he had during his own time. At a point I hated him . But he was trying to keep me from going the wrong way. How did you cross over from gospel to contemporary songs that you sing and produce today ? The kind of artistes you produce determine your kind of production. All these genres of music you see today have been there.
My father introduced me to many of them because he’s well traveled. And each time he came back, he brought all sorts. When he gets back in the cool of the day, he takes a shower and while he’s waiting for his meal, he listens to music. So, I got exposed to all of them and that’s why I love all genres of music. I understudied them and kept them to my self knowing that no knowledge is a waste. I knew that at some point in life, they’ll be useful
Who was the first artiste you produced ? Waje is one of them .She has moved to Lagos now. A whole bunch of them, even Niggar Raw . We started from Enugu When was your major break ? My major break was with P-Square, during the Busy Body project and re-mix. After I introduced Waje on their song, they (P-Square) loved it, put it on their record (album)and it made some impact. Then, the Do Me and Game Over project.
Did you produce Do Me ? I was a part of the production. I’ve been co-producing with them from the beginning till the last project. So when did you decide it was time to do your own thing ? I always knew it was coming and I was only doing an understudy because you don’t just venture into music when you don’t know how it works. So when it was time for me to come out, I knew it within me How come you don’t appear in the public like many of your colleagues do ? One, I’m not always around .I have many concert in other African countries. Last year only, when we checked at the end of the year, we’d gone to over 78 countries .
With P-square? No, on my own . How come you’re more pronounced as a producer than as an artist. Not many people know you get such patronage as an artiste ? The thing is that, I found out that most Nigerian artistes just go to perform at mushroom shows and clubs in Europe. For me, I have records. And most of the African tours I did last year were organized by Zain before they re-branded. In East Africa alone, I went to over twenty countries courtesy of Zain . You can go to their head office or website to cross check,. I visited countries that speak entirely strange languages yet they sing my pidgin songs, word for word .They even create their dance steps in Burundi , Tanzania, name them. Here when we say Chai, it’s an exclamation in Tanzania that means tea .
How has all that exposure changed you ? It hasn’t changed my cool, calm person rather, it’s shown me another side to life -being able to interact with different people across different cultures and races because I sing. Why don’t you answer questions that bother on your material possession ? I believe that coming to the media to say how much I’m worth, or my shoe, jewelry, shirts or car cost, is not helping any young man on the streets. I’m trying to push someone into stealing out of envy Rather than tell you how much I’m worth, I’d rather tell you how I got to the point where I am .