Just thirty seconds with the man behind the name J Martins and one is totally overwhelmed with his amazing sense of humour coupled with humility. In this interview, the recently wedded producer-singer lets us into his world detailing his growing up, career and of course, marriage.
Everybody seems to have an opinion of J Martins but who would you describe him to be?
J Martins is just me, quiet, reserved, usually when I say things like this; it looks like I am bragging. I’m just myself. I am a very private person, reserved, calm. I’m not so much of the outgoing type but because of my career, once in a while, I have to. I’m a loving person, I love my fans, I love my family and I also love my enemies too. (Laughs) I am me.
At the moment, your name is everywhere and…
Would you say otherwise?
Well, sometimes when you say how big these names are, it scares you. You are in your house and you look at yourself, Jay Martins. Who is Jay Martins? You now ask yourself if something happens to Jay Martins, let’s assume he is ill, papers will then go ‘Jay Martins is ill’. This small boy? It’s funny, but it’s the way God made it and I am happy to be a public servant in the celebrity capacity. That celebrity thing, people expect a whole lot from you. They don’t think you have excesses or can make mistake. They just bombard you with so many demands.
But you should have been ready for it.
It’s not about that. You learn and grow on the job. No matter how ready you think you are, it will definitely drill you except if that job is not part of you. Trust me, it will drill you.
You were once upon a time behind the scene as a producer…
I’m still producing (laughs)
Sure, but don’t think you would have maintained your privacy if you had remained a producer, since it bothers you this much.
Well, just know one thing is certain; you will lose your private life once you are in showbiz.
Whether or not you are on the scene?
It doesn’t matter. No matter how much you try to hide, you will lose your privacy. You may try to an extent to keep it under check but you will somehow loose it. A good example is I love to eat boli and roasted yam very well, the joy of standing on the road corner, watching how it is made, that’s actually the joy of the whole thing but you can’t do that now. I’ve tried to do that only ended up causing traffic and paying for everybody. Sometimes, it’s fun to know that people love and appreciate what you do and they are with you all the way, even when they hear terrible things about you, they are quick to defend you.
So what would you say stardom has done to you?
A lot. Stardom has done a lot for me but you know like everything, it comes with its up and downs.
Which of the two comes your way often?
The truth is you can’t have one without the other. That’s why there is the concept of checks and balance.
Let’s delve a little into your growing up days. As a young boy growing up in Onitsha, did you envisage yourself becoming this big?
Well, it used to be dreams. As a little baby, you visualise, dream and wish. You see all the Michael Jacksons, James Browns, Louis Armstrong on the TV and you are like wow! I love what they did. We never really thought we could. Like I used to watch Daddy Showkey and I ended up playing with Showkey on stage, same with Majek Fashek, I ended up seeing him. It can also make you understand that your dreams can become true if you work towards it. First of all, committing it into the hands of God, knowing that He is the only one that can do all things and you doing your part.
Your mother was a chorister and you…
I’m still part of the choir…
So do you still sing in the church choir?
I do. I still sang last Sunday. That’s where I came from, that’s where I am and that’s where I would always be. Any day I stop commercial music, I am fully back in church. In as much as I travel a lot, I still play keyboard in the choir, I still sing and still teach the choir.
Tell us your experience moving from Onitsha to Lagos.
It was Onitsha to Enugu. That was when I went to school. Before then was UNN, Nsukka where I read Computer Science which I did not pass. And when I went to Enugu, my god father had to force me to do preliminary on Mass Communication, so I did an OND in mass communication. I finished and was supposed to do my one year but instead of that, I did my direct entry to ESUT but then we had issues of strike and cultism, I didn’t go for service.
Why was that?
Somehow, I already knew I was going to be an employer of labour, so I wasn’t really bothered.
Tell us about your journey into professional music, starting with the production aspect.
Uhmm… production wise, it’s been like sixteen years now and performing, seven to eight years now.
What was the experience like before you had your big break?
It was tough, very tough. It’s better now because if you tell your father now that you want to do music, they will give you full support. Your father can even sell his property and give you but then nobody wanted to hear anything music, you have become a wasted son be that, then everybody will look at you like an outcast since you are not a doctor, engineer or lawyer, they don’t even know if he is charge and bail. Mothers want to be called a ‘doctor’s mother’, they don’t even want to know if it is veterinary doctor (laughs). Anyway, those are part of the experiences you encounter during your journey in life, but today, I seat back and I am grateful to God it all happened.
You are known to have worked with some of the biggest acts in the industry. How does this make you feel?
I have worked with a few. Waje for example. I’ve known Waje for a while now. She is one of the strongest vocalists we have around in Nigeria and these other people I always talk about them, the P-square twins. All the way from the ‘Busy body remixes’, then do me, danger. It’s a wonderful thing, you look back and you ask yourself, how did you come about pressing those notes people are jamming their heads to? It’s funny.
Talking about beats, the ‘Do me’ track was a hit. How did you come about that?
I think one of the things that helped the success of the song was, before then we had a lot of dance hall, Makossa beats and I coming from the eastern part of the country where we have most of the highlife legend like Oliver de Coque, Bright Chimezie, which were some of the people I listened to while growing up. At that point, I felt like High life was fading away, I thought of a way to reinvent that because that is what you will call African music. I told myself, we needed to change the landscape of Nigerian music. After ‘Do me’, we all saw the success, so I said okay, let me trick it again and see if it can work the second time, so I made good or bad. If you want to find out the secret, bring the two songs, when you play good or bad instrumental, play do me on it, you will realise it’s the same thing. We on the creative side that’s our work and it works for us.
What does production entail?
For me, its ehm…being a singer and producer, sometimes I have the rhythm in my head, I make the beats and I start writing. Sometimes, I have the song in my head, I write it down, perhaps just the chorus and I use it to produce the beat. Let me say here, I am not a fast writer. Although, being one has advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages is that it gives you enough time to scrutinize your writing and the disadvantage, if you are expected to do something immediately; you may not be able to. I’m not a freestyle artiste neither am I an artiste that repeats his words, when people analyse me they say he’s a conscious artiste. Behind the cameras and shows, there’s a lot of work that goes into it. You have to listen to different kind of music to make just one, sometimes you may take samples from other beats, it’s allowed in the industry, those are the few things.
How long does it take you to write and produce a song?
For me, I am never in a hurry, my studio is in my house, when inspiration comes, I go down to my studio and start work. I lie to work at the pace I do. That’s why I always like to start early. I’m always taking my time so before my song goes out, I am sure of it.
Let’s talk a little about marriage. Five months after your marriage, how has it been?
It’s good to be married. It’s another life entirely. When someone who used to be a friend now becomes a closer one, that’s marriage. To me it’s still friendship, just that this type has been translated from normal boyfriend-girlfriend to something a little more serious. It takes a lot of patience and tolerance. You should have a lot of forgiveness even before the offence is committed. It’s a school that we don’t go to, we I’ve in it. We are in the school trying to live it.
You are really beginning to sound emotional
(Laughs) But of course, it’s the truth.
Was there any particular reason you chose her?
There’s no particular reason. I’m sure it will shock you. Let me explain to you, if I love this phone because of its red light and I wake up tomorrow and find out that the red light is gone, what do you think I will do, I will stop loving the phone. I just love her the way she is, there shouldn’t be a reason attached to it. There’s no perfect human being. Of course if you get your kind, you will hate yourself, so it’s just a decision to make it work. I hope I was able to answer you. (Laughs)
Away from marriage now, back to your musical career. You recently signed a management deal with Now Muzik. And by the way, everybody on that team seems to be getting married; this year alone it’s been you, Timi Dakolo and then 2face. Did you guys plan this?
I don’t know o (laughs) but uhm, now boys are becoming men. It’s everywhere, Storm Records’ Naeto C just got married, W.F.A Ikechukwu too just did same. You have to be a man, if you don’t want to, the society would force you to be. For those that think they are still too young to be, don’t worry, when they see me and my son walking down the street, they would understand. I will still be wearing the same jeans they are wearing but I would have junior with me. (Laughs)
Tell us what has the experience being with Now Muzik?
It’s been awesome. It’s a family where everyone is allowed to say his or her views and are being listened to. It’s just a perfect family.
What’s the relationship between you and your colleague like?
It’s very cordial. It grows, you know this thing about relationships, it grows. Relationship is not because this person is my friend but because of your personal discovery with people. And with me and other artistes on the label, our relationship is more or less, a family.
Are you considering working with any of them in the nearest future?
Possibly, but we are already working together. I mean we are both signed on the same management team, although I am signed to my own record label, Don family records and very soon, you will hear about the PR side of J Martins.
Tell us about your recent album SELAH doing?
Well, need I say more? The album has sold over a million copies in three weeks of its release and to think that we even did not announce its release.
And why was that?
Well, we had announced that it would be released sometime last year but then some things happened and the release date was postponed. Again, when we announced its release date, we weren’t able to, so when it was finally ready, we didn’t bother to announce and to God be the glory; it did just fine and is still doing fine in the market.
Now, let’s get a little personal. What is your favourite food?
Anything delicious but I like our native soups.
I drink water a lot. I like water.
What’s your most cherished fashion item?
That fashion, let’s just leave it o (laughs). But I am a jeans person. I like my jeans and shirt and I am not somebody who is so enthusiastic about designers.
Finally, what’s your advice for young musicians who are hoping to launch in to the music industry?
Well, I would advise them to be careful and make the right decision. Music is not something to play with. Again, they should understudy acts like 2face and Psquare and discover what is making these guys still relevant even years after their debut albums. There is something about these two I have mentioned. Most of their songs are still popular till today. So I advise the upcoming artistes to understudy these guys and learn from them.