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Interview with Mike Aremu, world acclaimed saxophonist, music producer, composer and gospel artiste.
By M. Babajide-Alabi
Question: Who is Mike Aremu? And how has the journey of life and music being?
Answer. My name is Michael Adeyemi. I was born in Kaduna, Kaduna State, the northern part of Nigeria. I grew up in Minna and then I moved on to Lagos, the former capital city of Nigeria. My early years were like that of any normal kid, but what however set me apart from the other kids was that I had the gift of music ever since I was very young. Growing up in Minna, I started my journey into music from the church. Infact I will say the major influence of my interest in music was the church. I was born into the Cherubim and Seraphim church and my mum was a devout member.
The tradition in the church was every child should be able to play some kind of musical instrument. So I was fascinated by the local drums, called akuba and the bass drum. I started playing this and along the line I started on the trumpet. And from my knowledge of these instruments, I started playing other musical instruments, such as keyboard, guitar and the drum set. However, at that time, I had no access to the saxophone. The trumpet was the instrument I was playing the most before I picked up the saxophone in future years. Ironically, this (saxophone) is now my main instrument. It is what I am identified with now.
I released my first album in 1999. And I will say that was when I started a career as a professional artiste.
Q – You play AfroJazz. What is it about AfroJazz that has made it positively unusual?
Answer – AfroJazz is a name that people coined from Africa and Jazz. It is a fusion. As you may be aware Jazz originated from Africa, and has all the elements of African culture. The African culture is very rich and this has a great impact on the music. AfroJazz is unique because Africa has a lot of diverse cultures. In Nigeria alone there are several languages and dialects, and all of them have their culture. However what I do is to fuse all these cultures into Jazz to make it more interesting because I play the saxophone. There are three most important things you will find in my music – The God factor; the African factor and the Jazz factor.
Q. Why saxophone?
Answer:- I believe in life everything is journey. God takes you through so many things for a particular place He has in mind, so you can get all that you need. God took me through all the journey. So when am composing, as a well informed composer, I have the guitar player in mind, the drummer in mind, the singers are on my mind. The saxophone was the last instrument I got to play. I remember in those days when I played the trumpet, people tell me I sounded more as a saxophonist. I fell in love with the saxophone more than any other musical instrument and luckily I was able to establish myself with it quickly.
However, I am not limited. I have started playing the flute in recent times. I learnt to play saxophone in four days, however, learning to play the flute is taking me a while. But if you hear me play the flute now, you will not say I just learnt it.
So all of these are journeys in life. The saxophone is what am identified with most, but I have had a taste of all these instruments in my musical journey.
Q. In most of your interviews you have mentioned Kenny G as an influence on your music. How really big is this influence?
Answer:- I wouldn’t say a lot of direct influence, but I listened so much to his music. I did not practise with Kenny G. After my National Diploma (ND), I was admitted to the University of Maiduguri (northern part of Nigeria). It was at the time I picked up full interest in Jazz, and as fate would have it I stumbled on Kenny G’s music and I started listening to him with rapt attention. I listened so much to him. And I believe that was where the influence came from. In so much that when I started playing soprano, people would say, “oh, you sound so much like Kenny G”.
And that was the reason why I invited him (Kenny G) for my programme last year in Nigeria (The Sax Appeal). It was an amazing concert with over 6000 people. It was a dream come true for me.
Q. What actually informed your decision to merge Jazz with gospel?
Answer:- I think basically because I am a Christian. As a ministry at a point in my life I was a musician who just like to play music. Like I said earlier on life is a journey. God takes you through so many because He has purpose for your life. I was just a church musician and a young guy who just want to play music. I have played in most of the clubs in Nigeria as a musician, even though I was still playing in the church. But God took me through that as well for my experience. And one day I became so uncomfortable playing in the clubs. It was an experience for me as when I play in the churches, people tell me how blessed they were, yet at the back of my mind, I would be thinking I still played in a club the previous nights. So I was increasingly not at ease with myself.
Even though I was a Christian, the calling was strong to dedicate myself to the propagation of the gospel. And eventually I made up my mind, no more of club shows.
It is a calling for me. When I am doing my thing it so easy. I know this is what I should be doing and I thank God for this, that I was able to find my purpose in life so fast. Every other thing I do is from the foundation of the music.
Q: You have played in big venues, with big awards. What has endeared to your fans?
Answer:- My greatest joy is to see people happy because they listen to my music. My joy is to be able to contribute in any way. One thing I always pray for in my life is that God should give me the grace to impact people I meet in life. My house in Lagos (Nigeria), is full of people I do not know from Adam. There are people who have been influenced by my music and they just want to be mentored and I regard this as a privilege. One of the things that make me happy is to put a smile on peoples’ faces especially with my music, my saxophone, with my life, my lifestyle and everything that I have.
Q:- What music does Mike Aremu listen to in his private time?
Answer:- I really do not listen very much. The times I listen to music is when I drive. At a point in my life I stopped listening to any other musician because I wanted to build my own music brand. It was important and I was asking God to give me a sign. I did not want to sound like any other musician. I did not want my composition to be like any other. I just wanted to have my own brand. However, now I listen to all kinds of music – jazz, saxophone players, a lot. But I wont say I am a serious follower of so and so music or musician. I have never owned an iPod before. So you can imagine. This is because I want fresh inspiration with no interference.
Mind you, though, I am not condemning people who listen to various music for inspiration. No. Its just not my thing.
Q:- What advise will you give to youngsters that want to go into Jazz or are musical inclined? What steps do parents need to take as well to guide the youngsters?
Answer. My main advise will be make God the reason for your aspirations. I will advise them to remain focussed. I have so many people that can testify to what am saying here. My Personal Assistant won the Nigerian Idol. Interestingly, I scolded him, pushed him, advised him, that it was noticeable when he entered the competition. One of the officials on the show said to me “you have groomed him well”. It is not always by sitting the youngsters down and say let me talk to you. No. The difference is when they see the lifestyle you as role model live. They cannot be arrogant or undisciplined, because what they see everyday in their role models are inspiring to them.
My advise is remain focussed and let God be the reason for it. If God is the reason for whatever you do, success is always assured.
My advise for parents is, please do not force your children to do what they are not happy to do. It is good to advise them but look out for what are their strong points and advise them accordingly. Look at their gifts, look at what they love doing most and encourage them to develop these professionally. My parents somehow just believed in me. I did not finish my education. I was enrolled for degree in Electrical/Electronics but I dropped out. My parents did not have a problem with this because they believe in me and respected the fact that I knew what I was doing.
My advise is parents should pray for their children. Most times it is not when you speak to them, but when you talk to God that gave them to you to make a way for them. If its not the will of God, He has a way to position them back on track.
This interview was conducted for publication in EVERLASTINGM Magazine of RCCG Everlasting Father’s Assembly, Leeds, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom