Timi Dakolo: Ten Years After Idols
Timi Dakolo comes across as that friendly neighbour that you have conversations with on a calm Saturday evening. He joked, “You can’t date Mainland traffic, it will break your heart.” It wasn’t exactly funny, but the way he said it made us burst into laughter instantly. He’s quite a relatable character; his presence brought a familiar feeling and energy as he seemed to blend right in the studio filled with strange faces.
While most people recognise the dark-skinned vocalist from his album Beautiful Noise and popular singles, Iyawo Mi, The Vow and There’s A Cry, his journey to stardom started in Port Harcourt. According to Dakolo, “I was born in Accra, Ghana to a Ghanaian mother and Nigerian father. I spent most of my childhood days in Port Harcourt.” He talks about precious moments growing up in Port Harcourt where he enjoyed street football; he also lived with his grandmother who told him “evening time” stories. He has long been destined to entertain as he first started performing at the age of twelve and later joined a group called Purple Love.
From winning the West African Idol singing competition in 2007 to becoming a judge on The Voice Nigeria, where he took on the challenge to mentor Idyl – the 2017 winner of the singing competition, Dakolo shares the secret to winning singing talent hunts: “It is the simple but not so simple experience of connecting with your audience, being the song (and) not just singing the song, and also, being likable. You don’t show any form of arrogance.”
Ten years after winning West African Idols, Dakolo reflects on his journey thus far. He says, “It’s growth. Between that time and now, I have come to a point where I have realised that even when the odds are against you, if it’s yours, it will happen.” Dakolo, who never got the promised Sony BMG deal, talks about moving forward with his life and career as he has attended Berkeley College of Music, started his family and bagged a win at The Voice Nigeria. He explains, “I couldn’t put my life in someone else’s hands.”
Guardian Life had a Q and A session with the singer who talks about his music and being a judge on The Voice Nigeria.
During the filming of West African Idol, we got to know a bit about Dakolo’s background and his growing up in Port Harcourt. Just like Timaya, another Bayelsan musician, Dakolo channelled his music into showing his Niger Delta struggle, in his song There’s A Cry. He expands on the topic when he says, “The Niger Delta people should benefit from where they are from; a lot of oil comes from there… it shouldn’t be so.”
What is your most memorable childhood story?
Mostly, growing up on the streets of Port Harcourt and enjoying the street football. The evening story time with grannie (grandmother), long walks from school and after-school lessons.
You’re from Bayelsa; how often do you visit back home?
I visit Bayelsa a lot. My dad stays in Bayelsa and sometimes I rush home to enjoy the quietness and beauty that nature holds.
Being Bayelsan, what are your personal feelings towards the current state of Nigeria?
Nigeria. Nigeria, my beloved country and home; we can be more. It’s obvious we can be more. We have so much potential and we just need leaders, not politicians. We need fixing.
Have you channelled your struggles or personal experiences into your music in any way?
My music is not just melody and rhythm; it is an experience that causes unity. So I use my music to tell the truth; I tell these things from my experience. I want my music to be here even when I am gone, so I put life into it with my lyrics.
The Voice Nigeria
Dakolo has an obvious knack for winning singing competitions as he has been on a winning streak since 2005, when he won a local talent hunt contest G.E FACTO, held in Port Harcourt, and then he went on to win the 2007 West African Idol competition. The world remembers a young man who walked into the audition and impressed the judges singing, Time to Grow by the British RnB singer Lemar. So, when that same man became a judge on a globally-recognised singing franchise like The Voice, there were no surprises.
How would you describe your journey with The Voice Nigeria so far?
It’s a beautiful journey, watching people blossom and come into their own; from shy singers singing under pressure, to brave and fearless singers staking their claim in life. It’s just amazing; being a coach on The Voice has been an eye-opening experience for me.
What would you say is the most difficult part of being a mentor?
No matter what you do and tell some of the mentees, they still believe that they are not enough, and it was really hard to convince them that they were good enough.
After the competition
Nigeria’s track record with singing competitions hasn’t been great over the years. Back in 2007, after Dakolo won West African Idol competition, he was promised an album with Sony BMG, which was never released. While he gained some fame, the show failed to deliver the rewards as promised.
Let’s talk about West African Idol. It’s been ten years, did winning really change your life?
Yes, it did. From how I went for the auditions, and the whole experience in the Idol house, to winning, is nothing short of a miracle. I took some points to heart like in life; anything is possible and it is even riskier not to take a risk.
When you didn’t get the Sony BMG deal as promised, at what point did you decide to move on?
There’s a reason for everything; people will forget about what happened but they’ll ask, “What did he do after he won?” I decided I couldn’t put my life in someone else’s hands.
Life after talent shows, do you think these shows are actually impacting lives?
There are two sides to it; the most advantage is the visibility it gives. It also gives you a platform to stand on, so whether you win or lose, you are a star and can ride on it. The downside is that the real world is not a talent hunt competition. It is unforgiving. So, you must take what you have and make it work.
How involved are you in Idyl’s (Winner of The Voice Nigeria 2017) career after the show?
Very much involved; I give him books to read. I always tell him he needs to get some form of musical education.
Music and family
The father of three, who released his first and only album in 2011, “Beautiful Noise” talks about his next album as he hints, “Love and consequences.” While majority of the country tends to be in tune with the mainstream Nigerian sounds, Dakolo describes his soulful music as “the truth,” he adds “I am excited about my next song and when I am done recording, I move on to the next challenge.”
Your music isn’t considered mainstream, have you struggled with breaking into the popular Nigerian audience?
Not really; I always have something to say and I know people would listen. It all depends on how I present it, for truth is the truth. I have never felt any pressure to do the music otherwise and it isn’t true that Nigerians don’t like my kind of music.
What has been a major challenge for you in the Nigerian music industry?
No challenges actually. It’s just to effectively manage my time and every chance I get I try to develop myself in my field and know more.
How do you balance being a father and your career?
I try to create time for both. Family time is family time, and work is work. If they clash, I choose family more often than not.
Creative Direction: Beatrice Porbeni
Assisted By: Chidera Muoka
Photography: Jerrie Rotimi
Styling: Henry Uduku