Jujuboy Star made a notable entry into the Nigerian scene in 2017 with a series of singles that featured his smooth afro r&b and soul sound dubbed juju vibes – finding lineage and inspiration from great Nigerian voices of the past. Last November, he hit another landmark with I Dey There, reaching a global audience with this love ballad that brought a much-needed dose of sweetness to a world marked by the pandemic. The jazzy song was blessed with Aristokrat label-mate Kel-P’s impeccable production skills and a video directed by the talented Ademola Falomo. Just last month, he dropped Enjoyment, which confirms his rising star status in the afrobeats galaxy. We just caught up with him from his home in Lagos to get the low down on his next moves.
You define your style as juju vibes and even carry juju in your name. How are you connected to the original juju music from King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey and the likes?
What I am trying to do is put the old school juju and afrobeat elements from originators like King Sunny Ade and them – and a little of Fela – and fuse them with R&B and soul chord progressions and afrobeats drums. It’s kind of like afro fusion, often with that saxophone vibe on top. You know, stuff that makes you crazy (laughs).
Your last two projects were produced by Kel-P. (ndlr. best known for his work with Burna Boy, Wizkid, Rema and Skip Marley to name a few). How has it been collaborating with one of afrobeats heavyweight beatmakers?
Kel-P is out of this world man. I don’t even think he’s from this planet. He’s baaaaad, man. It’s been a blessing working with him. He’s like the most humble person you’ll ever meet. When I first met him, nobody even knew me, I was just dropping songs on SoundCloud, but still, he didn’t even mind that. He liked my vocals and said “let’s work together”. We started working together way before I got a record contract. We’d met at a songwriting camp a couple of years back, and after that, it’s been nothing but vibes and flow.
You also cite Fela and Bob Marley among your inspirations. Beyond their obvious musical genius, are you also inspired by their strong social and political engagement?
Yes, for sure. At the end of the day, we’re just trying to fight and protect our people. Nobody likes to see people being oppressed. In fact it’s a huge part of why we try to get our voices heard. I mean it’s not just about making people dance, we want to change the world in a way, one song at a time.
You know, so many things happen in Nigeria that most people outside the country don’t know about. If you think of the #EndSARS protests last year for example. Me, personally that’s something I can relate to. I’ve been held by police for no reason before. No reason at all. We had to get a lawyer involved to get it sorted, but that’s all. We never really get justice for this kind of abuse. In my case, I was lucky because I am out here telling you all about it, but there are people I know personally who didn’t make it out of there alive. Being able to address this is a big part of why I am doing this, and why we need this platform. I am able to talk about it, but at the same time, right now, I don’t want to engage politically within my music. It’s a delicate thing, you know, as I am just coming up. It’s too early for that… but taking a stance is definitely part of the plan.
Artists played a key role in helping mobilize the youth in the #EndSARS protests. Do you think the situation has improved now as a result?
I would say things are better, yes. Politics is a whole different ball game now; young people never felt this kind of power before. You see, my generation, we’re crazy, you know? The reason all this is happening now is because my dad and my grandad, they didn’t stand up for themselves. But us, we’re not going to sit around and let these things happen to our kids and our grandkids. We’re standing for our own, and I don’t think the authorities ever felt anything like that before. So that’s why they reacted to calm things down, so that everyone can back down and go on about their business. So yes, for sure, I would say the protests did make an impact. In fact, you know about it. Everybody else in the world knows about it, and that already makes a big difference.
TMXO delivered a dope remix of “I Dey There” – infused with electro and amapiano vibes. How is this kind of sound impacting you and your music?
It may not be a widely recognized sound but it’s a genre of its own. It’s a mad vibe, though. The minute you said it, I thought “yeah he knows what’s up”. It’s exciting and it’s new. As soon as you hear it, you can’t even help but bop to it. You have to move your head and dance. I think it’s great because hearing songs like that can really help you get out of a depressed mental state. It’s a great type of vibe that can lift up your mind. The EP I am working on is going to have a couple of [electronic] sounds like that too.
You are engaged on mental health issues, something that can be considered a bit of a taboo. Can you tell us more?
I used to always be a happy kid, you know, grateful for what I had, even if it wasn’t much, but after I lost my grandma in 2018, it really affected my mental state. I fell into depression, pushing people away, having suicidal thoughts. It took months of therapy to get me back to a better head space. In Nigeria we don’t understand the benefits of therapy or talking to someone. Growing up, we’re taught to suppress sad feelings, to be tough. But it’s not like that. There is no tough man when it comes to situations that really scar you. So that’s something I am working on, right now, partnering with people who offer free counseling and advice to those who are depressed or have anxiety issues. It’s definitely something I’d like to do with my music as well, being there for others, because this depression thing, it can happen to the hardest of us.
Coming back to your music, can you tell us what’s cooking up for Jujuboy Star in the next few months?
Big things bro. I have two records with Banx & Ranx that we are working on, that should feature Pa Salieu and Sean Paul. As for my own EP, it’s coming up in the next few months. I can’t give you all the details obviously, but I am working with super talented producers like C-malo and Stevjazz. And of course, my man Kel P will be on it. I came up with kind of a “Zen” theme for it, you know, about finding calm within the storm. But there’s something for everyone, though, both mellow for those who want to chill and uptempo if you are in party mode. I also want to drop music that’s entirely self-produced this year, because most people don’t really know that I make beats as well. It will be a good opportunity to showcase that side of creativity.