Nigerian musician Mr Eazi speaks to Helen Herimbi about Banku Music, his blueprint and being shibobo-ed

Mr Eazi is hard to pin down.

The day we were supposed to meet, the Nigerian star, who now lives in London, was happily stuck in Cape Town where he was shooting a video for Property featuring MiCasa’s Mo-T. He’s also come to South Africa to lay down a verse for Shekhinah’s Suited remix and also to sign a licensing deal with the Universal Music Group Africa in Johannesburg.

But he did it all at his own pace.

From his apartment in London, the artist who was born Oluwatosin Oluwole Ajibade 26 years ago, seems to have just woken up and we finally get to talk.

“Sipho in South Africa and Larry in Lagos made this (deal) happen,” he says, name dropping the heads of the company in South and West Africa, respectively. “There is so much to do in Africa, and it’s so good to have a team in Africa to do the groundwork for me while I do what I do globally. It was also important to know the team would work with my blueprint and drive my exact vision.”

Mr Eazi sits topless, barely glancing at the Skype camera, and he occasionally plays with his ombre dreads as he answers the questions. The fidgeting is understandable. He has to be at sound check for a show in 20 minutes.

This singer broke onto the scene with About To Blow in 2013. Then he did. A few music awards, Apple Music’s Up Next feature and the attention of Wizkid later, Mr Eazi is well-known.

It was his second offering, Life is Eazi Vol 1: Accra to Lagos (in 2017), that truly showed what his signature genre (and name of label) Banku Music was all about. It also showcased his mnemonic: zaggadat!

I read that this word that he made up means beautiful and spiritual and when I mention that, Mr Eazi almost spits out his water while laughing.

“Zaggadat came from listening to Beanie Man,” he explains. “He always used to say ‘zagga zagga ya’ and that was the first time I heard zagga. I remember I went and recorded Bankulize and that was a 15-minute freestyle, and the first thing I said when I heard the beat was: ‘zaggadat!’”

“Everyone asked me ‘what’s that’ and I said ‘I don’t know, but I was just feeling the beat so much.’ And they said ‘no, you’ve got to keep that.’ The guy who was recording me started making me say that every time I made a song. So I think it meant something different for everyone, but for me, I was feeling that beat spiritually. It’s all positive.”

While Mr Eazi was figuring out the meaning of zaggadat, in 2016 it was rumoured that Wizkid had signed Mr Eazi to the Starboy Entertainment company. But Mr Eazi says it was purely a gentleman’s agreement that allowed Starboy Entertainment to get paid on deals they approached Mr Eazi with.

Around that time, there were also rumours that Mr Eazi – who is the poster boy for independent artistry – had signed to Diplo’s Mad Decent company.

“I saw that,” he exclaims. “People don’t listen. Basically, I have a couple of songs with Diplo that we’ve given to other people. There’s one we gave to Rudimental, and there’s one we’re giving to Sia. I did Leg Over remix and Pour Me Water with Mad Decent for North America. I think they have done pretty well for North America.”

They’ve done well beyond the US. There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t hear the original Leg Over on South African radio and Pour Me Water has had an impact the world over. Leg Over sees Mr Eazi get deep into his feelings about a girl who treats him like a “Johnny just come” and is dribbling him like a ball, but he can’t let her go.

“It’s just that feeling when you know someone is playing you, but you’re content with just having a piece,” he says as he rests his index finger on his thumb. “There is nothing you can do to have the person. You’d rather have that (little piece) than nothing else. That didn’t just happen to me, I could mention three or four of my guys who have had that happen to them. I think it’s a thing that happens to men and women – sometimes you find yourself settling. We say the girl has shibobo-ed you.”

Pour Me Water is such a hit, Mr Eazi claims he gets offers to be poured water everyday – “especially on social media. When I perform, people actually pour me water”, he laughs.

On the song, Mr Eazi speaks about quenching a fire and quenching a fever.

“There was a time when you fall in love with somebody who was not right for you for whatever reason,” Mr Eazi shares. “And in this song, it’s clear that there is no reciprocity, but you are so lovestruck, you can’t do anything about it. They become obsessed. I come from a Christian background and play with the idea of holy water to show the different level of spirituality this can be in.”

Banku Music, which is also the name of a Ghanaian dish, is the name of the genre Mr Eazi prefers to be labelled, but still, people tuck him neatly into the afro beats box.

“I wouldn’t say I hate the afro beats label,” he says. “But I’m not crazy about what is African music or afro beats or whatever. It’s all music. If you want to call this African pop or afro beats, feel free. I’m an artist, I don’t do one type of music.”

This year, Mr Eazi will release Life is Eazi Vol 2: Lagos to London. This week, London Town, featuring Giggs, is already at online music stores.

Mr Eazi says: “The bigger plan is to have the most successful label to come out of Africa – which is Banku Music. That’s why my staff is interning in Los Angeles and at Universal in South Africa. I’m still independent, I’m not signed,” he shakes his head and then grins. “I’ve just given a company a project to work on.”