By Juliet Ebirim
Lionel Chukwuemeka Orji, simply known as Leo’nel is the only son of veteran Nollywood actor and director, Zack Orji. In this interview, the fast-rising singer and producer whose love for music started at the age of nine talks about his soon-to-be-released single ‘Celebrate’, his foray into music among other issues.
How did you start doing music?
I started doing music at a very young age. I’ve been singing since I was nine. I started writing songs in J.S.S 2. I began with rap and then my dad took me to my first studio session. My dad has been very supportive of my music career from the onset. In 2007, I recorded my first song. But my dad insisted that I complete my education before delving into music fully. I couldn’t wait, so while in the university I worked on different songs and started performing in various schools.
What was your first song about?
The first song I did was a rap song titled ‘Who am I?’ Those days I used to listen to a lot of rap music and Eminem was my favourite rapper. I was just influenced by his music and I decided to do the song. And because it was my first, it probably lacked sound lyrical quality.
What kind of music do you do?
Dance music or better still, good music. Music that makes people happy. I tend to sing a bit about everything. Sometimes, I go inspirational.
What inspires you?
My inspiration comes from God. It can come from within, from the environment, through observation and personal experience.
So far, how many songs have you done?
A lot, but I’ve officially released “Baby Joo,” “Rockstar,” “Uju” and “Roll.”
How has your music journey been?
We learn everyday and I’m gaining more experience. I’m more experienced than I was the first time I released a song. There have been ups and downs, but that’s part of the process on your journey to greatness.
While studying in the UK, which artistes did you perform with?
While in the UK, I was privileged to perform with top Nigerian artistes who came to perform in the UK. I performed at Wizkid’s show. I also performed at Davido and Flavour’s show and even at M.I’s show.
Which top Nigerian artiste do you hope to do a collabo with?
I’ve always wanted to work with Wande Coal. Before I fully went into music, his music used to have an influence on me. His style is unique.
You are about to drop a new single ‘Celebrate’.
What is it about?
It’s a feel good song that appeals to everyone. It just says forget your worries for now and celebrate. It tells you that where there is life, there’s hope.
How were you able to combine academics and music?
Music didn’t really affect my studies. I studied Media Studies and Television at the University of Bradford, UK. I was able to balance both and when it was time to specialise in a particular area of my course, I focused on the music aspect.
Beyond music, would you veer into acting to continue in your father’s footsteps?
Though acting is not really my passion, but it’s all part of entertainment. I wouldn’t mind getting an acting role, but I will need some training in that regard. My real passion is music, but I would like to act also.
Which artiste do you aspire to be like?
In the Nigerian music industry, that would be 2Face.
How has your dad’s popularity as a veteran actor impacted on your career?
I won’t deny the fact that it has opened a lot of doors for me. People tend to listen and associate with me when they know I’m Zack Orji’s son. But I wouldn’t want to rely on that. I want to carve a niche for myself and create my own name, so that people would associate and listen to me because of me, not because of my father.
What’s your view on the kind of music we have in the country these days in terms of lyrics?
These days, a lot of songs lack good lyrical content. It also has to do with what people want to listen to. Some people pay attention to lyrics, while others just want to dance and enjoy themselves. I won’t condemn those who pay more attention to beats than lyrics, they have their fans and audience.
So which are you particular about – lyrics or beats?
It depends. Sometimes, you need to touch people’s lives and reach out to people with your lyrics. Music is very powerful. People listen to music everyday. So whatever you’re sending across to people will influence or affect them in some kind of way.
How do you feel when you hear or see your songs being played on the airwaves and on screen?
It feels good, especially when you go out and someone recognizes you from your videos. It’s a great feeling and you know that you are actually doing something.
What are the challenges you face as a new artiste in the industry?
Being a new artiste is challenging. You’re struggling to be known and accepted. For me, it’s been by God’s grace. Promotion is a huge challenge, one needs to consciously work on. Nigeria is a large country with a lot of people and different places to cover.
Are you signed unto any record label?
For now, No.
How do you fund your music?
It’s basically through the support from my family and friends and also with little things I do here and there. I produce for others, though I don’t do it full-time. I’m really focused on my music right now.
How do you intend to get to the top and remain there despite stiff competition?
Some people would say through hard work, but I’ll say through smart work. Doing music is not easy. It takes dedication, hard work and commitment. A lot of funding goes into it. There will be tough times, but your passion and love for music should sustain you and you keep pushing. I also take God very seriously, so I believe that His grace would see me through.