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AAA Music | 15 October 2019

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A CHAT WITH: TUNDE BAIYEWU

| On 16, Feb 2013

 

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Tunde Baiyewu, the well known British singer of Nigerian descent, was part of the ‘easy listening’ duo the Lighthouse Family. He has achieved over 20 million global sales and in 2004 he embarked on a solo career with his album Tunde. Access All Areas Music interviewer Anthony Weightman chatted to him ahead of the release of his second album Diamond In A Rock due out in March.

Anthony Weightman

Firstly, my best wishes to you on the release your new album Diamond In A Rock out next month. Could you tell me how you feel this might be a bit different from previous releases?

Tunde Baiyewu

Yes. Compared with records I’ve made in the past, they’ve always been under the jurisdiction of  a major record label. So, there are always a lot of people involved like record companies and A&R managers. Everybody feels they’re working towards a common goal. Everybody feels they have a say in how you go about making a record and what it sounds like, which is a good thing. But sometimes it means your original intention becomes diluted a bit. Everybody needs to be happy. On this record I just decided to do it myself. I went off to Portland. It meant I had a lot of creative control over the recording process. I think, at the end of the day, it’s turned out being much better than anything I’ve done previously. In the past the producer has been in control of everything.  He got the session musicians in and everybody played their part. Maybe one day a bass player played his part and maybe the next a keyboard player. It all sounded really nice when put together. On this record we had all the players together at the same time in the studio and we just went through the songs as if we were doing a gig. We made sure it was all tight and once we were all familiar with different aspects of the songs, then we started recording. We just recorded in one take and the whole thing sounded more organic. It worked well. Also we made sure all the musicians were free to express themselves. So, nobody went in saying “These are the songs. These are the chords. This is what I want. Exactly like this.” Instead it was “ You feel free. You express yourself.” It was a lot more relaxed. It meant the creative process was still going on while you were recording. That made a much more soulful and organic sounding record which I’m very happy about.

Anthony Weightman

Clearly your music is loved by the many millions of people who have bought it and want to listen to it. I’m always a bit uneasy applying the ‘easy listening’ term to your sort of music because of the derogatory way it’s sometimes used to refer to background music in airports, shopping arcades and elevators. Are you fond of the term?

Tunde Baiyewu

Well, I wouldn’t say I’m fond of the term, but I’ve heard it loads of times.  Sometimes I’ve thought people didn’t really understand what Lighthouse Family were all about. When you listen lyrically to songs like High and Ocean Drive, they’re actually quite dark songs. “When you’re close to tears remember some day it’ll all be over” is not exactly happy easy listening stuff. There was always a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, but they always came from a place where I was trying to express something real. So, we’ve always been a victim of that. We felt that it was just a misunderstanding. When I got to Portland I wrote Move with some new artists I met there. It’s a music environment with an amazing amount of young creative talent. A hidden gem. It also has an indie vibe about it.

It rains all the time. It’s like living in a greenhouse. It’s very green because of the climate. Flavours of indie are part of the record even though the essence is soul. If you like Lighthouse Family you’ll definitely like this record. If you don’t you’ll probably still like it because it’s a lot grittier. It comes from a much more down to earth place and all those influences I’ve mentioned before are in there.

Anthony Weightman

Since the downturn in the economy 5 years ago many British people have been through bad times. Often they’ve had enough of depressing news and would just like to  escape from it. Many of your well known songs have been inspirational and optimistic. They’ve been about happiness, hope, light, sun and blue skies. Do you think that we really do need music of this sort, especially at the moment.

Tunde Baiyewu

Yes. I agree.  It’s funny, I wrote Diamond In A Rock with my friend Ben Cullum and I remember he said I needed to get it out. People need to hear it. It was the right time for it. Diamond In A Rock is my analogy for life and right now you don’t even need to preach to anybody. Everybody already knows that life can be hard and rough. It seems there’s always another piece in the road you have to get over. If it’s not the economic downturn it’s something else. But what Diamond In A Rock is trying to say is, if you look closely and long enough at what obviously is a problem, what you find is something of value inside it. There’s usually something to learn from it. There’s usually a sense of direction you can gain from it. Some say there’s magic everywhere if you know where to look.  I would say there’s magic everywhere if you know how to look. It’s about perspective. The album is not trying to give false hope.  It just says that within the heart of the problem lies the solution. I’ve had loads of experiences to tell me that that is true.

Anthony Weightman

I noticed that you went to Northumbria University. Personally, I’m always aware of the beauty of that county, but also that British people may tend to visit it less because its geographic remoteness. Do you think that’s true and what are your memories of that county?

Tunde Baiyewu

Great memories.  I lived in Newcastle more than 10 years. I went to college up there and Lighthouse Family started there. I met up with Paul Tucker. That took off. The Geordie people are just fantastic. Down to earth. What you see is what you get. There’s no pretence. They know how to have a good time. They have fun. Take life as it is and get on with it. I think people do visit less because it is a bit remote.

Anthony Weightman

I know you’ve spoken about how a period of dictatorship in Nigeria affected your family who remained there: psychological intimidation, fear of physical attack, imprisonment etcetera. Would you like to say how you felt about this period?

Tunde Baiyewu

Fortunately, when that was at its height, I wasn’t in Nigeria. I was born in London, then moved back to Nigeria when I was 5. I went to school here and then came back to the UK when I was 17. The dictatorship was when I was in Newcastle. People could live in Nigeria but you just had to be careful what you said, especially about the government. My stepfather was in prison and we never really knew if he would be released. Some of his peers who were with him in prison never came out. This was happening at the height of the Lighthouse Family success, but it was not something I spoke about. I sat down with Paul and had philosophical discussions. That’s where it was coming from. That stuff moulded those songs into what they were. Some people couldn’t see that.

Anthony Weightman

Comic Relief will be upon us soon and presumably it’s again an opportunity to think of the problems that Africa has. I know fundraising isn’t easy. I’ve done it myself. But, however hard we try, do you think it’s difficult for us in Britain to relate to experiences on that continent that we haven’t been through personally?

Tunde Baiyewu

Yes, I think a lot of people involved, such as celebrities who go there and see what’s taking place, can definitely give you a very real strong sense and understanding of being there.  If you watch it on TV you can probably get a sense of that as well, but it’s never really the same as being there. Boarding school in Nigeria is completely the opposite from Britain. Where I went to school  was deeply rural. We were surrounded by mountains, trees and forests. There was no electricity.  You had bunk beds in the room and mosquitoes. I’d end up with malaria at least once a year. It was actually normal. You’d have to study in the middle of all that for exams. Read William Shakespeare for literature with a kerosene lantern hanging off the wall on a big nail. Reading this archaic English, trying to understand the references in the columns.

Anthony Weightman

With explanatory text twice the length of the play, I expect!  Yes, I know how you felt.

Tunde Baiyewu

Then, in the morning, you’d have to go down to a stream. A bit of a walk with no shoes and fill your bucket with brown chalky water to have a communal bath with. Then go back and get some more and leave it under your bed so the sediment settled during the day. Then you had clean drinkable water you could pour and store in kegs and bottles. So, when you see these things in Comic Relief, I’m so familiar with it. If you’re treated well malaria is not going to kill you. People do lose their lives because of inadequate treatment though. If you go there it does give you a sense of empathy and understanding of what’s going on and what needs to be done.

Anthony Weightman

In the past you’ve said: “My definition of soul, true soul: it’s who we are, why we are here, what we are supposed to live for.” Have there been times in the past when you’ve been encouraged to go in a particular musical direction and you’ve ultimately had to say ‘no’ because the advice you’ve been given just doesn’t feel right?

Tunde Baiyewu

Well, yes. I wouldn’t say I’ve been given advice to go in an odd musical direction. In the past we’ve been fortunate enough to have people who’ve liked what we did and left us to it. Yes, in the past we have had situations. A record company likes what you do but……I had one A&R man say “how many of these songs can you do in a week?” which is just the strangest thing I’ve ever heard! Sometimes a song will take you a day or two to do. I’ve had songs that have taken me a whole year. You keep on going back, chipping away and then you’re not satisfied. So there’s no time line as to how quickly you can turn things out. I’m not sure ‘perfection’ is the right word. I aim for a song to try to be what it wants to be. Truly express something which is real. Sometimes stuff doesn’t ring true. Cliché after cliché. You don’t really believe what the person is saying. If I can hear a song and say “I wish I’d said that. I wish I’d written that. They got there before me”, that to me is a good yardstick.

Anthony Weightman

I know you appeared in Strictly African Dancing, an offshoot of Strictly Come Dancing, where you learnt the Bata Dance. Many contestants find these sort of  competitions demanding and exhausting, but ultimately very fulfilling. What are your personal memories?

Tunde Baiyewu

I was evicted first. Oh my god! It was fun. I actually enjoyed it. It was the luck of the draw. Fortunately I had to go back to Nigeria because the Bata Dance is from the Yoruba Tribe. So, I learnt a lot about that. It was a bit of an education to learn about that aspect of my culture which I didn’t know anything about.

Anthony Weightman

I noticed you qualified in accountancy originally. You may remember the John Cleese ‘Monty Python’ comedy sketch where an accountant mountain climbs through his office window, puts cyanide in coffee cups and throws hand grenades around to try to make his life more interesting. Is accountancy really that boring?

Tunde Baiyewu

Probably yes. I remember the first week. I thought “What have I done? I don’t want to do this.” I contemplated changing courses and doing philosophy or something. I stuck with it and did it anyway, but I knew from the beginning there’s no way I wanted to be an accountant. During the summer holidays temporary jobs made it even worse. It was not for me. Is it for some people? Of course. Maybe it’s part of their DNA and they enjoy it, especially if they’re making a lot of money. Not for me, apart from the fact that, like music, it involves numbers. I’d much rather be a musician. Another thing. With accountancy you can’t be creative as you can with music. The moment you start being creative with accountancy, rest assured you’re probably going to get locked up. The creative DNA has always been part of my make up. Something creative is more likely to be my destiny.

 

Anthony Weightman