He was born in the mid forties to an Egba father and an Egbado mother. He happens to be one of the few Nigerians to commercialize music production with albums of platinum sales like Shina Peters’ Ace and Shinamania as well as Adewale Ayuba’s Bubble to his credit. He started his career four decades ago and he has travelled to many parts of the world like United Kingdom, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, United States, Canada and most parts of Africa to perform and to acquire skills in his profession; music production. He is a father of three, welcome to the world of Olaoluwa Oluwole Akintobi a.k.a Laolu Akins as he takes Dotun Olanibi round it, regaling him with how he started, the secret behind his success, his take on young music producers and his dream of flying an Airplane. Enjoy it
How was growing up like?
I grew up in Ogun state. I had my primary education there and when I came to Lagos, I had my technical school education. And since then, I have been mostly in Lagos. Anywhere I went, I came back to Lagos. I have been mostly in Abeokuta, because my family members are there, especially my mum who has since passed on. All the time she was alive, that was where she stayed, so I was always going back to Abeokuta to see her particularly at the very first day of the new Year with her children and family children always spending time with her. So, growing up for me has always been between Ogun and Lagos states, then the other parts of the world.
How did you come about the name Laolu Akins?
You know how it is, you get into entertainment and particularly for some of us who started way back in the school; we have people around us who are creative, who could decide that your name is so and so to make it funkier and for people to easily connect with it. So, one of our top managers who nurtured our group in those early days, coined the name Laolu Akins for me. He was a top journalist who worked in the Nigeria Television Service, a poet, and a great sports personality who gave so much time, energy and money to support our group in those early days. His name is Chief Eddy Aderinokun. He has helped a lot of young people either in sports or entertainment. He has been a great pillar of support to most of us.
How did your career start?
Music for me started as a pass time. You realize you have talent for something and you realize you love to do something. I love to play on everything that I lay my hands on at any time. If I was going to fetch water from the tap, or I needed to do something or I was going to buy something, everything that I had was like a drum for me, I always played on them. I had the innate ability, God- given ability, natural ability, to understand rhythms and beats. It actually started naturally but it was never developed until I got to Lagos. I just played around with my peers who each time we were on holidays, particularly the Yuletide period, we come together and try to sing together and play every drum we could get and then in church and finally in my school days, I was part of the school band playing drums which was the immediate opportunity available at the time, but in school, there wasn’t any form of training for youths. When I got to Lagos, I got the opportunity of some of my exposure to musical instruments through the ministry of youths many years ago. So, I joined the youth club in Yaba where I lived with my uncle. Then we went there and played the instruments, although I had to sneak out to do that. Then there were welfare officers who guided youths on what to do, be it sports or music. It was at that point that I came in contact with the first set of drums. That was my first exposure to instruments.
Did you start off as a musician before becoming a music producer?
No, I couldn’t have started out as a musician. It’s not that I set out as a musician, but since I had the opportunity and people began to see my talents, my abilities and they started working with me. Even at the youth club center, we had started to develop playing together; some people will sing, some will play the drums while some will play the guitar. There was the atmosphere to start this kind of thing through the group situation and I was enjoying it. Thereafter, I got involved in a group called Oscars, from where the group called Clusters called me to join them. I joined Clusters and from there I went on and I was able to do that all through my school days without any disruption. We began to play about and in those years, we had promoters who promoted music competitions and people had the opportunity to do what they wanted to do. Life was good in Nigeria then and young people had things that engaged them; sports, music and what have you. That was how it started and it went on and on and with good support from people like Eddy Aderinokun and some other people around him; it became a very big thing that we started having competitions and we started having exposures in the media and it went on and on and we became known. For some, it became serious, for some, it’s still the same pass time.
When did you begin your music production career professionally?
Production started for me right about 1972, after I have played in different clubs. We now had our own group called BLO. It was during the recording of our first album that this production idea came into being and we started from there. But in terms of professional music production, that never started until between 1978 and 1979 after I have had proper training in music production in England.
How do you feel as a producer of several hit albums?
I give all the glory to God. What we do is like in the air, you can’t hold it with your hands. It is a gift of God, the ability to understand what you need to do and the will to try and do something good. Those are the qualities a good producer must have, apart from having good ears and understanding the techniques of applying an artiste talent and putting all of that together and make it into what people will like. It is not an easy thing, it is not what anyone comes with from heaven but the bit of talent that is given to you by God can be developed. I have managed to develop my talents over the years and that is what has taken me to where I am. When you say hit albums, I think it is only the grace of God because we do what we do and what we know and God just tops it with his blessing, that is what I can only say but I feel good that one has been able, by the grace of God to make these hit albums and to touch the lives of artistes who themselves are talented. It is nothing but good feelings and mostly glory to God.
How do you feel when artistes don’t give credits to you their producers?
Let me start by saying that it is not proper to say a producer made an artiste. It is collaboration, but yes, the producer takes the decision that this goes, that doesn’t. If the decision now becomes successful, he takes part of the credit just like the artiste taking the credit. It is a joint venture. The only unfortunate thing is that it happens majorly in this part of the world that artistes fail to give credit to people who were part of their successes. It is not totally alien to me to hear an artiste walk on stage, get an award and forgets he has a producer.
I think it is even getting better now. In the past, people didn’t give credit to anybody. In our country, it is a case of the industry itself getting unprofessional. A lot of people are involved now. The norm is that when an album is done, there is a standard, you put the credit at the back of the jacket; whether CD or cassette; the singer, writer, producer, engineer, studio will be there. If you pick an album, you will find everything there. So, even if an artiste talks to the media or gets an award and says he did everything, the world will be able to see all the people that took part in it. He can’t say that categorically he did everything. Around here, people are so ignorant, I think. I don’t think it’s out of mischief. They are just ignorant that they get carried away in the euphoria of their successes. So I don’t take offence for that because the people know the truth, even if they don’t know, it is not for me to go and say ‘listen, I am the one who did that job’. It is not necessary. In real terms, the truth comes out and that is where I rest my case, but more often than not, I believe it’s out of ignorance.
40 years down the line, can you count the number of artistes that have passed through you?
They are many. But some of them have not been as big hits as some. Some have been successful, and some have not been that successful. I don’t think it’s important to count them but I appreciate that I have shared my talents with quite a lot of artistes. It is difficult to forget that this person played a very important role in my professional life by making an input. For me as one too, I feel good that I have something that I can share with people because anything that is given by God is to be shared. From that point of view, it is a good feeling all the time.
Is there anything you are yet to achieve even after putting 40 years into your profession?
Life is in stages. You get into something and you go so far in it and you continue to aspire. What I will like to do and make contributions to; hopefully one will find other people with similar desires are to get the music industry in Nigeria to come to life again. To get artistes to be properly remunerated for their creative input; whether authors, song writers, producers and even people who invest in our industry to get returns; and to get to a point whereby musicians, can get proper training. Even when you have talents and the talents stays for a period and it’s never developed, you can never maximize on it. I see a lot of artistes in the country today quite talented but that basic talent doesn’t go far. Imagine that we have an institution where you can train to be a song writer, a producer, a studio engineer, artiste manager, all spheres of creative life whatever you do in the creative industry, no matter how little, you can live a good life and you can be important and make important economic contribution to your country, your immediate family and your total environment. Those are the things that I look forward to achieve. I’m looking and continuously looking for people even if it’s in government, I will like to inspire them to contribute to the industry because it is an area where our youths can excel. Some youths who have graduated are not even finding jobs. Imagine that they can train between 9 and 15 months and by training, they discover they have the flare of doing something as opposed to what they had gone to school to read and they can excel, employ people and feed their families. That is one area I will like to focus on.
Apart from the musicians that passed through you, do you have some producers that also passed through you?
Oh yes. The likes of Femi Ojetunde, who is now in America. I have quite a lot of them. When I was working on artistes like Shina and Onyeka, I had some musicians who were with me then that are now producers today. And often, they point at me that ‘this was the man who started them out in what they are doing today’. They are many but some I can’t remember.
How will you assess the new generation producers?
Some of them have been around with us early, though they are younger but they have been with some of us. And they picked few things and they are doing well. I am so happy that some of these young ones are coming up but I know so many of them have not had the opportunity of the kind of training that I had because there is no avenue. Unless you have the opportunity of travelling abroad or now that you can do some courses via the internet, but it is not the same thing like the hands on training that you can hear something and put it right by just turning this and applying this and then the youths have a good training. A lot of them don’t have this kind of training and believe if they had the opportunity, they would have embraced it with two hands. So, it is important for us to provide this training and you will see more people will go into this business. In all, I am happy with the new generation producers.
You look very cute, what is the secret?
The grace of God. One rule for me is that I don’t abuse myself. You can be in our industry and get carried away and you believe because you want to have fun now and you begin to do all kind of things. I don’t do those things. Essentially, I believe I have the grace of God to do all what I am doing. This is my nature. This is the way the almighty made me and that is how I have been.
Is there any of your offsprings toeing your line?
I have three children and I am pleased to say that they are talented. All my kids can sing very well. They love music because they see me doing it and as kids, they experience all kinds of artistes coming to the house to see them, on their birthdays but interestingly, they read something else different from this field and they are doing well. I am glad to say that.
What are your hobbies?
I love sports, especially football, but I play more of table tennis now and I read a lot. I read more spiritual books these days and hopefully before the lord calls me, I will be able to fulfill my major desire to fly an aeroplane.