It will be apt to say that Reggae music chose Nigeria-born Ben Priest, which was why he migrated to South Africa to follow the footsteps of Lucky Dube, an artiste with perhaps, the most profound influence on his career. It was a good move. Today, Ben Priest is the lead vocalist of the Lucky Dube Band, a position he earned as a result of his vocal skills.
In this interview with VERIFIED NEWS, he talks about his music and projects.
Let us start with the name Ben Priest. Was it influenced by Maxi Priest, the Jamaican Reggae artiste?
Not really. It’s just a name that was given to me by my friends. But there were really some influences that delivered the name. My kind of music is one and again the fact that my father worked as a pastor. But when you weigh it against my kind of music, which is spiritual, it makes a whole lot of sense as a stage name.
Will it be right to assume that most of your lyrics reflect Christian ideals?
Of course, yes. It has a lot of quotes from the Bible. Reggae being about moral instruction, I am committed to preaching values through my music. It relates more religiously.
Reggae music is witnessing a downturn in Nigeria. Is it different in South Africa where you lived substantially?
I don’t believe Reggae music is going down. What I observed is that the Reggae music that was played by the progenitors of that genre of music in Nigeria, I mean the likes of Majek, Ras Kimono, Orits Williki Mandators witnessed a lull when these guys travelled out of the country for greener pastures. It kind of created a vacuum.
There is a musical project with them in the offing?
Yes, one radio personality in Akwa Ibom hooked me up, we hope to achieve so much together.
What were you doing when Majek was the hero of Reggae music in Nigeria?
I was much younger and I was always listening to him, when I was in school. Then I was doing some music but by the time I took up reggae music professionally, Majek had left Nigeria for the United States. And after a while I left to South Africa.
Is it reggae music that took you to South Africa?
Of course. That is all I do. My main reason for moving to South Africa is because of my other mentor, Lucky Dube. Though both of us never met physically until he passed on, he influenced me a great deal. He sometimes would appear in my vision and I travelled to South Africa on the invitation of the manager of Lucky Dube’s band.
Why did Lucky Dube’s manager invite you?
He heard me singing on the Internet, and was impressed by my vocals as regards maintaining the legacies of Lucky Dube. And he invited me over to audition as the lead vocalist of Lucky Dube’s band. And I did get it.
What steps did it take to land the role?
It took some auditions. They had done auditions with some artistes from South Africa but they could not find someone. When they subjected me to an audition, they were impressed and instantly they told me I was who they were looking for, because they wanted someone that could do a considerable portion of what Lucky Dube was doing.
The audition was just to test your ability at singing his songs?
Not really, they wanted someone with the kind of tone Lucky used to sing. We actually recorded an album with me as the lead singer. The album is ‘Celebrate His Life’. The album is available online and would soon come to Nigeria.
‘Celebrate His Life’ was primarily done as a tribute album for Dube?
Yes, his boys did that. That’s the first work done to honour him. I was the lead vocalist.
Before you moved to South Africa, did you have any album?
Yes. I had a musical album called ‘Free Man’. That was in 2006, but it did not sell too well.
What do you think was responsible for the poor outing?
I did not have a good marketer. It was poorly executed and it happened at a time when I was on the verge of leaving Nigeria for South Africa, so that did not give me the opportunity to execute the marketing so well. I must quickly add that they kind of contract I have with the Lucky Dube band allows me to do my own thing whenever I want to. That is why I have a new album now.
Tell me about the album?
It is called ‘I’ve Got The Roof’. It’s a ten tracker album.
Is the video ready?
I have done it but it is not edited yet. We hope it will be on air soon.
Where was the video shot?
We had a concert in Namibia with the band and Lucky Dube’s son, and I hooked up there for some jobs for the band and for my video. I am sure the two works will be everywhere soon.
Let us look at Reggae music in South Africa and Nigeria. Which country appreciates it more?
The South African society really likes reggae. The truth is that reggae talks about the ills of the society and with the apartheid experience in South Africa; it may seem a fertile ground for that but there are limitations. The lyrics of the songs can also pitch you against the government. Lucky Dube had some of his songs banned in South Africa, while they were being freely played in other parts of the world.
Yes, and even when he was alive he spent more time outside South Africa than in South Africa. In 12 months of the year, he spent 10 months touring the world. The system there tried to stifle it. But now things are beginning to open up and people are beginning to accept it as a way of life. That bondage that was there before is no longer there.
So let us relate this to Nigeria?
Nigerian has never been in bondage. We as a country have never been in shackles. Nigerians, actually appreciate Lucky Dube’s songs. And I can tell you that 75% of his CDs were sold in Nigeria. He recorded more sales in Nigeria than he did in South Africa. If you have a good artiste, he would be more appreciated in Nigeria than in South Africa.
Let us get a bit personal. You love women like most artistes, right?
I have women around me. I love women so much, but as an artiste, I hover around them. I have a lot of female friends
How passionate are they about your dreadlocks?
It depends on the angle one is looking at dreadlocks from. In Nigeria when you get into a church with your dreadlocks people look at you as the devil, but it is not like that in other African countries. You see a choir master with dreadlocks and nobody talks about it. Bankers wear dreadlocks and suits. For me, it’s just the mindset. People are however beginning to appreciate that in Nigeria. Sometimes when they look at you, they assume, you are a musician trying to express yourself. It’s really becoming trendy now. For me, it’s cool.
How long have you been wearing it?
I started dreadlocks around 2005, before I went to South Africa. I had to cut it at a time because I was a little bit stressed. It was getting to my waist.
I mean in terms of maintaining it. I am not saying it is difficult to maintain, but you have to give it a lot attention. I cut them when I got to South Africa. I had to because I had financial difficulty initially and it needs good money to keep it well.
Is this you real hair?
Yeah, absolutely, nothing attached. It’s my hair.
If you were not a musician, what would you have become?
Hmmm. I have not thought about that. May be I could have dabbled into Fine Arts, because I do a lot of drawing. By mere looking at you I can give you a good portrait of yourself. I can also paint. After school, I actually was doing both, but at a time I realized the musical part was getting a better hold of me. So I decided to pay attention to only music, because both are really hectic and demand a lot of attention. So, may be if I was not singing, visual arts may have been it for me.