My name is Tega. I’m a musician who recently starred in the Netflix drama, All Na Vibes. I moved to Ibadan when I was nine. I moved around a lot because my parents were clergy people. And yes, I turned out the way you’d expect a pastor’s kid to: free, happy and living with nature. I like eating, playing games and watching squirrels walk around.

Mobolaji Johnson 2022

When did you start making music?

I started early. As a kid, I used to make choruses for my brother for fun. I was a big fan of Eminem and used to rap all his lyrics, even the ones I couldn’t hear. Back then, the only way to get lyrics was to wait ten minutes for the A-Z lyrics to load, or you listen, pause and write down each line on paper. The second process subconsciously helped me understand the way lyrics are put together, the syntax of a song. 

Down the line, I tried to be a petroleum engineer then a computer scientist because I wanted to make money. You know you just want to make money when you’re a kid.

Isn’t Nigeria just catching up on the money-making side of computer science?

Yeah, that’s the cool thing. I got in early. I really liked computers and programming. At 15, I’d already imagined having my own tech company. I had this book where I drew and designed the uniforms my company staff would wear. I was also a big fan of Steve Jobs. 

But then?

You know music. It comes out and tells you to say goodbye to all your other dreams. I started singing covers and posting on social media when I was in secondary school. Then I quit university in 2017. I was 17 and attending Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Delta State. I only stayed there two weeks before I left for Ibadan to stay with my brother who was at the UI, studying theatre and performing arts. I applied there and got admitted, but I didn’t accept the admission because I wanted to focus on music. 

It was around that time I got a gig to play at Freedom Park, Lagos. Someone had gone through my Instagram and loved my covers. I was 18. It made me realise I really wanted to make a name for myself doing music on the road like the artists I admired. Fun fact: the road is bad; it’s full of traffic and potholes. 

What did you do while you were at UI though?

I started performing. I even busked in public places for voluntary donations. People gathered, and some said I sounded so well. My best experience was playing my guitar somewhere around the student union building, when an old lady, one of the cooks, came out and was like, “I thought it was the radio.” 

Were your parents okay with you quitting school?

When I quit the first time, it was to enrol in UI, so my parents were kinda cool with it. When I didn’t end up attending UI, it was strange because I thought they’d say no. In fact, I was willing to fight them. I already had my speech planned. But they just asked, “Is that what you want to do?” I said yes. They said, ok. I was a bit pissed by their response. It was almost like they didn’t give a fuck.

Now, I’m doing a music diploma, a songwriting thing in London. I’ll be back in Nigeria in September and probably get more juicy gigs.

In All Na Vibes, your character said he didn’t want to make dance music, but music his parents would be proud of. Can you relate to that?

Oh, that was just the director and the producer. It felt weird when they brought up that line because I don’t actually care about that. But I made it sound convincing. 

Since you started making music full time, what has the journey been like?

It’s been insane. It started with that gig in Lagos. Mind you, I wasn’t even paid for it. I was young, so I didn’t really care. I thought it was just one of many, and that others would pay. But the industry doesn’t work that way. If you keep dishing out free gigs, you’ll keep getting free gigs. The older I got, the more I started to feel insane like I was wasting my time. The industry is fraught with people who want to take advantage of you, trying to get you to sign shitty contracts. I never did sign anything. I even got into a big fight with a guy who wanted to be my manager. I went from a scared, stressed-out kid to realising the industry is hectic, but it’s business. 

But I did many things on the way, like starting a doughnut business with my brother in 2019. Before Krispy Kreme came to Nigeria, we attempted something like It in Ibadan, which I’m very proud of. I left the business because my music started doing fine.

Sounds like the industry showed you shege

There were moments when I felt like I’m almost there, I’m about to blow, like when I opened for Johnny Drille in 2019. That was the biggest crowd I’d ever played for. I thought all the hard work was just about to pay off, but the moment passed. That was when I understood I needed to have a plan and just stick to it, not caring when the big break would come but just enjoying the process. 

I’m building something, and everything I do adds to the things I’ve already done. I’ve also since realised people love sincerity. People like to feel seen and heard when they listen to music, which is what I’ve been trying to do with mine. You’re telling people stories, so the least you can do is tell people what matters.

What does “blowing” mean to you?

I used to say I wanted to be famous, but now, I don’t even know. What a lot of artists struggle with when they become famous is maintaining a connection with fans on a personal level. Even a little fame would make you unable to respond to most of the feedback you get from fans. For me, blowing up is a long-run thing. It’s not about making one viral song. It’s about building something that inspires and outlives you, a legacy. 

How did you go from putting all your eggs in your music career to being the lead character in All Na Vibes?

It was random. Remember I mentioned my brother studied theatre arts? He started a theatre group with a vision to change the industry. I cameoed as a random musician in one of the group director’s movies in Ibadan. He called me later, during COVID, and asked if I’d like to be in a movie. I wasn’t doing anything besides learning to produce music, so I said, let’s do this. I thought it’d just be a Youtube thing. I really don’t know what gave them the idea that I’d be good, but they trusted me with their project. Now, I’m a Netflix actor. 

Will you continue acting, or is it a one-time thing?

I can’t really say. I’m not sure. I’m so nervous that I haven’t even seen All Na Vibes

. I tried to watch the movie the night it came out, but as soon as I saw my face, I shut down the computer. First of all, I go very hard on myself, which I think I need to do less because, you know, everyone is allowed to grow. There’s that, and there’s the thing about other actors confirming that they also feel uncomfortable watching themselves in movies.

How alike are you and Abiola, the character you played?

He believes in a lot of conspiracy theories, and I wouldn’t say I believe them too, but I like asking many questions. You’ll find me in a wormhole of books, Wikipedia pages and Youtube, researching one topic because I want to know the truth. We’re quite alike in a lot of other things. We both make music. We’re chill people. He doesn’t have my charm, but he’s calmer. We’re different creatures at the core.

In the spirit of talking about conspiracies, do you have a super controversial take on music?

I feel like music you can download and play on your phone could and should be free. People should pay if they want to, but it should be available at zero cost. Many of the songs that inspired me when I was a kid, I don’t remember how I got them. They came to my phone by the power of the almighty. People shouldn’t be denied the chance to listen to music because they can’t pay for it. Digital music should be free. 

Then how would you get paid as a musician? 

You perform. There are a lot of other ways to make money from your music. If you go to my website, all my songs are there and downloadable for free. It’s how it’s always going to be unless I get signed to a label that controls everything, which I don’t want to do. Music should be free.

Mobolaji Johnson 2022

Interesting. Who do you make music for?

I write for people who are going through it, people who sometimes sit down to evaluate their life then feel grateful or pissed off about it. Basically, people who are aware of their humanity. 

When I’m going through something, I make music to explain myself to myself. The emotions get so heavy that the only way to get them off my chest would be to write about them. For some people, when they feel something, they go punch a wall. For me, I just write, even if I never release the music. I might eventually make money from it, and people may feel so connected that they’d be willing to pay for it, but in the beginning, I write to explain myself.

Do you have a favourite song you’ve written?

I have many. But one of my favourites is To Be Missed, a song I did for All Na Vibes. The whole concept is me realising in 2018 or 2019 that we’re all designed to want to be remembered, especially when we’re not in a place anymore. It’s okay to feel a bit lost, or like someone who wanted you before doesn’t anymore. It’s human nature to feel that way.

It sounds like a heartbreak song. How many have you written when you were heartbroken?

Between 2018 and 2020, almost all the songs I wrote were about heartbreak, and I wrote many good songs then. Most musicians would agree that some of the best songs have come from heartbreak. 

What are your fave heartbreak songs you didn’t write?

Sunburn by Ed Sheeran. I wish I was the one who wrote it. I likeLast Last. That’s a proper sad song. And you can make it even sadder if you sing it acoustically. But it’s a vibe. You know Nigerians will always make it a vibe, even if it’s sad.

Who or what influences your music?

Two of my biggest influences are Ed Sheeran and Passenger. But in recent times, it’s been places. The more time I spend in Ibadan, the more I fall in love with the place. I interact with it in a way that it starts to feel like a person and begins to inspire me. Nigeria inspired me to make angry songs like Gossip, from my old EP.

What does it feel like performing on stage to an audience holding on to every word? 

No matter how many times it happens — though it doesn’t happen many times — it makes me feel like the world should just end. It’s just so consuming, it kind of makes you feel small. Or maybe it’s just me wanting to feel small in that moment. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s beautiful. I just want to embrace the moment and live in it in a way that’s not intrusive, and I can’t get too used to it so that it continues to feel special every time.

What’s the least or most you’ve been paid, whether in music or acting? 

Today’s prices are not really like 2022’s. Last year it was in six digits. And I may not play in any show until September, when I’m back in Nigeria.

How fulfilled do you feel?

Very fulfilled. I’ve learnt to abide in everything I do, however great or small. I used to compare myself with others, but I have learnt that it doesn’t matter. Right now, I feel very fulfilled, doing exactly what I want and how I want it. I write and perform music, get paid for it, and I have songs people listen to. My 16-year-old self would be mindblown. I think that’s enough fulfilment for me.

What sort of legacy do you want to create?

Make albums of the highest quality. Do concept projects. I have onee coming out that I’ve been working on for a long time now. It’ll be out when I return to Nigeria. I don’t want it to be a collection of random stuff. There are stories behind it, and everything just works together to create this really cool, sweetcake album. 

I also want to work on the performance scene in Lagos and Ibadan. One of my dreams is to have it more structured and easier for artists coming after me to find places to perform. Right now, I’m focused on putting out quality projects and collaborating with artists. When I return, I want to work with more people even outside my space. 

Which Nigerian artists would you like to work with?

Lagbaja. Asa — she’s been at the top of my list since I was a kid. 2Baba, interestingly. His music isn’t the same again, but I plan to tap into 2Face of the 2000s. I want to work with Obongjayar too. 

What are the struggles you face as an artist?

Making music regularly while always being online. It’s a lot to juggle as an artist.

What are you currently working on?

An EP, which will be out soon. Expect a minimum of four songs.

Mobolaji Johnson 2022


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