I was a gang leader –Cobhams

Visually-impaired ace music composer, producer and singer, Cobhams Asuquo, tells ADEMOLA OLONILUA about his childhood and music career

As a producer, why are you delving into singing?

I realised that there are many things I can do. I am fortunate to have the gifts of singing and writing just as well as producing. I don’t have any excuse not to explore everything I have the gift and capacity to do and to be. I realised that there is a purpose for having the voice that I have. I have been singing more these days and I am coming to terms more with my voice. I went into music production because I wanted to express music in a certain way and I did not feel like I had the voice to express music. Right now, because I am coming to terms with my own voice, I am able to do that. I am happy to express music in various forms. That is why I am writing and singing now and God knows what I am going to do next.

How do you feel when you are compared with the likes of Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder?

I feel humbled but at the same time, I don’t know if we share anything other than the fact that we are all blind; we sing and we play the piano. Come to think of it, in retrospect, that is enough to share; to be likened to somebody. I believe I have a style that is influenced by these men among many other people. I don’t know if I have built that name but I would like to be known as myself in future.

Although you are visually-impaired, how come you play instruments well?

I think I got introduced to playing multiple musical instruments when I got into Pacelli School for the Blind. I have always loved music but I got introduced to music on another level when I got to Pacelli School. We had a window with a broken lock and I have to confess, there were times I used to sneak into the music room from the back window so that I could play with the guitar or with the trumpet. I desperately wanted to be surrounded with music even though I clandestinely did it. I did it because my heart was just in that musical space. We had this old piano that I played and I began to learn my craft in that small, quiet clandestine space.

How did you discover your love for music?

I don’t think I discovered music; it discovered me. I don’t think there was a time in my life where I stumbled upon music. I have always expressed music and I think music is one of those things in life that you get called into. I hate to think that I found music at a certain age; I think music has always been a part of my life. I think there is a soundtrack to my living and it is obviously provided by music. I think I have learned from it, interpreted it and shared only a tiny bit of the music that is the sound track to my existence with the rest of the world. There is always music playing in my head.

What was growing up like for you?

I lived in the barracks and it was fun. Some people might see the barracks as squalid, malignant and rough but it was my life. I loved it. From a barracks at Jos to Ikeja Military Cantonment; I loved it. I am a barracks boy and I am 100 per cent proud of that. I lived among Nigerians from different tribes. It gave me a lot of perspectives and insight into a lot of people’s lives. The barracks in a lot of ways prepared me for my musical journey because I got to meet people. I got introduced to different styles of music, different lingos. If I had not lived in the barracks, I would not have been able to understand the culture of the Idoma; neither would I understand that of the Tiv and the Nupe. The barracks was a mixed grill of people with ideas and perspectives. It helped shape my music and gave me a literary understanding to relate with people. It is literature in a sense and all of that helps me understand various forms of music that I am able to create.

How was Cobhams as a kid?

As a kid I was rough. I was stubborn and sometimes, I was a bully.

You were a bully?

Yes. I did things that were big and bad enough to do. I was a gang leader in many ways and my friends always listened to me. I told my friends things because I was the one who listened to the radio the most, so they believed me. Once, I told them that Babangida had intentions of becoming a Field Marshal and I can remember all my friends saying all kinds of things.  Then I went home and my father explained to me that what he was saying was that he had no intention of becoming a Field Marshal and I went back to my friends to tell them what I just learnt and they still believed. I was that kind of kid. I was an influence and I was outgoing and outspoken.

You seem to have grown to be the opposite of what you were while younger.

I don’t know if I am quiet now. I would not say I am quiet and I don’t think anyone would tell you I am quiet. I have my moments when I retreat and I have my moments when I bare it all. When you grow older and you become wiser, you become more introspective and your views become more circumspect. You generally slow down and look before you leap.

Were you close to your father who was a military man?

My father was a good man. He taught me things I needed to know when I did not need to know them. My father taught me the theories of how to use a gun and how to drive. I’m the only blind person in my family and I was not treated differently. The same way my father taught my siblings basic survival instinct was the same with me. He always had answers to random questions. He was my go-to man, if he did not have answers immediately, he would come back the following day with answers. He was a walking encyclopaedia of knowledge and he knew a lot. He enriched me greatly. Both my parents did. I am a product of love; they had answers to my questions because I was a young and curious mind. My vast wealth of knowledge is because of them.

So much love was shown to you while growing. How did you feel when they sent you to a boarding house in primary school?

It was the only primary school that was offering the kind of quality education that my parents were looking for. It was necessary to reform me and prepare me for the next level. I don’t think it was a question of love or lack thereof. I think it was necessary and what I had to go through. I completely hated it and wanted to drop out in primary two but it helped me in my life. It was important that my education was rounded in terms of mobility and orientation. The school was to help me navigate my way around life and Pacelli  was the one at that time that could give me that.

If you were given the gift of sight, do you think you would have been this big a brand?

I don’t know to be quite honest. That would involve turning back the hands of time. I have met some amazing people in life and I think so far, I have lived a glorious life and I continue to live an amazing life. I am not sure I want to turn back the hands of time for anything, not even for the gift of sight.

Were there times you wish you had the gift of sight?

None that I can remember. I think I have overcome the desire for sight. I know it is a beautiful thing and it is absolutely necessary. Life is interesting and you do not know what it is going to throw at you, and for me, I am grateful for the gift of life. I enjoy my life and I don’t think I sit and imagine what my life would be like if I could see. Quite honestly, I want to see for stupid reasons. I want to see because I want to learn how to play golf. I am an optimist by nature and I don’t think I walk around saying I want to see. One other reason I would really love to have sight is to see my wife’s face but I have the privilege of touching it which is much better than seeing it.

Have people at anytime taken advantage of the fact that you are visually impaired?

I can’t remember. Maybe it has happened, I really cannot remember and I do not want to make up stories. I believe that you attract your kind. I have known very kind-hearted, wonderful, sensitive people; not people who want to take advantage of me. My prayer is never to meet people that want to take advantage of me. I think I am a lucky person. I have not had any of the terrible experiences I hear happen to some other blind people.

How is marriage for you?

I absolutely love it. It has made me more responsible. You have to keep promises, dates, be attentive and most importantly, you have to be a provider. I love it. I love it when I am investing my time in my child or in my wife even if it is giving them a listening ear. I love looking out for my family. It is a place of responsibility but it is also a great place to be.

How did you meet your wife?

My wife is a very practical person. I met her in a library; we were not supposed to be talking but I thank God we talked. We became great friends and it took us years before we began to date. Because she is a very practical and sensible person, she took her time to consider if it was something she really wanted to do. Between us both, I do my best to live a normal life. I do my best to be the man in her life. What is important is not visual impairment but how much of a man you can be in your woman’s life. Can I protect her, give her love, receive love from her and be grateful? There are so many components to a well-grounded life beyond sight. I think she is a very broad minded person and that has helped our relationship a lot. Punch

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