By Chinonso Ihekire
July 23, 2022 | 4h20
Spinning around town in a sedan, his mind drifted away from the flurry of cars passing in front of him. As our eyes met mine on the virtual chat, you could see the glint of excitement in his eyes; it was the usual thrill with emerging stars excited about their come-up adventures.
Spinning around town in a sedan, his mind drifted away from the flurry of cars passing in front of him. As our eyes met mine on the virtual chat, you could see the glint of excitement in his eyes; it was the usual thrill with emerging stars excited about their come-up adventures. And for Major AJ, Chocolate City’s newest signee, that trip up the fame ladder has been a long time coming.
Born Boluwatife Vincent Ajogwu, Major AJ is one of the most vibrant voices in the Nigerian music scene, especially at a time when the industry is leaning towards RnB/Pop monotony. His musical style, an eclectic mix of electronic funk, pop and RnB, takes listeners back to the golden age of the 80s, when the Steve Monites, Fela Kuti and William Onyeabors of this world thrived with their distinct sounds. of escape.
With his debut dubbed EP, Retroverse, doing the rounds, Major AJ has begun to gain a cult following and is on his way to becoming a top sound of his generation. From having to save up for six months to afford his first record to choosing a name that honors his late father, the 24-year-old musician shares his complex, intentional and interesting journey, including the stories behind his love and life-themed EP, as well as his plans for the future, in this heartfelt conversation with Guardian Music.
How do you feel about everything?
I feel grateful and blessed. As a creative, when you work on a project for a while, you want to get to a point where you want to share it with the world. So goes the music. I’m really grateful that my music is finally here. The feedback has been incredible.
You titled the EP Retroverse, what does that mean?
The Retroverse is an alternate dimension for Afrobeats; it’s just a world that I invented in my creative space. It’s an alternative version of Afrobeats, with lots of funk, disco and retro inspired elements.
From production to delivery, some songs on the project lean towards the retro side. Some other songs lean towards the Afro side, like Afrodisco. The Retroverse is just an alternate dimension of Afrobeats in my head, with my own kind of spice.
Why this sound direction?
Basically, the most important thing is the music; that’s what got me into it. I didn’t decide to be an artist because I was hungry; there were other solutions to not be hungry. I decided to be an artist because I really love music. I want to make amazing music for people to listen to and love.
Basically, after being signed to Chocolate City, we were working and going to the studio every day. I am very versatile. I tend to experiment and play with sounds a lot. I’m never afraid to try new things. I feel like you have to find your own way to express your creativity. I want you to listen to me and know that I marked you.
There are so many artists making great music, so I want my own music to be an experience for you. The music itself led us here. The first song I recorded was Afrodisco, and everything lined up like it should. I didn’t decide to start experimenting, but the music brought us here. This is the Retroverse era for me. After that, I go to another era.
When did this all start for you?
So, I grew up in Kainji, Niger State. There were few or no resources to make music – no studios, nothing! I had always gone with my mother and aunt to church choir practice. I started to be fascinated by musical instruments. I learned to play the drums and the piano. I started singing in church actually. Over time, I realized that was what I loved.
As a kid, music was fun. I had friends who were dedicated to playing football and running around school. For me, it was the music. When I came to school, I thought I would write the lyrics to people’s songs and memorize the lyrics. So it all started in freestyle; me and my friend used to rap and freestyle. We had a band, but there was a day when I knew music was the calling.
If you listen to the song, Superstar, I said I saw a vision of me on stage and people were singing. It was like something spiritual. I started the journey and God just aligned it. I’m just happy to be able to do what I love as a profession.
How were you able to finance your first recordings? How was the family support?
Yo, that was crazy! The first song I recorded in my life cost N3000 for the recording session. I had to save for about six months. I used to get an N50 allowance at school every day back then. So I tried to save N20 daily.
The song was a cover of Over Killin It by Djinee. It was the first song I did in the studio.
My family had none at all. They liked music, but when I started to say that I wanted to do my job, they weren’t smiling; my mother kept emphasizing school. In the end, everything justified the means. My mom is a big fan right now. I just hung up on her before this interview. She was just calling me to ask me how it was going.
How did you come up with the name Major AJ?
When I started my career, I had so many names; I had a lot of corny names. At the end of the day, I just wanted a name that meant something to me that I could connect with. A person who means so much to me in the world is my father. He was in the army; he was major. I lost it when I was very young. I wanted a name related to it. Everyone called him Major Ajogwu. So, I just made up the name Major AJ from there, just to always take him on the journey. AJ is for my dad, basically.
You worked closely with Dunnie as a producer. What was it like working with her?
The experience was so enjoyable; she is an amazing producer. Also shout out to Steph; he’s the only other producer I’ve worked with, he produced Omnirascal. I moved completely to Lagos, in 2020. Luckily I met Telz and through him I met Steph. And we all started working.
With Dunnie, I did a recording camp in March. I had listened to his previous work on Ria Sean projects; I just wanted her to work. On the last day of registration camp, the connection was so good. I feel so good creating music with her. She is very good at what she does. We just kept making music.
Tell us about the stories behind some songs from the EP.
Each song is a different experience. With Afrodisco, it was when Dunnie told me she had made a beat before coming to my recording camp. She just felt like she had to play this beat for me. When she played it, I was in a romantic mood. There was a girl that I really liked, but we had a fallout. It was a very different feeling; I was just vibrating to the beat and the sound was coming from within.
With Taboo she played another beat and the hook came instantly. Normally I think a lot and talk to people. Even when I’m out of the studio, I still think about life experiences. So every time I freestyle, those thoughts come out. Each beat evokes different emotions; Taboo came with its own optimistic emotion. Everyone just felt the song. So, I just really thought about a certain time in life. I had many emotional experiences. So I tend to sing about those experiences. Taboo was just about singing about a woman who was a flirt but was bad for me. Then, the same day, I heard another beat for Mr Lover, and we continued to experiment with the retro vibe.
When I was listening to the Mr Lover beat, it just gave me a lot of 90s disco vibes. So, I was talking about a girl trying to act like she wasn’t into me. So, I wanted to let him know that I locked him; that kind of atmosphere. It was an awesome song.
Omnirascal was inspired by Lagbaja. Growing up, I listened to him a lot. I didn’t even know which direction we would have gone, but I let the music guide me. Finally, Superstar is the song I recorded last. The beat just spoke to me emotionally; I just wanted to talk about my background. It was filled with ups and downs.
Tell us about your musical influence, growing up and now.
My family listened to a lot of music. I listened to WestLife, Micheal Jackson, The Jackson 5, and a lot of Africans too, like Ebenezer Obey, and even Fela Kuti. In my teens, I mostly listened to Rap music; Lil Wayne, YMCMB and lots of them.
Basically, it started from rap and retro sounds. Now I also take inspiration from Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido and everyone who makes great music. I also listen to Drake, Koffee, Chronixx and lots of different sounds.
So what’s next for Major AJ?
I released music videos and performance videos. I plan to have a retro themed show very soon. So we have that coming. On time, amazing music! This is just the start of the journey. There is definitely more to come.
In a few years, Major AJ will sing in front of millions of people. My music would have a positive impact in people’s lives. Music makes me happier; I just want to do my business. I want people to listen to my songs and feel better. In the years to come, my music will be everywhere.