ATTA OTIGBA LENELL: A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
Creativity lurking in musical artists manifests in song writing, singing and instrumentation, all of which are harmonized in production, itself, another channel of creative release. While each domain suffices to blow its practitioners to stardom, only a select few have demonstrated an enviable mastery of all these spheres. Nigerian-born Atta ‘Lennell’ Otigba is a veritable example of such rare excellence, with a mission to transform his generation with his dedicated talent. This interview brings to the fore, his persona, as well as his first-hand assessment of the Nigerian music industry.
As a music producer, singer and multi-instrumentalist songwriter, when and how did your musical career begin?
I was 9 when I began piano lessons. By the time I was 12, I was sold. That’s where my journey began. Everything from then up until the present, is just one long continuum to me. It’s all grey. I have always been about music. I have always been an active performing musician in one way or another. Perhaps the only important ‘checkpoint’ was the moment after graduating with a computer science degree, I decided to make producing audio the central focus from a professional perspective.
You also compose scores for motion pictures and perform live, how are you able to manage these?
Perhaps the greatest hazard in this particular line of work is its time consuming nature. Add to that, the fact that quality takes even more time than usual to create, then and you get the picture. Nonetheless,
I try to do as much as I can with the time that I have. Working on film scores is such a delicate and demanding thing, but it’s extremely satisfying in the end. That satisfaction is probably the drug that drives most of us creatives. It’s also a bit of a challenge juggling other people’s music with a desire to make
my own. I must confess that I’m more than a little guilty of putting my personal projects on the backburner in favour of working with other people.
You started off as a classical pianist, how did you get into music producing?
It was very simple. I had written a song for the guitar and I had this big, dramatic idea for my performance. However, I needed a backing track to pull it off while I played the guitar part and sang.
So I went online, downloaded some software and a few tutorials, and made it for myself. The performance was brilliant; everyone went on about the recording, etcetera. Then I realized I had all the tools I needed to start the long journey into audio production and audio engineering. I went back home, sat down, had an epiphany, and just like that ‘hey presto!’, a producer was born.
Which artists have you enjoyed working with most?
That’s a tough one. I’ve worked with a lot of talented people. Definitely Lindsey, whose voice is almost surreal at times. Bemyoda’s material is also utterly sublime and was loads of fun to work on. Then there is Jessica Bongos-Ikwue, super-talented and an absolute joy to work with. Also Cef – probably one of
the most original musicians I know, as well as Jon Oogah. More recently, I’ve really enjoyed working with Nana Aisha, another talented songbird who sings like a dream. But to be honest, it’s hard to call names because I’ve somehow been blessed with a plethora of like minds walking through my doors lately.
What do you think is the future of neo-soul and alternative music in Nigeria, amidst the euphoria created by hip-hop and other mainstream sound?
Nigerian music is on the rise; it’s undeniable. Over the past few years, I’ve seen an unbelievable leap in the quality of available material right before my eyes. And I think it will only get better. We’re experiencing something really special. Something that years from now, people will be able to refer to with the words ‘I
was there.’ I think genres are secondary to this reality. Everyone has an audience. Some audiences are larger than others. But for the most part, each audience is as legitimate as the next and deserves attention. So I’d say the future is good for those genres you mentioned. As long as the music scene continues to thrive, there will be good hip-hop. There will also be bad hip-hop. There will be good neo-soul. There will also be bad neo-soul. We the industry folk, just need to focus on one thing — making good music.
As a versatile producer with a lot of international exposure, how would you compare producing in Nigeria with Europe and the United States for instance, in terms of expertise, logistics and costs?
That’s a complex question. Expertise is what it is, wherever you are. But some things are easier to come by depending on where you are. For instance, if you live in Nashville, you won’t have a problem getting an epic guitarist to play on a song, though you’ll have to pay him what he’s accustomed to. If you live in Nigeria, you’re going to need to think about power generation over the course of an 8-hour session (The odds are not in your favour for 8 hours of non-interruption). All things considered though, the truth is that in 2015, things are very different from what they were a decade ago. Anyone can make music. You just
need a laptop and an Internet connection these days. It’s the same wherever you go; Europe, Asia or America. The real difference is in the experience and vision of the mind behind that laptop. As for the price of that, well… I leave that to you.
You have a tendency for the more natural things about music, like letting the voice and its emotion drive the song, or as with videos, aligning the scenes uniquely with the essence of the song. Indeed, no synthetic exaggerations. How has this impacted on your artists?
It seeps through into the music. Like attracts like, so the majority of musicians that gravitate towards me, tend to have similar viewpoints in that regard. As for the few that don’t, I tend to find diplomatic
ways to get them to modify their workflows to align with my philosophy. Two-thirds of this job is about diplomacy and being a shrink. I guess that’s just the way it is.
What is your assessment of the Nigerian music industry, in terms of the quality of songs composed and produced?
I think for an industry as young as it is, it’s doing pretty well for the most part. Granted, there’s a lot of sameness going around in certain camps, but that’s the way it is in any creative industry, anywhere in the world. The important thing is that there are also many people who are constantly trying to make better music than the status quo. I think this means the industry is healthy and that we can only get better, whether they succeed or not. It’s merely a matter of time. There’s a lot of good music out there. It just
needs to be found. If I have a bone to pick with anything, it would be with our awards system. I think that an honest, functioning, mature awards system that truly rewards innovation, is essential to the development of a healthy creative environment. Imagine there was no Cannes Festival or Academy Awards. Hundreds of great films would never have happened – the only movie anyone would make would be the formulaic, ‘samey’, generic films, guaranteed to make the most money. You simply cannot continually reward mediocrity and turn a blind eye to the folks who work their socks off, year in, year out. It’s a disservice to ourselves and a wasted opportunity to show the world and each other, just how much talent is hidden in this peopled corner of the world.
Full interview published in REVitUP! June/July issue.
March 25, 2021