We Had A Chat With Grammy-Winning Producer Malik Yusef

December 4, 2020

The first season of the exciting reality TV show, MTN Y’ello Star is gathering steam as it marks its 4th week. A lot has happened in that time; some contestants have been evicted while some have stayed on for a chance to win an apartment with an in-built house studio, a brand new car, N5million cash, scholarship to study at Berklee Music and Henley Business School and a recording contract.

One of the judges of the show is a Grammy-winning songwriter and producer Malik Yusef. He’s worked with Stars like Kanye, Beyonce and Anne Hathaway.

Nigeria has a big appetite for music. Do you intend to diversify into the Nigerian entertainment scene?

Oh yes, very much so. I’ve been working with Nigerians since I set up a record label called Zooey Records in 2003, and I’ve always known Nigerians are incredibly talented. I do want to do some work with Nigerian artists, so I’m starting with MTN Y’ello Star. Although most of my work with the winners of the recording contract will be mostly in the United States, I intend to record some special parts of the album here in Nigeria. You definitely want some of that Nigerian energy on your work.

Are there any Nigerian acts you’re looking to work with?

As I said, there are a ton of super-talented people in Nigeria. It’s almost like four out of five Nigerians can sing. I’ve worked with D’banj and others. One Nigerian act I’d love to work with is Burna. He has a good ear for music. I’ve also have my eyes on Praize.

Above all, I’m excited about the work I’m going to do with contestants from MTN Y’ello Star. I’ve seen some incredible talents in the competition. I’m really looking forward to showing them off this Nigerian talent to the world.

As a Grammy award winner, what do you think about the talent on the show?

They’re super incredible. Before I came, I had my eye on a contestant, even though I’m quite non-biased. But when I arrived, I was wowed by the quality of the talent. One week, you think a particular contestant is the best, the next, another has taken their place.

Beyond the competition, what challenges do you think the contestants are going to face in the music industry?

Think of the music industry as a highway. When you’re learning to drive and you glide onto a highway, you see everyone zooming past you in their big cars. You can either join them or drop by the side. There’s no one to help you. No one to protect you. You’re by yourself. 

Most of these contestants are going from singing in front of their mirrors to singing all over the global stage. So they have to be prepared for the task ahead. This is why what MTN Y’ello Star is doing for its contestants is so essential. They get an opportunity to attend Berklee Summer Music program in the United States. They also get tutored by Henley Business School in the United Kingdom. Truly, MTN Y’ello Star is building a ferocious machine of music stars.

What are the challenges black people and African face in the white-dominated industry?

Black musicians face the problems we face in the real world, a lack of infrastructure. Competing against  a structure that has existed for decades is difficult. Now, we know black is beautiful, black is powerful. It’s important for the next generation of black people to know what they’re capable of. They need to know that they can be record label heads, producers, songwriters, singers and anything else they want to be.

We have to own our African-ness. When a white immigrant comes to America, nobody tells them “You can’t open a Greek store here” or “You can’t open an Italian restaurant here.” But when it comes to Africa, we’re asked to hide our African-ness. We need to stop giving away our power and we’ll be able to compete globally.

What’s your favourite thing/place about Nigeria?

It’s the intangible aspect of the hustle. There’s just a very determined spirit in every Nigerian you meet, especially in Lagos. Everyone’s about that hustle. My favourite place is Benin. It’s much less “city” than Lagos, where you have people coming up. Benin is quite peaceful and I like the vibe. I love how helpful everyone is, even when I don’t understand the language. They kinda hold your hand through it all.

You have a lot of experience in the industry. You once worked with Kanye and Beyonce. What do you think the Nigerian music industry needs to truly be global, the way American music is?

Like I said, I started in Label back in 2003. Unfortunately, the world wasn’t as global as it is now. There was no interconnectedness like we have now through the internet, so it didn’t catch on. Now, we have the tools, the willpower and the exposure needed to bring the industry to global acclaim.

Who would you say is your biggest inspiration?

Jay Z is my biggest inspiration. He’s not just about the talking, he’s also about the doing. When he says he’ll do something for the African-American community, he goes ahead and puts the work into it.

Catch the MTN Y’ello Star on Saturdays and Sundays on these channels.

Olufemi Fadahunsi

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