Interview: Wilson Joel shares his life story with SelahAfrik

In a recent interview with Selah afrik, Wilson Joel tells the story of his life, from grass to grace. Read below.

SelahAfrik: Tell us, who is Wilson Joel?
Wilson Joel: Wilson Joel is another guy living his life according to his passion. My passion is music and that is what I do. I am a music producer, a songwriter, mix and mastering engineer and a music business man.
SelahAfrik: When did you decided to start pursuing music?
Wilson Joel: That’s a tricky question because as far back as when I was a young boy, I remember my mum used to have a restaurant and bar, music plays every day and my father was a lay reader at an Anglican church; we were in church every Sunday, there was music playing in church and it was sweet to the ears, that was when I got curious about how this music was being made. I used to see the old Vinyl tape… the plates, they call them records and I wondered how they put music in it. I decided that I wanted to know. I got interested and started singing along when I hear music, little did I know that as young as I was back then, I was picking the right keys as I sang along, people felt I could sing but the truth is I didn’t even know what I was doing, it was just my interest that was playing out… I was just responding to passion at that tender age.

My passion is music and that is what I do”

– Wilson Joel

SelahAfrik: While your interest was growing, did it dawn on you that you were already choosing a career path back then?
Wilson Joel: I wanted to be a doctor because those days, that was the kind of profession in vogue. It’s either you are a doctor, banker, lawyer and the likes. I had thought I would become a doctor and then do music by the side, if at all I was going to venture into music. While I was passing through primary to secondary school my father passed away and I had to decide what I wanted to do with my life. I was about 13/14 at the time. I told myself, ‘this man who is your backbone is gone, what do you want to do? What do you want to be?’ I decided music it is. It wasn’t out of the fact that I didn’t have options because I did. I was very brilliant in school as the worst position I came home with was 5th position and even that would make me sad. I passed through the various departments in secondary school from Science to Commercial and settled for Art in my final year so I can grasp as much knowledge as I needed in these different aspects.
SelahAfrik: What was the first move you made to actualize your dream haven decided the path you wanted to follow?
Wilson Joel: When I finally decided it was time to pursue my passion, I had no idea of how I was going to actualize it. I was in love with the keyboard but there was nobody to teach me so I went to some gurus to teach me at least 10 cords, I will spend days in their houses, wait on them and clean their clothes and cars but all they did was show me few notes which I will end up not remembering. There was however a man around my neighborhood at the time whose specialty was to repair keyboard, piano and electronics. I used to go sit at his shop to see if I can grab one or two things but I later opened up to him. I paid him to teach me, he also showed me only a few things on site reading and left me to learn by myself. Due to the fact that I have been singing then, whenever he left me on my own, I will sing a song and then look for the note on the keyboard from where I progressed to cords. That is why my fingering with cords is different from what every other person does. I have tried to change it but it didn’t work so I just remained with what I’d gotten used to. When I met Lanre Oluyide however, I improved tremendously.
SelahAfrik: How did you start producing music?
Wilson Joel: If playing the keyboard was tough, learning to record and make music was tougher. As far back as 1999, I was frequenting Eko Realmix studio. Somebody actually took me there because the band needed a keyboard player. We had all sorts of names coming into the studio such as Sunny Ade, Kingsley Ike, Wasiu Ayinde Marshall and more. My aim was to go there and use the opportunity there to learn but for about two years, I didn’t learn a thing. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even allowed to touch the microphone cables, at that point, I was discourage and also wanted to quit music. There came a time when Chris Okoro who used to produced Daniel Wilson and other big names in the industry frequented the studio, he always let me sit around him and taught me things I did not know. I am really grateful for his impact. He was always busy but the attention he gave me made me want to always be around whenever he was in the studio, as a matter of fact, Daniel Wilson and I became friends because of him. In 2000, I met with Johnson Davidson who did all the major adverts in the media around the time. He is the one who taught me the basics of music production. I have never met anyone as patient as Johnson Davidson, he took his time to teach me and to crown it, he also employed me. I’d been playing for Sammie Okposo before then. So between 2001 and 2006, I was working with him till Dr Bayo Adepetun, of Midicorp in GRA came along and employed me. Johnson Davidson did not have a problem with me going to work for Dr Bayo Adepetun, he said it was fine.
SelahAfrik: Tell us how you became proficient as a producer
Wilson Joel: I was rejected and wasn’t granted the American visa like three times so I got infuriated and quit trying to travel there to study. I went on the internet and started a course at the Audio Recording Institute of Detroit Michigan. I passed the course and was granted a certificate in Audio Engineering but honestly, I don’t know where I kept the certificate (laughs). That was my background but getting to South Africa really opened my mind.
SelahAfrik: Why did you travelled to South Africa?
Wilson Joel: I realize that the music was not yet what it was supposed to be at the time, It was starting to show potentials, I remember it was African China that was reigning in the secular music scene, Sammie Okposo in the Gospel, Azeezat for the inspirational and Nelson Brown was also doing a great Job for the Platashun Boiz at the time but there was that vacuole and I felt I could go risk seeing what it could yield somewhere else and bring that back, so I went to South Africa. My intention was to spend a few weeks but I realize that I could really get a lot done if I stayed a while longer.
SelahAfrik: How did you penetrate the South African market?
Wilson Joel: I didn’t immediately penetrate the market. I got to South Africa with $160 and by the 3rd day, I’d exhausted it. I had played for about 3 churches before I started my studio in 2007. My studio started from my room which was all the space left in the room after my mattress occupied the rest. I was recording a certain guy one particular day and he brought a backup singer who was thrilled by what she was hearing. She proposed working with me but I didn’t take her serious until I came back on a visit to Nigeria in 2008, after I had been gone since 2006, she sent me a mail saying ‘Universal Music is waiting’ so I took a chance on her and did about 3/5 songs for her. Universal music was thrilled by the songs and that was when my break came. She said they wanted us to have a meeting and the next thing I know, Universal Music was asking me how much I charge. I charged them but while I was thinking it was huge in mind, I know they were feeling like it was peanut. I got my first car from that deal and upgraded my studio all thanks to the songs I did for the lady – late Lulu Dikana.
SelahAfrik: How did life change for you after that Universal Music deal?
Wilson Joel: After that work, People started trooping in, I became an envy and it also scared me. I will be driving and will be wondering if people were after me. I learnt a lot in South Africa and got to mix with the top shots so much that I found myself in the headquarters of Vodacom for a meeting with one of their bosses at a particular time.
SelahAfrik: You were doing very well in South Africa, why did you come back to Nigeria?
Wilson Joel: I am a Nigerian. My plan initially as I told you was not to stay. I felt like I’d accomplished my reason for stepping on that soil and I thought I should come back home and explore. Also I’d been hearing of all that was happening in the Nigerian music so I just wanted to plug in.
SelahAfrik: Compare your experiences in South Africa & Nigeria
Wilson Joel: It’s tough because they are two different markets. The value of money in South Africa is much more than what it is in Nigeria, that’s why you can make a million Naira in Nigeria and it may not seem much but make the same in South Africa and you are balling! So production in South Africa can give you a lot to play with, as you can employ talents such as instrumentalists, backups, to spice up the session and still have a lot left, compare to if you are doing the same production in Nigeria.
SelahAfrik: Why did you choose Gospel & Inspirational music?
Wilson Joel: I feel everyone has the conviction of who they want to be, who they are and why. I love God and I love progress. I don’t like anything that takes me back. I can listen to the ‘skelewu’ kind of song when they pop up on the radio but it’s that the kind of song I am trying to make? No! That’s not me. I do positive music and any music that is perverted; you can’t find me involved in it. Even some of the secular artistes that I have worked with know you can’t come to my studio and smoke or drink! If you want to smoke, you have to go to your house; you can’t even do that within the premises. It’s a no-smoking-no-drinking environment. So for me, it’s about music that adds to life, not that which takes away life. When God created the heavens and the earth, He looked at what He has created and saw that it was beautiful, why should I be the one to come and mess up the beauty of what he has created? So it’s not about me being saved, it’s about me holding to my belief and maintaining my integrity in that regards so I will rather produced Gospel music, positive music, music for love, peace and for change.
SelahAfrik: Do you think those other forms of music you described is helping the industry?
Wilson Joel: It is pulling it down but at the same time it is creating the space needed for some other artistes to create evergreen music that can outlive the writer and performer. Take Timi Dakolo for instance, you cannot find any vulgarity in his music. In his song “Iyawo Mi” he was professing his love to his wife in the most decent and romantic way ever, and this is what God commanded us to do when He said “men love your wife.” Those songs that come, reign and fades off are making even Gospel artiste want to conform to that norm with the mindset of ‘blowing up’ and gathering the profit while it last. it’s a distortion from the devil because music actually came from God but the devil is trying to pervert it.
SelahAfrik: Other producers are getting into the booth and singing their own song these days, are we ever going to see you do that?
Wilson Joel: Everyone has their own vision but if ever I will make a song where I will sing, it won’t be because everyone is doing it but due to the fact that people do not know that I sing. I may do one or two tracks but will I ever release a CD, I don’t even know right now. I did something once as far back as 2003 where I rendered spoken words on the piano and also the instrumental of “God will make a Way” by Don Moen but I didn’t release any so I might end up releasing one in the future but right now, it’s not on my list.

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