I was a celebrity in Atlanta, but became an upcoming act in Nigeria – Davido’s offical DJ, DJ Ecool
Ebianga Ikpeme, better known by his stage name, DJ Ecool, is the official disc jockey for Davido Music Worldwide (DMW) boss, Davido. DJ Ecool, who was signed to the record label(DMW) years ago in this interview with OLAITAN GANIU, shares his experience working with the hip hop artiste, his latest single, ‘Personally’ among other issues.
After your mega-hit with Davido, fans have not heard from you. Is there any reason for the absence?
No, after I released the single, Ada with Davido, I did another follow-up titled, 4u featuring Peruzzi and Davido. That was in November last year and I also dropped the visual. The song actually made waves but not as the first ones.
What influenced you to record your latest single, Personally?
The single is titled Personally and I have to reach out to Peter of PSquare on it. Though, people don’t accept that you can diversify your craft. They will ask: ‘Are you not a DJ, when did you turn to an artiste?’ It was hard to convince people but we need to change that orientation. Since actors can sing, there is nothing wrong for the deejay to also sing. I think, there should be no limits.
People don’t really respect the disc jockey’s pricing. People prefer to pay artistes more than DJs who can also move crowd, but for whatever reason, artistes are of more value than disc jockeys and this is why I was trying to establish the other side of my brand. That is why I’m out with my latest single. Since I already have my fan base, I was like, let me invest my money into single and see if I could make some profit and benefit the brand.
You grew up in Ojodu (Lagos) before becoming a global star. How did music start for you?
My family is music-inclined. But I will say that I was introduced to music while I was in London in 2006 because my uncle is a music promoter. He used to promote Dru Hill and other big stars in that era. Though I was very young, I used to follow my uncle to most of the concerts because I love dancing and seeing Dru Hill perform on the big stage. This made me lose my mind. So, he made me have the dream that one day, I would perform on a world stage. My uncle also owned a studio, so I started learning music production. I later ventured into disc jockeying.
Why did you choose disc jockeying over dancing and producing?
Aside from being a deejay and dancer, I was into computer graphics and software engineering. With all these skills, people would always come around for me to help them download songs and burn it into CDs because as a software engineer I have some apps that enable me to download a lot of songs. So, I started to do a mixtape and people started liking it. They are the ones who encouraged me to choose disc jockeying because at that time, I didn’t have a passion for it. I preferred to be a dancer or music producer.
At what point did you decide to put your own song out?
Funny enough, I put up a song the same year Davido dropped the smash single, Dami Duro, in 2011, but my song did not get to my backyard (laughing).
So how did you feel then?
I feel like I was just testing the water (laughing).
When did you actually start working as a deejay and how lucrative was it then?
I finished school in 2003, here in Nigeria before I left for London in 2004. After some months, I went to visit my aunt in New York and I never returned to London. I later traveled from New York to Atlanta to see another aunty of mine and I got stuck there too (smiles). On how lucrative disc jockeying was at that time, it was not a means to an end, it was just to create a niche for myself. I wasn’t thinking about money. But because of my educational level, I found a way to go around with the business side of it. I was always negotiating deals and branding myself to make it look like I was already made. And as a graphic designer, I was able to brand myself with captivating designs. So whenever people see my posters, they will be like ‘who is the new guy?’
Could you share some of your struggles as a DJ abroad?
There was this popular disc jockey then in Atlanta, his name is DJ MarryMic, who had to quit deejaying for school. So, there was a lack of professional disc jockey in city. As an undergraduate then, I felt this was an opportunity to showcase my talent. I took a major risk of quitting school. In fact, I was writing exams in Electrical Engineering and I had a year and a half to graduate. I just got up from the exam hall and went straight to the admission office to withdraw from school.
Then, I was famous at school because I was so brainy. I was studying Calculus 1, 2 and Differential Equations. I got home telling my mum to shift the choir practice from Friday night to Saturday because I didn’t want it to affect my every Friday nights’ play. My mum happens to be a pastor in a church; she was like ‘how will she tell the congregation that my son is playing in a night club?’ It was a strong decision for me but I was determined to make money through disc jockeying. I was lucky to start making money from it just within a year and I started giving my mum some money.
So, this was a struggle for me but I utilized the opportunity because Atlanta is occupied by different ethnic groups including Cameroonians, Ghanaians, and other blacks.
Any plan to back to school?
(Sigh). No, but after some time, I decided to take online classes but it still didn’t work. But I can still go back because I still have a year left in my former school.
But if you were doing that well in Atlanta, why did you decide to come back to Nigeria?
For me, disc jockeys from outside earn more money than the in-house one like me. Though I get fame and recognition by people but I was just a household name. I was always playing in the clubs and I knew that playing in the club alone would not bring more money. So I felt like everyone in Atlanta has recognized me. I had toured all the top clubs, so I decided to find a new challenge.
At the same time, I was also freestyling gigs with Davido. Most times, they booked two of us together in the same event. Although, then he was rolling with Dj Olu he mostly didn’t travel with him. So, Davido will be like: ‘You are booked here too now. You roll my P for me, make we run thing.’
You know, every artist needs that DJ who can really give them that hype to turn up their audience. Different events kept joining us together and because I was already established as a disc jockey, he always respected my decision. His personal assistant, Kamal, would call, ‘Hey, Ecool, David get gig tomorrow, abeg make you show ooo.’ Then, I didn’t ask for money for travel from him. I would just arrange the ticket and join them where he (Davido) was booked. I kept representing well which I saw like a sacrifice. One day, he just called me to join his team for the Sony Tour, in December 2016 and during the show, people started commenting on my hyping energy.
Immediately after the tour, he just messaged me that he wanted me to be his official disc jockey. I was so excited. I didn’t think twice to join his brand because we connect so well and we are both valuable to each other’s brand. And since then, we’ve toured around the world.
What is it like working with Davido?
He used to put pressure on me. David will just say, ‘Ecool, you know as e dey go now. Make we kill this P’ and that simply means, I must put-in more energy to introduce the brand to the crowd. Like when he is coming out walking on water (laughing), so I have to deliver.
Though he makes me stronger because I have tackled my own battle, I have mastered how to introduce the brand to the audience, how I make the performance for the artiste.
For example, as we were about to start the performance at the Wireless Festival in London last year, I noticed that my laptop was malfunctioning. I was like, they will abuse Africa here today because we were the one representing Africa on that global stage. Davido didn’t know what was going on with me, though with faith I went on the stage to do the hyping but thank God, with my little knowledge on how to troubleshoot computers, I managed to play audio from the laptop and the show went successful.
As at the time you came back to Nigeria, we already had some established disc jockeys. What makes your brand unique?
I think everything that is good would be expected and even though I was already established abroad. So, coming to Nigeria, I have to accept that I was up and coming because many people didn’t recognise me. And this was what made me hungrier and that is why you see me crack jokes, hyping, dancing and back-flipping at shows because I wanted to stand out a disc jockey. So, if you book me as a DJ that means you also invite Ecool the dancer, MC, comedian and not just DJ and this sets me aside from everybody else.
And you know, there was a time when musician was only releasing through DJs and there was something called, Coalition of Nigeria DJs worldwide and I was part of the administrators. I already made a name through that platform because many Nigerian DJs knew me.
What is the craziest thing a fan has done to you?
A fan has once bitten me on my back and they’ve also stolen my necklace too. I was wearing a Rolex that day and I didn’t want to pursue him with a Rolex. As I was trying to give Davido the Rolex to chase the guy, Davido was like: ‘No, no, leave them ooo.’