When Cobhams Asuquo was around eight years old, he realized that he was different to the other voices he would hear around him. While they always moved around effortlessly and used words like ‘see,’ he realized that he couldn’t process the meaning of that word because he doesn’t see at all.
Still, he was rambunctious and troublesome, like every other kid; he ran, he played and even fought other kids – when necessary. As he moved into his teens, ‘friends’ would make jokes about his sight whenever a fight broke out.
The haven afforded by his family fostered natural confidence in him, that made him open and slightly unbothered. But by 16, he was slightly down when his friends were driving their fathers’ cars and he couldn’t do that to impress a girl on his block. He jokes that, “Thankfully, my father didn’t even have a car at that point.”
But on this day 23 years later, he is dressed in an all-white outfit in the upper part of a duplex owned by him as his creative hub. He is also recording his overdue debut album as he laughs about this ‘disadvantage’ and comfortably says, “I like to call it blind, not visually impaired because I don’t see anything.”
He is calm, witty and humble. More importantly, he is incredibly blessed with high [emotional] intelligence. He is also highly aware of every bit of sound, including the music he’s working on in the next studio, which plays on an interconnected headphone about 20 metres from where he sits.
This beautiful life that he currently lives is afforded by the gift he picked up around the same time he was discovering the extent of his disability – music. However, he rejects any notion that he picked music because his disability reduced his functionality to just learning and enjoying sounds.
How did he find music?
PSS 51 Piano. (EBay)
Cobhams didn’t just discover music somewhere, it’s always been a part of his life. His Dad and Mum were music people. His brothers and sister introduced him to Hip-Hop, classical and producers like DarkChild, Timbaland. By age seven, a friend called Wrangler Rotimi gave Cobhams his sister’s toy piano and told him Cobhams never to play it outside.
“But that was stealing though, come to think of it [laughs],” Cobhams said of the event. Thereafter, he attended Pacelli School For The Blind and Partially Sighted Children. There, he found a proper piano.
By age eight, Cobhams joined the choir and started playing for St. Charles Iwanga Catholic Church, Ikeja, St. Christopher’s Church and the Protestant Church. He learned the piano by himself. By age 13, he found a PSS-51 piano where he could record multitracks at the same time.
Then, he knew he wanted to make music – either as producer or artist. He would always daydream getting played on the first private Nigerian radio station. Around this time, he had also begun to deconstruct music in his head. At 16, he had his first studio production at Charly Boy’s studio, New wave Productions and he never stopped.
“In hindsight, I wasn’t making it for a career – it was my life. I remember my mother would chase me to eat breakfast at 5 pm, when I would be busy playing for church,” he says.
Progressing in music and meeting Maintain
One of the first major hits that Cobhams produced was ‘Catch Cold’ for a newly reduced Maintain. The man now known as Daddy Freeze and his ex-wife, Opeyemi Olarinde had walked away from the Ibadan-formed group, leaving Olu, Tolu and Big Bamo.
“I was working on a commercial in Real Studios in faraway Iju (laughs) – I slept there for three days. Big Bamo was also there and he wanted to burn something, but didn’t have a CD. I was down to my last six CDs and he asked to pay for one, but I gave it to him for free. He then liked what I was working on and asked to link up with Maintain, but I didn’t believe him.
“To my disbelief, he called me about four weeks later,” Cobhams says on how he met Maintain.
Quitting Law for music
He reluctantly admits that he has always been a straight A student. He got a full scholarship to study Law at Mercer University, Macon, Georgia, but couldn’t go because someone on the school board contested his scholarship.
He then started studying Law at the University of Lagos, but his life was always driven by perspective and common sense, rather than an expectation of others as regards how he should live his life. When people again wrongly contested his matriculation status and the music was already looking up, having already produced Maintain’s ‘Catch Cold,’ he quit school.
“My life meant and means so much to me that I just had to follow the interesting trajectory before me and what was right for me and everyone connected to me. When I was leaving school, everyone knew it was because of a higher calling, not because I wasn’t doing well,” he says.
Frustration with the Nigerian education system simplified Cobhams’ decision to drop out of school. He likened the situation to the classic Sunny Ade song, ‘Esu BiriBiri.’
Working with Faze and Asa
Between 2001 and 2003 as a producer, Cobhams sounded like Timbaland, Darkchild and Dre, but it soon became about standing out. By 2004, he produced the classic Faze solo debut, Faze Alone alongside the late great, OJB Jezreel. Around that time, he also produced ‘Cry’ for Modenine.
By the middle of the decade, he linked up with Janet Nwose through TY Bello – Nwose’s boss at the time. Nwose, a photographer currently manages Asa’s and does backup. Cobhams and Nwose shared a love for music and that led to meeting Asa at Alliance Francaise.
Two minutes later Asa goes, “Does anybody know where we can find fried yam?” Cobhams loved her realness and quirkiness, and they connected.
Meeting Asa helped Cobhams find his own sonic self. Asa came back from France one day and kept saying, “Cobhams, I want magic that’s arty…” Cobhams knew Asa had something in her head, so he listened to her and reached into her mind. That process birthed the early Asa sound because Cobhams dreaded failure.
He describes it, “When I receive music and interpret it adequately, I find the sound of that time and that was what happened.”
Cobhams, the artist 1: Fears and Dislikes
Most people didn’t realize Cobhams was an artist until he rapped a masterful verse on ‘No Lele’ by Dekunle Fuji in 2007. But before then, he had backing vocals on ‘Faze Alone’ ‘Need Somebody,’ and ‘Play’ which he produced for Faze, ‘Ego’ for Djinee, ‘Cry’ for Modenine, ‘Street Life’ for Questionmark All-stars, ‘Eye Adaba’ for Asa and more.
Around this time, Cobhams worked with Questionmark Entertainment a lot and was signed on as a songwriter later. In 2005, he had a publishing deal with Sony/ATV – the deal expired in 2010. During that time, he got briefs to write for acts like Dixie Chicks, Beyonce, Laura Isibor and so forth. He then had a song-deal with Universal.
He didn’t really have sufficient motivation to create his desired output to become an artist until 2011 – in fact, he used to dislike his own voice because he incessantly compared his voice to the ones he admired.
Cobhams had his first son in America around this time, so he went all out with an orchestra and band in Nashville, Tennessee, US and recorded a full album.
When it came time to voice, Cobhams recorded two sessions, felt intimidated, pulled the plug and stopped singing for two months. He promised himself to sell the songs afterwards, but he met Danny Duncan, a musician who made Cobhams see that he was only afraid of failure.
So, this perfectionist went back with renewed belief and that led to his first ever solo single, ‘Ordinary People’ in 2014.
Cobhams, the artist: Debut album
Cobhams is currently transitioning into singing more intentionally. Sometimes, the music will require him to do Hip-Hop, Sung-rap, Trap, Classical, Afro-pop and more. With excitement and enthusiasm he says, “It will be interesting, classy, Afrobeats, Reggae and really good stuff. I’m also featuring a lot of artists across Africa.”
These days, Cobhams respects artists who create and pay for their own music because he’s seen a different need for accountability and funding as he creates. After the experience with Cobhams Asuquo Music Production (CAMP) – the company that brought Bez and Omolara the man learned from failure.
He’s also learned how to not give room for doubt because he’s always been a man of faith – he’s a firm Christian. The combined effects of these lessons will help Cobhams shape his debut album, from which ‘We Plenti’ featuring Simi has already dropped. The album is on the way, but for now singles will keep dropping.
He also listens to Joeboy, Omah Lay, Mr. Eazi, Fireboy, Rema, Trap music, Jazz, Reggae, Amapiano and everything you can think of. These things inspire this legend.
Rejecting ‘greatness’ tags
When this writer told Cobhams that he is one of the greatest Nigerian producers ever, he rejected the tag and said, “That’s a bit of a stretch o [scoffs].”
He continues, “I don’t know what to say to that, all I can say is that I’ve heard you. I wouldn’t say it doesn’t matter, what I’d say is that we can all be great and I just want the value of what I put in to matter. Nigeria is just coming to terms with the value of work – it’s almost like you don’t need to work before you get validated in this space.
“I’m running my own race and I love it. I measure the value with money [laughs] as a prime way. I’m not broke and I’m thankful to God because I was nobody. In 2000 or 2001, I made music for meat pie and Fanta because I changed another producer’s entire beat.”
What would Cobhams do if he wasn’t making music?
Instantly, he jokes that he was meant to be a Lawyer, “If I wasn’t making music, Law would probably still be a thing for me – I have a thing for it and it excites me. [Jokingly screams] It makes me use my common sense [laughs]. I love being able to relate to the Law as the principle of the land and the agreement of the people to be governed by.
“I find it exciting and insightful from an argumentative point of view. It’s just sad that I didn’t go to Law school – I’m a college drop-out [laughs] like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Kanye West and so forth. The trajectory is familiar on the way to billions, don’t you think? [laughs].”
While he told a magazine that he’s grateful for his disability, as it afforded him a music career in 2015, he doesn’t think so anymore. Now, he feels like he might have found something equally fun and fulfilling if he could see. He says, “I like the adrenaline of race car driving – I could have done that, nobody knows [laughs].”
To Cobhams, that’s a different life and that life can’t have the memory of this life. He feels he’s not intelligent enough to imagine such possibilities. But at this time, Cobhams is becoming an artist. He’s conquered it all – the world of artists is primed of his greatness.
These days, he’s a UNICEF Ambassador and CEO of GreyWold Media. Cobhams still loves Nigeria and respects women. He still wants to make money and care for people he loves. One day, we hope his collaboration with Yinka Ayefele and Sir Shina Peters drops one day. You’re free to scream…