Tijjani Bala, aka TJ Bala, is an Igala musician, who has been in the industry for decades. In this interview with IBRAHIM RAMALAN, he speaks on his music, inspiration and resolve to resuscitate the dying culture and language of the Igala.
What is your background and how did you become a musician?
I’ve been in the music industry for a very long time. When I finished my secondary school in 1984 I went to Lagos to start learning music. I begin my musical career with a group called Masters of Communication.
Then along the line, somebody introduced me to Premier Music and then much later, Polygram. Polygram recommended us for training at Funk Africa Record under the veteran gold medallist from Benin, Oladefe Doroma. Thereafter, I learnt voice grooming.
Then in 1994, after 10 years of apprenticeship, I was able to come up with my own album called Sweet and Nice, God knows, and Doing Things Well. The songs went viral.
My next album was in 1998 and it was also a successful one. From then on, I became popular. I performed for every event in my state, Kogi State.
My state government under Abubakar Audu made sure I was on the ground to entertain his visitors. I remember when the President Olusegun Obasanjo visited the state, I performed and he was so very happy with my performance.
President Obasanjo had to bring me out to the stage and acknowledged my performance. He said ‘Prince Abubakar Audu is good and according to TJ Bala, “the man is good”. So, all of us should rally round and support him for more development of the state.’
However, as God might have it, I was involved in an accident. That accident really crippled me. Everything about me became crippled because I didn’t have money to move on. But I thank God that the governor stood by me, took care of me, provided me with everything up to the time I recovered.
Are you still doing music?
Actually, after the accident, the music scene to me became a game of millions. You need millions of Naira to be able to promote your work. Even if you have a good music again, you have to put money into it. So, it’s part of the hurdle we are still battling with.
However, I still have so many good musics that are still on the ground and waiting for releases. But I am equally waiting for someone who will partner with me. However, in the meantime, I am running an advocacy program on Igala language and cultural promotion across the country.
What is the advocacy about and what inspired you?
Something keeps worrying me in the sense that anytime I go to my language people’s house. I can speak my language with the father and mother of the house, but their children no longer know how to speak the language.
And it is not happening in one home that is why I said God, why is this happening to us? What can I do to reduce this trend? I even think that it is part of the causes of the problems we are having these days.
For example, if you go to the North and start hearing me bearing this Matthew or David without even opening any mouth they will say he is a Christian and the same way if you go to any other place and start bearing Muhammad, Yusuf, they will now say he is a Muslim. It is part of the problems we are facing with this religious rivalry.
You see, if we are all bearing our traditional names, all these can be avoided because when they ask you and you tell what your name it any relevance to any religion.
Then, what are you doing to salvage the situation?
I took it upon myself and wrote a movie to showcase the disadvantages one can face if one doesn’t understand and speak one’s mother tongue.
The name of the movie is ‘Ichi Igala Module Igala’, meaning Igala names and Igala language. The movie goes from part 1 to 5. After shooting the movie, I also went on to translate 700 Igala traditional names and their meanings so that our people can access them and give their children.
Most importantly, while doing my research, I discovered that we have beautiful names. I believe by the time this information is passed across, our people would begin to realise another form of colonialisation that is going on within us.
I see that if we don’t give a Jewish or Arabian name to our child, we are promoting our race by not completely making ourselves Jewish when we are not Jew, not completely making ourselves Arabians when we are not Arabs. But you can practice any religion and still bear your native name. It is not a barrier.
What are you expecting from the Igala people?
I want my people to listen and make sure every Igala home stops speaking English language or any other language to their children.
They should prioritise Igala language because as a parent we should be able to teach our children our languages for the continuity of God’s decision in our life so that it doesn’t go into extinction.
There is a projection that in the next 25 years, about 35 languages in Nigeria will go into extinction and Igala language is mentioned among these languages. So, I need the support of my people whom I am representing, not because most of my songs are in Igala, not because I don’t know how to speak English, but because I believe in projecting my own identity as created by God Almighty.
Piracy is one of the problem of the creative industry; has this affected you?
Yes, when I visited Kano some years back, I saw my songs everywhere. I was so happy about it because it was being carried in the truck. But when I picked a copy, I became annoyed because it was a pirated copy.
I had to go to a nearby Police station in Kabo Area to report the matter. You know what? When I reported that my music was being pirated and the originals were not being bought, the DPO told me: ‘my brother, you should be very happy that you see people carrying your music around. If Mamman Shata, our popular musician can get people doing what they are doing here for you, he would be very happy.’
I concluded there and then that I was in the wrong place, these people would not fight for my right. So, I had to leave the station.