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How I Transited From Being A Musician To An Activist – CHARLY BOY

Charles Oputa, better known as Charly Boy, aka His Royal Punkness, aka Area Fada, has been in the news lately. And for the right reasons too. Without a doubt, this enigmatic gentleman represents different things to different people.
To many, he is perhaps one of the most consummate artistes to come out of this part of the world. His artistry, his stage presence and the depth of his craft remain his biggest strength as an artiste. To some others, Charly Boy would probably remain one of the most creatively gifted individuals they have ever known. He has also been variously described as one of the most incredibly brilliant minds the creative industry has ever produced. His ability to transit seamlessly from an accomplished artiste to a celebrated television presenter/personality and then to a social commentator and human rights activist, leading the line of protests with the likes of the late Gani Fawehinmi, has been nothing short of impressive. This is why till date, he has remained the authentic voice of the downtrodden.

The big news is that Charly Boy, the convener of the popular #OurMumuDonDo Movement turned 70 on June 19, 2020. His family, colleagues in the industry, friends, prominent Nigerians and showbiz stars, celebrated him one way or another, even as the Covid-19 pandemic made it impossible for a grand event to be organised in his honour. The Area Fada got tons of messages on various social media platforms. A number of week-long programmes were rolled out to celebrate the music icon and it all climaxed with the release of a musical collaboration with Oritse Femi titled Our Mumu Don Do. And from what we hear, the song is enjoying massive airplay on many radio stations across the country.

Many have found it hard to believe that His Royal Punkness is that far gone in age because he doesn’t look anything like a 70 years old man. He looks more like a man twenty years younger than his actual age. He is still very strong, looks refreshingly young, enjoys sound health and remains active as an activist. Yet, this amazing father of nine resourceful and successful children is a grandpa sixteen times over!

Last week, WALE LAWAL, had a 70th birthday interview with Charly Boy and he was in a really lively mood. He shared with us his some of the things he had never shared openly before and also spoke candidly about his 42-year-old marriage to his beautiful wife, Lady Diane.   

You turned 70 a couple of weeks ago, how do you feel reaching this milestone and how have you been able to maintain your youthful look?
I feel great. It’s a really good feeling. It’s something that I was looking forward to and I’m glad it’s here. 70 has never looked this good on anybody I guess. People’s perception of a 70-year-old man is that of a bent looking man. For me, like they say, age is nothing but a number, I feel more like I’m 40 or 45. But, I’ve never felt so much love and affection from the people. I got tons of unbelievable messages from people. At least, I’m glad people are celebrating me while I’m alive and not the other way round. Not that when I die now, they will now start to use my head dey do business (laughs). It’s a good thing, sha.

How about the outpour of good wishes and love showed you by people, how overwhelmed were you? Were you expecting anything like that?
I felt flabbergasted and overwhelmed. I wasn’t expecting that. I don’t know if it was the fact that I’d just turned 70 and people were shocked I was actually 70, or because they actually felt this guy has been around for a long while and he’s been consistent, tenacious and dogged in his fight. I know lots of people were thinking I just started this whole struggle some four or five years ago because of #Mumudondo but I’ve been on this for over four decades. So, the fact that a lot of people remembered, I thought it was a good thing. That means people do take notice. 
I’m wondering did you ever think you could live up to 70 years, considering that back then you sometimes went head to head with the authorities and put yourself in harm’s way?
I never had those kinds of negative mindsets. You can’t get into the kitchen and not expect some heat every now and then. It’s not something you sit and ponder over because you’re filled with the passion of what you’re doing that moment. And because it comes from the soul, except the harm is staring at you in the face, truth is you’re always preoccupied thinking about what you need to do to make things better. 

Let me take you back to those days when the Charly Boy brand was everywhere. For me, I think one of your biggest strength is your stage performance, they are a beauty to watch. Who were those artistes that influenced your craft at the time, artistes that you looked up to?
Well, I’ve been influenced by so many things. Anything, no matter how little, can influence me. Anything I see that I like, even if its 5 per cent likeness, that becomes an influence. And you never really know when it shows up, that is why I say to musicians, you can never sing anything nobody has tried before. You’re not gonna play something nobody has played before because we’re all receptive to influences, depending on how that individual is taking it. But the only artiste that I can even care to mention that stands out should be Fela because of the message, not the stagecraft. And again, the fact that he had a symphony, like an orchestra on stage. But that’s not something in this time that I will like to try, like have that many people on stage? No. So, from Fela to everyone I’ve been privileged to work with, I take from them every little thing that catches my fancy. 
How was it like for you then, dealing with the fame and especially the women back then?
Yeah, you know, these things happen when you get to a point where you’re on top of your game. But after a while, you start to slow down and think. Yeah, I made a few mistakes. But no sooner than I made those mistakes, I began to talk to myself and I reasoned with myself. Then, I fell back into line. I didn’t need anyone to tell me anything. But initially, yes, it was women, women, women! Then after a while, it became a drag. It was no longer important to me. It was no longer as important as the business and the art. After a while, it lost its value completely and I focused more on the business. Everything in life comes at a phase. It’s up to you to realize that whatever phase you’re in, you must not overdo things. Don’t fall off the track, always keep your eyes on the ball, that way, you can’t be distracted.

How did you transit from playing music to being an activist?
There was no transition, it’s the same shit I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember. I hate the word social activism or social activist. It’s been bastardized in Nigeria. It’s become the word to describe people who are transactional in their dealings. They are transactional kind of people. I prefer the word a social engineer and that is what I’ve been doing for the past 40 years, paving the way, shinning the light. The fact that the government has been on the receiving end more at the later part does not mean that’s when I started. That is what I’ve been doing. My fight for the Okada guys, my fight for even military pensioners that were not paid their money, my fight for market women, my fight for Nigerian musicians, my fight for people who are not getting justice, my fight for the voiceless, I didn’t just start all of these. All because we now have this man called Buhari and things have never been this bad, that does not mean that’s when I started. So, I’ve been involved in social engineering, if you want to call it that, for a long time. It’s the same fight that led me to Alaba to fight piracy, to fight corporate Nigeria and how they were disrespecting our artistes. So, there’s been no transition, it’s been the same fight for people to do the right thing. 

Despite all the bleak-looking situation in Nigeria, do you think there could be some ray of light at the end of the tunnel?
That question is like asking me if I know whether I’ll be alive tomorrow. Yes, I believe that there’s hope, but when that hope will materialize is when I can’t say. One should be always hopeful. But manner is not going to fall from heaven. Those days are over. These days, you have to go out there and fight to get it because if you don’t, you might as well roll over and let all of us physically perish, with our ignorance. But one day, there’ll be a tipping point, and that’s the point where young people and generally the people of Nigeria as a whole would start to consider the option of dying as against the option of living. This is because by then, we’ll be united by poverty, by our frustrations and by our stupidity and idiotism. Everywhere you look there’s injustice. There’s injustice in the north, there’s injustice in the east, there’s injustice everywhere. But at the end of the day when I look at it, we are guilty. We are guilty of docility, we are all guilty of our inactions, e no concern us attitude, my thief is a better thief than your thief. Yes, there is hope, but things will need to get worse, horrible, first, then so we can get to that point where the option of dying will be more attractive than the option of living, that is when we will all rise up to do the needful, that is when we might be able to say there is hope. 

For over 40 years, the Charly Boy brand has remained as constant as the northern star while many of your contemporaries have bowed out of the business, how have you been able to do this?
I’m on steroids (laughs). See, I see myself as a student. I’m like a student for life. I like to learn. I can never go out of fashion. I have a lot of people to learn from. That’s how I have maintained longevity and freshness to my art. I tell people I’m always on a diet and being on a diet is not always about what one eats, it’s also about what I look at, the discussions I care to engage in, the kind of people who hang around me, the kind of people I can stand or cannot stand around me. All of that is on the menu of my diet. And as long as there are ideas walking on the streets and flying all over the place, receiving those ideas won’t be any problem for me, since I’m always looking for that new angle, always looking for that freshness. I am ready to learn, even if it’s from a two-year-old baby. I’m ready to submit myself and learn if I’m sure that you have something that I don’t have. And by the way, I don’t even believe that I know anything because if I compare what I know to what I don’t know, the things I don’t know are in the majority. As far am concerned, I don’t know anything. You know, if you carry yourself with a certain humility people will have fun teaching you stuff. Even sometimes, they may be teaching you but they don’t know they are teaching you stuff because they feel that you already know these things and they are only feeling privileged to be around you. So, because of your humility, you’re learning. 

You have been with your wife, Lady Diane, for over 42 years, how have you kept your 42 years old marriage together?
Let me be cocky to say that I know many will think Charly Boy is just being tolerated, that no one woman can love him that much. That is not true. Yes, my wife loves me so much but it’s not because she’s tolerated me, it’s because she married the world’s best. I take my vows seriously. And when I commit, I commit. I saw my parents together for over 60 years, even when they would argue, after their little bickering, I will see them stealing kisses and holding hands. And I thought that was a good picture. Even though I’d been previously married three or four times I’ve even lost count, I was marrying and running away because I was immature. I wasn’t ready for marriage in those days. But my desire has always been to have a marriage that looks like what my parents had. So, when I finally decided to….(Pauses then continues) Actually, she proposed to me. She woke up one day and said to me, you either marry me or I go back where I came from. So, I took one look at her and said, okay, yeah, let’s do this. But we’ve been able to last this long because we have mutual respect for each other. People think that marriage is only about being compatible, that Lady D is equally crazy like Charly Boy, no, not like that. Marriage is not about how compatible you are with your spouse, it’s about how you deal with your incompatibilities. This means that you have to be a good manager because longevity in marriage is about management. When the sweet and honey don finish and see finish don enter, it’s the friendship, the mutual respect that will carry you forward. When people tell me, oh, you must love your wife, I say, well, yeah, but I don’t think I love her that gaga o. I don’t know what love is, but if love means commitment, and seeing it through to the end, then, yes, I’m in love with her. Because that’s all I know - commitment. I’m committed, I’ve been loyal to my vows, I ain’t going nowhere. She’s not going nowhere. We’ve both decided to die here! 

How about the qualities that you admire the most about her?
She has a sweet soul. She’s like a little girl. I’m attracted to souls, not….(pauses for a moment) Okay, well, maybe in the beginning when I was much, much younger when I was attracted to physical beauty. But now, I’m more spiritual. Now, I’m more attracted to beautiful souls. I can tell the soul of a person. If you give me five minutes with somebody and I just talk to them a little bit, I can smell their souls.

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