Today, I’ll be featuring my interview with Umar Jawfu. I am extremely excited about this and I’ll tell why in a moment. Umar is someone I admire and respect a lot and I consider this a privilege to interview him. Coincidentally, his birthday was just last week.
For those of you who don’t know him, Umar Jawfu is the pioneer member/ lead guitarist of Nigeria’s first indigenous Rock band, Threadstone. He is absolutely amazing with the guitar and has played with quite some big names, such as Djinee, Age Beeka, MI Abaga, Ruby Gyang, Brymo, Cobhams Asuqo, Jesse Jagz, Chayuta, Ella Duncan-Williams, Lindsey Abudei, Christine, Jeremiah Gyang, Pastor Fred Williams and many more. His unique gift and skill has also taken him to countries like the UK and the US to play guitar. Asides playing guitar, Umar is also very passionate about songwriting, learning how to write songs and music production, watching live concerts, reading, Kingdom of God, drawing, comic books, God and His agenda. He is currently Music director of Relevance ministries, Ghana led by Michelle McKinney Hammond and Guitarist for Worship Room ministries Ghana. He also partners with Jukebox studios Ghana led by Freeman Ameh in developing artists in production, songwriting and live performances.
So, here’s my interview with Umar Jawfu.
Spirit: Please can you tell us a little about your childhood days and how you developed an interest in music generally?
Umar: I was born in Jos, Nigeria like 20 plus years ago lol. BINGHAM UNIVERSITY TEACHING HOSPITAL, formerly known as JAN KWANO. In English it means red roof. I think that was because of the colour of the roof or it was rusty, Ii can’t remember. I think it was because of the red paint. Haha. I grew up in a strict christian home. haha. My dad worked in a company from before I was born till I think I was like 3 or 4 years old. My mom was a retired police officer. Grew up in Dogon Karfe then moved to Tudun Wada where I spent the rest of my childhood into teenage years.
I never had any interest whatsoever in music. I wanted to be a comic book artist when I was little because I watched Superman when it first came out. My parents took me to the family doctor’s home for a visit and I saw this red, blue and yellow dude flying and holding an airplane while flying. That was when Superman I came out. I was fascinated. I developed interest in drawing superman and batman. When I was in nursery school I used to have this competition with my friend, Mohammed, who would draw Batman and I would draw Superman. It was fun lol.
When I was in secondary school I heard this song my friends were singing…before that time I was listening to Michael jackson, Rex Jim Lawson and Fela…and some top 40 artists…I can’t remember their names but I remember their songs. Haha. Anyways, they were singing this song called Solid Rock…I didn’t know who sang that song but the way they sang it got me interested. When I asked who sang it, they told me it was Ron Kenoly… I went home, looked for it and I have been hooked to church music ever since. And yes, my birthday was a couple of days ago, just saying.
Spirit: Wow! That’s interesting. So, how long have you been playing the guitar?
Umar: Someone told me it was 20 years because she was there when I started learning the guitar. Haha. I lost count after 10 years and that was the answer I told people.
Spirit: (smiles) Who or what inspired you into music?
Umar: A good friend of mine is Dooter Malu. He wrote this beautiful song on guitar and performed it in church. I thought to myself, this is exactly what I want to do; Write music on guitar and share it with the world.
Spirit: Now, we all know it takes a lot of practice for anyone to become as good as you are at playing guitar. And we also know that practice could be boring and difficult sometimes. What would you say was your drive or motivation? Or let me put it another way, how do you maintain the discipline of consistent practice?
Umar: Yeah, the dry spell comes, it seems you’re not going anywhere, you’re not moving forward or backward. In fact, it feels like you’re not even doing it well. You’re on a plateau and you’re just…there…
At first I didn’t understand how and why my brain was functioning…it was later in my journey I learnt that my brain and fingers were processing what I was learning and why some chords and melodies work the way they work to achieve some sounds, emotion or ambience.
In the end it was passion that kept me going, even on days I wanted to quit. I kept going. I don’t have any reason other than I have this gift I need to share with the world and I don’t want to stand on judgment day trying to explain why I gave up. God said He isn’t happy with anyone who turns back. That has been my drive. It’s not easy but passion, taking breaks, calibration and focus are needed to stay. It isn’t a race, it’s a marathon.
Spirit: Wow! There’s a lot to take in there. I’m sure some of my readers would be curious to know, how often do you practice per week and how long?
Umar: When I started it was 8 or more hours everyday. I won’t eat or sleep. Now it’s 5 minutes. Haha. Because I just need a tip or idea to help me be creative or try new ideas. I still learn from people who are better than me. I get their courses and keep myself abreast of what is new and hip in today’s musical landscape.
Spirit: Now, let’s talk about Threadstone a bit. I know you are one of the pioneers of Threadstone. What was the experience like forming a rock band in Nigeria at a time rock music was not fully accepted?
Umar: Honestly, all I wanted to do was just start a band to show people that it can be done in Nigeria! That’s all! It was what I loved to do and I enjoyed doing it. Rock music is my passion. I couldn’t have it any other way!!!
It wasn’t easy. Haha. It stuck out like a sore thumb in gigs and concerts. We were like the misfits and the odd ones out. You’d hear Afropop, Soukous, Afrobeat, Highlife and Rock…? How? Why? Do you guys want to stay hungry? Hungry never catch una?
We’ve been to concerts where children and sometimes adults would put their hands on their ears and walk away. Haha. People loved our sound but they wanted to mold us into what they thought the people needed. We tried men…we tried but we were like rubber bands and just snapped back to what we loved to do. Haha.
I have lots of stories to tell but because of time…maybe another time.
Spirit: I can only imagine…. Now, Threadstone was phenomenal. What would you say helped you guys achieve the level of success you did?
Umar: We had a lot of people who believed in us. Seen and unseen. Our families were our No1 fans and supporters.
Their prayers, support, messages and home made food really helped us. Haha.
Spirit: Let’s talk about your faith for a moment. You are a Christian. Has your faith in Christ limited your music in any way?
Umar: I thought it did, but it didn’t. It just gave me a different perspective of life. I saw through heaven’s glasses instead of mine. I write about my relationship with God, point others to God and I try to write about life with words and sometimes with music and melodies.
Spirit: What would you say is your biggest challenge as a Christian in the music industry?
Umar: Comparison. There’ll always be people better than me and people who are learning from me. If I put people down to make myself feel better, I’m just a cover of a pot making noise.
Spirit: That’s true. So, how about the benefits? Are there any benefits you’ve enjoyed as a result of your faith?
Umar: I’ve met people I’ve always wanted to learn from; people who will support me and love me each step of the way; Emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, financially. Haha.
Spirit: If you were to change something you did in your early days in music, what would it be? In other words, what’s your biggest regret so far in your music career?
Umar: Why didn’t I start music early? Hahaha. Well God has His own reasons as to why He chose me at the time I started. My days are written in His book. So, no regrets I guess. I’m happy with how I started and where I am now.
Spirit: Do you have other plans for your music in the future that you would like to share?
Umar: Just keep watching…I like to surprise people. (evil grin) hehe.
Spirit: (smiles) Finally, on this interview, what advice would the legendary Umar Jawfu give to upcoming Musicians?
Umar: Listen to those who are ahead of you. They know more than you. Haha.
Be yourself. If God gave you a type of music to play. Do it. Your audience may never be in Nigeria. They may be in Japan and that’s where your breakthrough will come. Or you may bless people in other parts of the world. Don’t limit yourself to where you are. Trust God to handle what He’ll handle, just do your part.
Spirit: Wow! Thank you so much for your time, honesty and humility. I have learnt a lot myself from this interview and I know a lot of people reading this would learn a lot too.
This is where we would end today’s interview with Umar Jawfu. For those of you reading my blog for the first time, I’m carrying out a short survey on ‘Depression Among Musicians’ and your inputs are needed. I hope the publish the results of the survey to help musicians who are going through depression. HERE IS A LINK TO ANSWER THE SURVEY QUESTIONS. Thanks in advance.