Singer, producer and video director, AbdulRasheed Bello aka JJC Skillz, talks about his career and marriage to popular actress and producer, Funke Akindele-Bello
I think I have always wanted to do music from when I was a young boy. I used to have an area group in Kano, and we used to do Apala music from door-to-door. I actually thought I was going to become a Fuji star. We’d go to people’s houses, knock on their doors and when they opened, we made them laugh by singing some funny songs. From then, I knew I wanted to become an entertainer. When I moved to England at 14, I became a hip-hop artiste. Meanwhile, I formed my first group in school called Secret Weapon, and it has always been that way. I was always forming one group after another, until I had a successful group called Big Brovaz signed to Sony.
How did you coin the name JJC?
Back then, I had a heavy Nigerian accent, and everyone used to laugh at me. Hence, the reason I gave myself the name JJC which is an abbreviation of Johny Just Come, which is used to describe someone who just arrived a place. When I realised that they weren’t going to accept me, I decided that the best thing to do was to bring people from the neighbourhood together that had the accent and the swag. I created my own group, signed them and started promoting them, even though I was about 19 at the time. Two years later, we won the Music of Black Origin (MOBO) Award as the best unsigned artistes from London. From that point on, all the record labels wanted to work with us.
You have an affinity for being in groups, don’t you think you can stand alone?
I will say I am inspired by many people like Dr. Dre, Puff Daddy, Timbaland etc. Those people have their own identity, just like if anyone sees me, they will know that’s JJC of We Are Africans fame. But more importantly, it is about being able to transfer that knowledge that I have to other people. I do not see myself as just an entertainer, but as someone that can develop people. And that is why I have been developing groups and artistes.
After I got Big Brovaz signed to Sony and we went platinum, we travelled to America to do the movie, Scooby Doo. After that, I stepped out of the group because I felt it was becoming too oyinbo-like for me. I wanted to create something a bit more homely, because right from when I was a child, I was one of those guys that went about saying Nigeria is the best land. Then, people used to think I was crazy for saying that, but I knew that one day, I would come back home, and here I am. Anyway, while Big Brovaz was still big, I started another group called JJC and the 419 Squad, which was very successful as we had over a million album sales and won KORA award. However, most of the members later moved back to Nigeria, while I stayed back in the UK. I then decided to start another group called Mr Skillz and the Crazy Girls, which got signed to EMI Records. After that, I left the music scene and went into video production which is my other passion.
Of all the groups you have worked with, which did you have the most chemistry with?
I think I had chemistry with everyone I had worked with. Right now, I am having the time of my life with Scene One Productions, which is a new record label I’m working on with my wife, Funke Akindele-Bello.
Do you play any instrument?
I play a bit of the piano. On every single group I worked on, I did a bit of production. I also developed other producers, like Don Jazzy, to produce for groups as well.
When you first met Dbanj and Don Jazzy, did you have any inkling that they had what it takes to become superstars?
The truth is I usually see greatness in people even before they see it in themselves. When I first met Don Jazzy, he was a piano player for Mr. Solek; he was not a producer. But the passion he had for music made me know that he could be transformed into a wonderful producer. Dbanj was a harmonica player and he was very fun to be with. He was funny, lively and had the charisma of a super star. I saw all that in them, and that is why I picked them. And I picked so many other people just like that.
What was Don Jazzy’s role while you were working together?
He was an upcoming producer that was set to take over the scene. And that was what he was there for.
Are you still on good terms with Dbanj and Don Jazzy?
We are all cool; it’s one family. But you know they say, there are no permanent friends or enemies; just interests.
When Mo’hits fell apart, did you try to mediate and bring them back together?
When their journey continued after the JJC university of music, what they did and what they created was none of my business. And it is not really my place to come into someone else’s business and tell them what to do, and how to do it. So no, I did not get involved.
How are you finding the experience of being a video director?
It feels like a natural progression because I studied video editing and production, which I passed with distinctions. While still in the UK, I got a job as a video editor and I did that for two years, working for big companies. Music is more of a situation where you are always pumping money into it, but video is where you make money.
So you have made more money as a video director than as a music artiste?
I wouldn’t say that; I have made money both ways. The good thing about music is that if you do it well and monetise it, the money keeps on coming non-stop. You can make money from a song years after it was recorded and released.
As an entertainer, what has marriage changed about you?
It has made me more focused. It has also given me more stability and peace of mind.
You once said that you were wary of any kind of emotional attachment, why did you decide to get married to Funke Akindele?
In life, when you find the right person, nobody needs to tell you to settle down. It is like finding God; you may be a bad boy in the club today, and the next day, you’re in front of the church shouting ‘Halleluyah.’ Nobody can determine when that change will happen, and I’m very happy that it has happened to me.
How did you meet your wife?
She had an idea called Jenifa’s Diary that she wanted to do, and she was looking for a good director and cameraman, so she called me to help her shoot the TV series, and that was how we met.
Was it love at first sight?
Absolutely, it was an instant connection. In fact, it was love at first sight. I saw her,she saw me and, we saw stars. From that point on, everything was aligned.
What were the qualities you saw in her that made you know she is the one?
Ask every single man that is married, they will tell you the same thing. It is the same qualities that everybody wants.
So what are those qualities?
To be honest, I do not want to talk about my personal life. My wife is my baby and I cherish her a lot. If I start giving you all the secrets, people may want to snatch her from me.
Even if you do not tell us all, just give us a sneak peek…
The truth is I work really hard all the time, and a lot of the people I dated in the past used to complain that I did not devote time to them. But now, I have found my better-half who works as hard as I do, so it is a perfect combination, and the world is in trouble because we are the perfect team. As I am playing music, she is making me laugh. We have the perfect synergy, and what we are working on right now will blow people’s minds away. And I want to advise people in the entertainment industry to go and look for their better-half within the same industry, because it will give you more focus and direction.
But many people feel inter-marriages in the entertainment industry do not work, can you share some of what you have discovered that can help them?
Pray to God for direction because I did a lot of prayers and God answered. Different things work for different people. All I know is that God has given me what works for me.