Ajimovoix Drums interview: The Focus Dance Beat Maker is Making Music for the Future
Like the sparkling celestial versions we all gaze on from our corners of the universe, music stars attain varying levels of reach, relevance, and size, subject to their star power. Yet there's one recurring factor that makes the best of stars and it is the intrinsic and unshakeable self-belief in their abilities and sound. Recently, we read about this attribute, encapsulated by GQ in description of megastar Wizkid, as ashe. It's also a trait recurrent in Burna Boy who, speaking on choosing his path and staying there unwaveringly, described his journey to mega-stardom as one where he had to take the stairs because he was too heavy for the elevator.
Currently, while Nigerian music continues to soundtrack the world, there has been an infectious lyricless tune that has embedded itself with the framework of our subconscious while also making these world-famous stars move. Titled Focus Dance Beat by Oguntade Adewale Damola, known as Ajimovoix Drums, the proudly Ikorodu-based record producer had honed his musical talents, an influence of his music-rich heritage, to spawn a solid portfolio already lined with two viral dance beats, Eko O Jina and Lagos Scatter Dance Beat which had crawled past the nooks and crannies of streets in Lagos to the center of the mainstream. And in the case of his most recent sensation, Focus, reached international heights. Wielding the aforementioned star-branding ashe attribute, Ajimovoix Drums had chosen to make dance beats for himself while championing a fusion of sound he classifies as Afro Street. To unlock this, he had journeyed from being a member of a gospel music group self-proclaimed as being enlightened on sound with the name, Ajimohoun, to being a solo artiste and then a producer who eventually became displeased with the imbalance of the producer-and-artiste dynamic in the music industry. Now keen on world domination with his sound which he explained is inspired by his Itumoja home in Ikorodu, the producer, flanked by an army of loyal DJs, asserts that he's making music for the future.
Notjustok had a conversation with Ajimovoix Drums to learn about his origin story, the inspiration behind his work, what it feels like to be the Focus Dance Beat maker and the strides he's taken to get credit for his creations and more.
You're the Focus Dance beat maker-- which is a viral sound, we've seen Burna Boy bring world famous stars to dance to it, how are you feeling about that?
I feel, and I've felt very-very great about it. Like it's one of a kind; a sound without vocals on them and it's going beyond normal sound that has proper promo, push and PR and it's doing much more better. I'm very grateful and happy about it.
When you say it's without promo, would you say it's something that you worked towards or it just took off on its own?
I worked towards it. Just doing my best and leaving the rest. Like normally, no song is like this song is going to be a megahit. You just do your best and then if it's going to move, it will. If it won't, it won't.
We have a couple of songs in the industry that they spent millions on the sound and they're nowhere to be found today. They did their part, but the sound chose to stay down low but Focus was not like that. We did the best we could and the song was like ‘No I can do more,’ and it flew by itself without waiting for anybody. The song sef carried aeroplane, while I'm still carrying okada.
Let's talk about your journey into the music world. Were there any influences that pushed you to do music, especially the way you do as Ajimovoix Drums?
The major musical influences I have are from my parents. They're from a musical background, on my father's side, they used to be the lead singers in our town and my mom is a good singer. They both pushed me to the path of being an artiste and a music producer. We attended a white garment church and they loved seeing me play the Akuba drum-- the native set of three drums played with hands, so they'd always push me to go to church to practice till our lead drummer misbehaved and I started playing the drums for everybody officially. I wasn't very good then but I'd be in church very early because of the drum, so that's why my percussions stand out. And when I listen to percussions, I can tell if it's good or just trial and error.
So from the point you discovered your flair for music, and then making the decision to work with your talent, what has the journey been like?
At first I was an artiste with a musical group called ‘Ajimohoun Musical Band' and we used to be three. Along the run, the group couldn't go further and we used to do really well at events. At times, we'd go for an event and people would be staring at us and talking about how good we were. They wouldn't give us the microphone but we'd still make more money than the performing acts. But I had to go solo because we couldn't go further.
So I struck out as an artiste but later, because of the high cost of studio session-- in those days of Gongo Aso and Certificate, it was very hard before you'll be accepted to go into the studio first. So I started paying attention to production work at a friend's studio. He taught me some tricks and I began to have some experience in the craft and invested more time in it by watching YouTube videos which was more flexible but also costlier but I preferred spending on data than being in the studio. So I gained more experience that way.
Later on, while making beats some six to seven years ago, I made Eko O Jina-- Eko o jina, fese sha lo. That was when people started to believe in me, the song really went very viral o. Then after, I worked with a couple of artistes, and also started building my name.
Then I'd converted my name from Ajimohoun to Ajimovoice to Ajimovoix. Then I started makings beats and discovered from my perspective, that making beats and making them go viral, is my calling. I don't really fit in with working for artistes like that so I had to face beat production. So out of 6 or 7 beats I had before Focus, three were big already.
Professionally, I've been in the game for about 8 years now.
What were the factors that led you to the realisation that you were better as a sound producer and not a studio one?
Some artistes, you'll really give them what they want but probably because they're feeling like you needed them to blow up and add more to your own value, they take advantage of things and belittle you. Normally a producer should be accepted by the artiste because no matter what the producers do, they're underdogs to the sound he makes; people won't know him as much as they know the artiste that performs the song. Anyone doing any creative stuff on my sound will have more of the credit than I do but artistes will still see it like you need them more than they need you. Meanwhile, Nigerian music currently depends on producers.
As a sound producer, how would you classify the records you make?
I call it Afro Street and the Talking Beat. It's like adding pure Afrobeats drums to a purely street sound. Like joining Wizkid type beats and an Agege kind of vibe to make a dance beat.
Like joining two genres of sound-- the mellow part of Afro and an electrifying one that makes it stand out without vocals.
With your Afro Street sound, you're breaking the mould, and Focus is huge, what was the inspiration behind it?
Focus was two years old before it blew up. It was made overnight after I went to the club with some of my boys. I'm not the guy that goes to a club to flex, I don't dance. I'll just be there with some drinks, listening to and taking in everything I'm hearing. So coming back from the club, I was trying to piece the sounds together but it was very crazy and I couldn't go through with it. So I decided to come up with something overnight. My guys were motivating me, so I came up with Focus in less than an hour with the mind to finish it up in the morning. But then I woke up in the morning and I was like ‘No, I don't think I really need anything for this beat’ and everyone was criticising it and it made me dislike the beat. Later, they were like it's not bad, so I sent the beat to about 5 artistes. When they heard it, they were like the beat wasn't hard and wasn't really making sense so I had to just drop it and left it in my mail and proceeded with other stuff. So then, Lagos Scatter Beat was everywhere and doing well so I focused on that. Then one day, I was looking for some files in my Gmail and I came across the beat like five times so I thought to myself that it was a sign. I dropped it that same day on my WhatsApp via broadcasts, I never even published it online. The first compliment I had was from Lil Kesh, he was like, ‘This one is a banger, let all these street boys use this beat, it's going to go viral.’ And that was just it. And three years after, the beat blew up uncontrollably.
When it started to blow up, we knew it from DJ mixes and the Focus dance, so the spotlight shifted from you. How did that make you feel?
It was not new. Focus was not the first big sound I had so I'm used to that flow and those feelings cause I'd felt that way before when I started making big records so once something blows up, it's normal to me. But the beat going beyond Nigeria and Africa and seeing famous people like Pogba and others vibing to it and not being able to control their feelings, I could not hold the feeling like I used to. I felt happy and accomplished like I'd started something very great and that I'll continue to deliver always.
Before Focus, you made Lagos Scatter Beat but it's not common knowledge, do you feel like you're now getting your due props?
Definitely, yes. With the help of media houses and social media, people are getting to know that I'm the guy. And you can hear my name on the song so I think that's enough. But some people ask me if I own it thinking that I'd made it for an artiste so I've started clearing that up to let them know that I never made Focus for anybody. I made it for myself, my family and upcoming kids. I didn't sign a deal with anyone. It's my beat and I made it; they'll be like ‘My father made that beat.’ I did not sign any deal with anyone. Focus is for me-- Ajimovoix Drums by Ajimovoix Drums, search anywhere.
Imagine to my face, some people will be like he's not the one that made the beat, someone else did and you can hear my name on the beat-- Ajimovoix Drums. That was what really spurred the remix of the song. I had to have Dice on the song, and we shot the video sharp. That was when I started receiving compliments, ‘Ohh, so he's that guy.’
And when you take someone's credit, you can't give what you've taken credits off.
The Focus dance by Hagman DC was also very popular, how did that happen? Was it a collaboration? How did the Focus dance get the collaboration?
I used to tell people, there's a stage a particular sound will get to, that people will love it so much they vibe to it everywhere and TikTok. We invested more in DJs then, I have direct contact with lots of the DJs. So once the beat was blowing up, that was when the dance was popping. At first the beat was called Play play beat so immediately the sound was getting known, that was when Focus popped up on it, I never named it Focus, myself.
So when the dance step came up, it wasn't surprising to me. Even Lagos Scatter Beat had a dance, just that it wasn't as popular as this. So I've had these experiences about two-three times. Eko O Jina had its own dance step, I can't even do it. I never brought the dance but I brought the sound.
From Eko O Jina, to Lagos Scatter beat and Focus, you seem to have a knack for creating beats that become viral sounds, how do you find inspiration to create them?
And how do you know that you've gotten that sound and it's good to go?
Firstly from my hood-- Itumoja, it's everything. It's so crazy, there's a lot of creativity. You might just be sitting in the studio and you'll be creating something and someone will just play one rubbish from outside and it will sync with your work, so you decide to try and it would be very sweet.
That's where the vibes come from. It can be a shout, a stupid noise, or when a grinder goes off, and that'll be the key to a song. Focus was like that.
So when you've made a beat, how can you tell when it's good to go?
Once all those ‘mad’ people in my area start to criticise the sound; ‘Eleyii o dun’ (this one isn't sweet), that's a good point for me.
But once they start saying it's a jam, it's going nowhere.
So they speak in opposites?
They don't even know if what they're listening to at that point in time. So when they're saying it's not good, to them it isn't, but to me, that's the answer; it's very good.
Later they'll turn around to approve the beat. Almost all my sounds that are criticised are huge and they're always at least two years old before release. I've never received compliments on a song during production and it went viral. Right now, I'm dropping my old sounds, I'm not even dropping my new sounds. I'm creating my new sounds for the next and upper year, I'm already making my 2022 beats.
Recently, you put out the Focus remix with Dice Ailes and it's an unexpected collaboration, so how did that happen?
People were like ‘Put Naira on the remix’, ‘Put Lil Kesh’, ‘Zlatan’, ‘Small Doctor will kill it.’ But my understanding of music is this, it's not compulsory I make a street sound, I don't normally call myself a street artiste. So having a street sound that went very viral, I need somebody that is not from the streets in any way musically and hasn't ever hopped on the sound. People are used to Zlatan. Naira Marley, so I decided to do something new and creative.
And one day Dice just called-- we'd worked together before this, and he was like ‘Ajimo, how far, I just came back to Naija and everywhere I was hearing Focus and found out you made the beats.’ And he was like ‘This guy again?’
He called me for another thing entirely but while we were about to end the conversation, I pitched the idea of a collaboration on a remix with a video to him. And Dice took it even more seriously than I was. He came to Itumoja, Ikorodu because of the remix. We recorded the song a week after our discussion and from there we started moving cause I don't believe having a street sound means you should have a street artiste on it.
I'm trying my best to have songs with other artistes because I want to make a street vibe that is acceptable for everyone. Like having Skally Mental featuring Buju on a street vibe with rhythm. It would be surprising. That's what I want to do. Regular entertainers won't do it because they wouldn't want to take risks but I'm ready to.
Would you say the remix has done what you wanted it to do?
Yes, it's growing every day. It was pegged as the number one street anthem on Hip TV and I'm happy. On Trace, it was number 3. I never put too much energy into it. Releasing a song for me as a producer, there's the belief that we're underdogs so I don't put much energy on my song like that but concentrate on how it would move and go viral. From the beginning of my career, I used to tell God ‘I want a hit that'll belike Gongo Aso.’ A sound that'll require minimal promo but will get all the love. And I believe it's doing very well.
Considering the fact that you don't exactly consider yourself a street artiste and are keen on bringing a new perspective into the scene, who would you say you make music for?
Watching Davido and Wizkid perform abroad because their sounds have been accepted, it's very good to see. There's also nothing stopping me from having those types of records. And if there's an audience of people that could listen to Wizkid’s songs, Justin Beiber, Davido, Burna Boy, and others, why can't I have their attention as well? I don't want to be limited, I want to go the extra mile with my sound, and be that guy that changed the sound in Nigeria.
There's nothing stopping me from having Wizkid's fans listen to my song or even having Wizkid on a song. I want fans that can give me money.
Street music is now being appreciated in places you'd typically not have expected that to happen. What would you say about this growth as one of the shapers of the sound?
One, I'm super excited about it. But there's this other thing I'm trying to correct; on the street, we have so many producers aside from the popularly known ones, they're not the only ones that deserve the accolades, we're also making people dance without having huge artistes on our sound. So why can't we get the same accolades?
So I've been trying my best to put my face and name to my sound and get my credits for everything I've been doing in the industry.
The street vibe is growing, and I've given myself credit as the street lord, so if no one is seeing you, there are ways to navigate it.
So Afro street is going very far is a major thing to me. They now play Afro sounds in 02 Arena, these places, they have to know me with the sound.
Would you say you feel any pressure when you think of the work that has to be done?
So far I'm still with my people, and they still vibe with me, most of my inspiration comes from them. And I still remember that I want to make my parents proud, everything is going how it should go.
Talk to us about Donda dance beat and Community Dance Beat
Ah, Donda, a lot of people have criticised that beat o. I couldn't push it further and was kind of depressed until some days ago when I started seeing that it's gradually being played everywhere, but I never took it to my Instagram. I don't like making sounds and in two-three months, they'll be nowhere to be found.
There's this process I use when I'm done making beats, Donda and Community Dance Beat are currently undergoing this process where I work with DJs, I don't really rush because it's a steady process. That's why you can still hear Eko O Jina in the club even today. But what I want to drop is Mario and it's an instant banger. I've gotten the feedback I need from the first day.
Considering the fact that Burna Boy is obviously a fan of the Focus dance beat, has anything come up between the two of you? Do you have a relationship with him?
Yes o, there's a relationship because there's a time I received calls from Spaceship, not directly Burna though but some manager's calls from them, like ‘Will I really want Burna to be on the song?’ This was before the remix dropped. Ever since then we've been vibing but I can't say because an artiste is big, I keep waiting on them. Once they come and they're ready to work, I'm ready as well. I just have to move on, I have my life to live and they're living theirs. Me, I have a long way to go so I can't wait.
What next should we expect from Ajimovoix Drums?
I have my sounds ready and every process intact. There are some Afro Street sounds trying to be at the top and I'm looking at them to do their best. But before the year runs out, I'll be dropping Mario.