By Tosin Ajiire and Damilola Fatunmise
In 2011, Eternal Nnamdi Mbamara made his debut in the entertainment industry when he released his first gospel album, Walking on H20. Today, as a prodigiously talented producer, he has left his mark on several award-winning musical projects across the continent.
Born in Benin City, Edo State, but hailing from Imo State, Mbamara’s love for music began at an early age when he was exposed to religious music and cultural festivals.
Formerly known as Eternal 3:16 and now Eternal Africa, Mbamara had a chance encounter with Alex Okosi, former Executive Vice President and Managing Director, VIMN Africa & BET International, and his life changed.
Okosi recognized Eternal’s talent and invited him to South Africa to participate in an audio training program. Thereafter, Eternal decided to stay in the Land of the Rainbow, where he was involved in church choir activities, writing songs, and playing keyboards and drums. He also worked with a consulting company, providing audio and music services for the outfit.
Eternal Africa has worked on compositions for AFREXIM Bank, the African Union and United Nations documentaries, among others. As an artist, he has performed at various festivals and events in South Africa. And as a producer, he is a major influence in the country’s music industry.
In this interview, Eternal Africa, who is now back in Nigeria, traced his professional trajectory and concluded that it was a work in progress.
Tell us briefly about your background.
My name is Eternal Nnamdi Mbamara also known as Eternal Africa. I am a music producer and sound engineer. My trip to South Africa inspired me to rebrand and change to Eternal Africa because I had the opportunity to produce artists from various African countries. I also started an event called African’s Gala Evening, which I used to promote African unity, love, taste and sound.
How did you come to music exactly?
From childhood, my parents were involved in church ministry. It was in Benin City. I come from Imo state but I was born in Benin. My father took me to a church where he enrolled me to learn to play the piano. I was then 9 or 10 years old and I played traditional instruments like the Conga. Moreover, I grew up in a royal environment where I was exposed to many cultural events and festivals. So my interest in music started from there.
One of your parents is a singer?
Oh no, neither of my parents are singers. But they were involved in cultural activities and festivals, because my grandfather owned cultural groups like the masquerades. And in our compound we had a lot of traditional instruments like conga, talking drum, gong, maracas, flute and wooden guitar. So I started learning to play some of these instruments.
Ok, when did you decide to get into music full time?
It was during my university studies. I attended Nnamdi Azikwe University where I studied parasitology and entomology. When I was 18 or 19, my father gave me money to record a song. He took me to a studio in Ikeja, Lagos where I recorded a gospel song called ‘Mbakosa Christmas’.
During my second year at university, I started a company, Studio316 with two other people in Onitsha. So since college I was making money while producing music.
What made you go from a recording artist to a music producer?
I did not change; I combined the two. For production, I love to develop new talents. When I see a talented person, I would like to create something from him; and that was why I was more of a music producer than a recording artist.
Can you name some of the artists you have worked with as a producer?
In Nigeria I have worked with DJ Neptune, Patoranking, Goya Menor, Joe El, Eltee Skhillz, Niniola and many more. I was part of their productions. Also, I have worked with many artists from South Africa to Uganda.
Can you tell us about a particular great song you produced?
This is ODG (Odogwu Na De Spender) from Eltee Skhillz. I produced this song. I did a remix of Lucy first with him and Niniola, and it turned out to be one of his best songs. He then said he wanted another great song. This is how ODG was born. Actually, I was supposed to release this song myself.
Why have you now given it to Eltee Skhillz?
It’s one thing about me; I like to develop artists. I like to see artists shine. It’s a passion that I have. However, I had no idea the song was going to be so important. The underlying idea was the song, Ameno Dori Me. No, it wasn’t Goya Menor’s. It wasn’t Goya Menor who made the song first. Ameno Dori Me is usually played in the club whenever they want to pop some champagne. So I said ‘this song is not an African song. Let me make an African version of it.” That’s when I did ODG (Odogwu Na The Spender), which means when you pop champagne in the club, you’re an Odogwu, a big spender.
I wrote, created and engineered the song. He (Eltee Skhillz) came to the studio around this time and heard the song. He said ‘Eternal, give me that song please’. At first I refused. But when I saw the fire and the passion in him, I said ‘okay, run with the song’. He ran with the song and it got big.
And did he compensate you?
Absolutely! In addition to paying for my studio time, the royalties are also there; these things will certainly come. I own 50% of the co-composition of this work.
Do you regret not having made the song yourself?
No no no. I really wanted to come out as a producer first. I didn’t want to come out as a recording artist. So I think that’s a good base for me.
Are you sure you can replicate such a feat again?
The fire, the inspiration and the gift in me are so enormous; I can’t wear them out. It’s like going to the ocean to get water; you cannot run out of water in the ocean. I produced many international artists like Amifaku and Lungisa Shamela. They are both winners of the SAMA (South African Music Awards). The year was 2020. Amifaku won Best Afropop Act Album at the South African Music Awards, while Lungisa Shamela won Best R&B and Soul Album. I produced the two award-winning albums entitled Imali and From My Heart to Your Soul respectively. I have also produced renowned artists like Manuwo Star, a Congolese artist based in South Africa. I co-produced his song called Naningi. I also produced his EP. In fact, I was part of his musical development. The Amifaku song that I produced was born when I produced Niniola’s song, Maradona. I produced the cover of Maradona for Amifaku, but he rendered the song in the Xhosa language and it won an award at SAMA, and went viral in South Africa. I also produced the song, Go Down, which was used for AFCON’s South African TV commercial titled: “Experience the Unforgettable”. It was in 2019.
You were in South Africa for a few years, what brought you there?
I met Alex Okosi in Onitsha, where I wrote a tribute song to his late father. He listened to the song and was amazed at my production expertise. There and there he became interested in me and then invited me to South Africa for an audio training program. After the training, I decided to stay in the country. I just wanted to know what the country has for me, and I found love there. I started working in South Africa and a lot of people liked me, and gradually my brand started to grow. It was a long trip though; I met many people.
How many years did you stay in South Africa and why did you leave?
I spent eight years in South Africa. Throughout my stay in the country, I did not suffer any xenophobic attacks due to my environment and the kind of people I associated with due to my skills. I came back to Nigeria to network, to see what the industry has in store for me.
How would you compare the South African music industry to that of Nigeria?
The South African music industry has a good administrative structure. Over there, things are accessible but here in Nigeria, it is a bit complicated. In South Africa, things are still in order. There is easy access to people in the industry. South African music stars are so humble and down to earth. But here in Nigeria, before you can meet Davido or Wizkid or even Burna Boy, it’s a lot of work.
What is your opinion of Afrobeats in general? Do you think we are right?
Afrobeats is the heart of music in Africa. I think we are doing things right when it comes to the quality of our production. But in terms of administration, I don’t think we’re there yet. I wish we had our own music streaming platforms like iTunes, Spotify, etc. It’s like our oil. We have plenty of oil in Nigeria but who is refining it for us? This is exactly what happens to our music. We have good music in Nigeria, our Afrobeats are everywhere but white people control the market. So we have to have control over our music, having our own digital streaming platforms.
Is Eternal single or married?
Describe your type of woman.
My kind of woman must be beautiful, generous and must believe in the vision of marriage. Marriage is an institution, so my wife must first believe in the institution called marriage. And when she believes in the institution called marriage, she must be prepared to act on it. When you are married, you must be identified as a married person. You must not break the vow. However, I have yet to find anyone who matches my description. I’m still looking. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I came back from South Africa. I am in Nigeria looking for love. No, I’m under no pressure to get married. I’m the first son in a family of five, which might bring some pressure, but I don’t feel any pressure. It’s just that I’m ready (to get married).
Let’s talk about the Snoop Dogg project. How did you get involved in it?
I got involved in the project through Kenny Ogungbe. He contacted me and told me that there was a big project involving Snoop Dogg and that he would like me to be the producer of the song. It is an Afrobeats Amapiano song titled Can’t Let Go by Honorebel and it features Snoop Dogg, Goya Menor and Joe El. The track was released in August this year. So I’m proud to produce a song that features the legendary Snoop Dogg. I believe it will get me more production jobs in America.
What is your advice for emerging artists?
The industry is crowded and busy. So they shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to breathe. Just keep doing what you know how to do best. As you do this slowly and steadily, you will one day have the chance to see someone who will trust your talent and is willing to invest in it.