On a very good day, Hart Idawarifagha Ishamel is your average Nigerian pop-star peaking on continental music charts. On some other days, he is lying in hospital beds, recuperating from extrajudicial brutality endured during activism-related protests. And on most days, Ishmael, more popular as Idahams, is that bustling voice from the famed Bonny Island in Rivers State, creating groovy dance-floor melodies, as well as stirring consciences with his intimately profound activism efforts.
Idahams music is always laden with stories. Sometimes, they are light-hearted narratives about life or love. In other cases, they are introspective and witty. Dropping a 3-tracker deluxe version of his 2019 Extended Playlist, Man on Fire, and his most recent project serves this same fiery blend of music and wits.
“The reason it was titled Man on Fire is because I want people to feel the glimpse of Man of Fire, the fire that has kept me in this journey in this career, still burning from one level to the other. I added a deluxe on it now and it is just to refresh their memories that I did the project,” he tells Guardian Music.
The deluxe project, which features Nigerian rapper, Falz, serves a heated alto, with dramatic songs such as Mind Your Business, God When, as well as Man on Fire Remix, continues to garner widespread reception from his global fan base. The deluxe is an appetiser before his debut album drops later this year.
“There are things I said on the album that you would listen to and feel very emotional about my stories; I went so emotional on some of the songs. You are going to listen to real life stories and confessions. There would be confessions, truth and love,” he informed.
Musically, Idahams’ superpower lies in his simplicity and creative restlessness. From his sober reflections while sitting alone in his toilet, somewhere in the highbrow Lekki area of Lagos, Idahams has sparked ideas and written songs that would later become some of his most celebrated works. A good example is the 2018 banger, God Can Bless Anybody, which he wrote, produced and featured on for Mr. 2kay.
Idahams’ personality is also as infectious as his music. Perhaps, that is the more intimate story you would be hearing today. A child of dedication, Idahams learned to paddle through the raging currents of life, fending off intense hardship sandwiched with the tragic loss of his parents, to chase his dream of becoming recognised as a musician.
“When I lost my parents in 2014, I would have given it all up, but the fire didn’t stop there; I just kept having that burning desire to stay focused. When I came to Lagos, I was squatting from one house to another. I had nobody in Lagos, so I had to mix up with friends. I stayed with different people; it is either my bag is in this house or my clothes are in another. However, I knew what I wanted to do and what I came for. That gave me a focus.”
For Idahams, music making is not just a business to him; it’s a channel to uplift his community’s indigents, motivate his peers and influence progress right from his own habitat. This nudged him to lean towards his Bonny hometown in the offshoot of his career, to make music for and with his kinsmen.
“At that time, I was sojourning between Lagos, Port Harcourt and Bonny. I was in a boy-band called Trinity back in Bonny; we did some songs together. Then, I had to play solo. I was also doing stuff in Lagos, but doing it for my people was very refreshing; charity begins at home. When people see that you are actually doing big things, they want to connect with you. It is just like me giving back to my people.”
As a musician, Idahams taps his musical roots from his father, as well as his adventurous childhood.
“I learned how to play a musical instrument, which is the keyboard, from my late dad. He taught me how to play and sing, because he was doing a bit of highlife then before he died. I had been singing since Primary school, this was all in Bonny,” he noted.
“From my secondary school, I used to act and hold events; this was all in Bonny. After my secondary school, I went to Port Harcourt. I started visiting Recording studios like Frank D Nero, Duncan Mighty, and so. I joined the First Lovers Assembly church; I became the music minister as well. I dropped a gospel album then. From there, I travelled to Lagos to learn production.”
Perhaps, Idahams’ life would have taken a different swing, if his early adolescence was not peppered with a familiar trauma to the Niger Deltans, which is Militancy.
At the dawn of the millennia, a streak of agitations against environmental degradation and poor infrastructural development in the oil-rich Niger Delta region. As their cries tarried on unheeded, the community’s youth took up not just arms, but also laws into their hands.
Several attacks were launched on oil installations in the area; hundreds of youths were conscripted into this civilian militia group, being used as a pawn in this tussle between the government and the youths. Until the 2009 amnesty programme, spearheaded by the Late President Musa Yar’Adua, influenced about 20,000 youths to down their weapons and embrace peace. Youths like Idahams continued to be tortured with loss and grief, an experience that his music and life has become a memoir of. Nowadays, with Militancy gone, Idahams faces a new fight – sea piracy.
“I come from a place where there are a whole lot of social vices. You have heard about militancy in Nigeria? I was supposed to be among that, but music was an escape route for me. I lost a couple of friends in that struggle; I lost brothers.”
He continued: “I had friends that were recruited and they kept coming to visit me, but they saw me as their star. Sometimes, they came to my house asking if I had recorded new songs; they were always saying they hoped I would blow up.
“There is a thing happening now called Sea Piracy. That is happening because there is no road you can connect to Port Harcourt from Bonny Island. The only route that a normal person can travel is by sea. People are dying. This year alone, we have had more than 20 attacks on our sea. We have five persons that have been abducted and till now, we don’t know their whereabouts. I have come out to talk, asking that my Governor should put in more security. Up till now, nothing is being done. People are dying every day. I lost my friend in January; his name is Macdonald. He lost his life on the sea; he was killed.”
His activism soars on, from the streets of Lagos and Port Harcourt where he actively demonstrated in the EndSARS protests, to his social media pages where his voice never lowers on the subject.
“I can’t lose hope; I have never lost hope. One way or the other, they are going to listen. I am going to keep talking.”On a flipside, Idahams remains a true Bonny native, with the aquatic delicacies such as the fan-favourite Fisherman’s soup, among others, dearest to his heart. On some days, too, he quietly nurses an ambition to also own an African food business in Lagos, while he continues practicing his recipes by cooking for himself over the weekends. When the conversation slows from food, his eyes also easily lit up again with soccer or swimming, as his favourite pastimes. However, all the time, he is Idahams, the Bonny native charting his course to the global high-tables, with his music, wits and bravery.