With a foreign ancestry trailing his birth, his fair skin gives him away as anything but Negro. But for Mohammed Jammal, who proudly carries a Nigerian passport, home is Jos, Nigeria. The musician, comedian and actor, who is known as ‘White Nigerian’ in Nigerian entertainment circles, spoke to JOE AGBRO JR. about how he got into entertainment, coping with an identity and why he won’t leave the construction business for music.
ENTERTAINMENT was not what Mohammed Jammal initially set out to do. Born in Jos, Plateau State, to a family of seven children, he attended the American Hillcrest School, Jos and proceeded to attend university in the United Kingdom, studying International Business at undergraduate level and Global Management at Masters’ level. His professional life was set out for doing business. But, something changed all that while he was in London.
“I never had a plan of doing entertainment in Nigeria,” Jammal said. “I was studying business, so I was focused more on the business side of things. However, when people started seeing my speaking pidgin English and Hausa when I was in London, they started calling me ‘the white Nigerian.’
Jammal’s incursion into entertainment has its origins in a 2010 Youtube video he did where he talked about his life in London. Nigerian comedian AY saw the video and asked him to come for a show, ‘AY Live in London.’
“I went in and started speaking pidgin English and Hausa and people started thinking I was a comedian,” Jammal said.
“That was the year I finished my Masters and I came back to Nigeria. Everyone kept on calling me the white Nigerian. I started going to shows here.”
Afterwards, when he attended P-Square’s album launch in Lagos, he met with JJC who was also in London. They teamed up and Jammal said they decided to do something different, specifically for the Hausa audience. By 2011, Jammal released his first song, which he titled Takarawa. According to Jammal, the song was just an introduction of himself and telling everybody to come and enjoy.
“Everybody is doing something for Lagos and western Nigeria. We now focused on the north and we started doing the Hausa kind of songs. That was when I first entered the music industry.”
Growing in the temperate region of Jos, Jammal said, was a normal experience.
“I just saw myself as a young boy growing up in Jos. I wasn’t seeing myself as having something different from anybody else. All my friends were Nigerians. For me, I consider myself a Nigerian. I was born and bred in the north and I have a Nigerian passport. I didn’t see myself in any different light until I got to the UK. The people now found it amazing that this boy’s pidgin English pas our power ooo.”
By mixing with his father’s workers as a kid, Jammal learnt Hausa. “I didn’t even find it amazing that I speak Hausa because everybody knew me in Jos, so they didn’t make it like a deal that this boy spoke Hausa. I grew up speaking the language just the way I grew up speaking English.”
As a musician, he is gradually setting out.
He has featured Tekno while he was an upcoming artiste in Abuja at the time.
“That was the song that made me and him blow at the same time,” he said. “He ended up being like a brother to me because of that song. Anywhere we went to in Abuja, it was white Nigerian and Tekno. They thought we were signed on a record label together but it was more like helping each other out in music.”
However, Tekno, a fulltime musician, moved to Lagos when he got signed by Iyanya’s music label.
White Nigerian also did a song, Very Okay, with J Martins, and has featured in songs with Dija.
BUT Jammal is not just any ordinary musician. He is also into construction business.
“I grew up with my dad being a businessman, my mum being a businesswoman. So, business was already in me since I was a little boy.”
According to him, “most of my shows are in weekends. I have my time because it is my own company. I work around my own time and I just have to manage my own time accordingly. And music is a hobby and at the same time, it’s a business as well. So, I’m just building a brand myself as ‘white Nigerian’.”
As a comedian, he has also graced AY Live in London, Crack Ya Ribs and has acted on some independent comedy skits which revolve around business that are available on Youtube. But out of comedy, acting and music, Jammal says he is more focused on the music, though he says more people like his comedy skits.
“I’m releasing a short movie in August,” he said.
“It’s more like a business movie talking about Nigeria in general and the impression people have about white people thinking that the best thing is white… something in a funny manner that people would enjoy but will also have a message to it.”
Jammal, however, said doing comedy and doing business is difficult “because some people might not take you seriously. However, when I’m doing business, it’s business time. When I’m on camera, it’s something to make people laugh and enjoy.”
While his skin colour has given him the brand ‘white Nigerian,’ Jammal, who said he has been referred to as Indian, Pakistani, Lebanese and all, reveals it is also the cause of some prejudices.
“On a day-to-day experience, you have people that look at you and be like ‘is that how you do in your country? Or is that how they drive in your country?’”
According to Jammal, many Nigerians who don’t know him are hesitant and watchful of him at first.
“But once I speak to them, it transforms them in a way,” he said. “They completely change their manners towards me. And I think when people know me, the more they like me in a way.”
His great-grand parents moved to Nigeria, his grandparents were born in Jos, his parents were born in Jos and he now has a little baby that was born in Abuja.
“We have like four generation lineage in Nigeria,” he said. “It is the only country I know. It’s the only country I accept to be my country. It’s the only passport I carry and I carry it proudly.”
With Lebanese and British roots and a four generational family in Nigeria, Jammal’s claim to Nigeria cannot be contested.
“The way there are black Americans, I’m a white Nigerian.”
In 2013, after working briefly, Jammal participated in the one-year mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme for young Nigerian graduates under the age of 30.
Drafted to Nassarawa State, he was posted to teach at a school in Karu for his primary assignment after camping.
“It was one of my best experiences,” Jammal, who became president of his CDS Group, Skills Acquisition, said.
“There’s that satisfaction passing experience to children who are not blessed with the kind of education you had. So, blessing them with your experience is a great thing for me. Little things like buying for them white boards and building a small basketball court for them are things that you look back and thank God you did because these kids really appreciate it. Even up till today, some of them still call me.”
According to him, scraping NYSC as being advocated in some quarters is a step in the wrong direction. For him, NYSC gave him an opportunity to serve his country, something he hopes to do more of.
“Maybe one day, you’ll see me in politics,” he said. “Maybe I’ll one day be the first white president of Nigeria.”
It was also in 2013 that he married his wife, a Columbian. This, Jammal said, drastically reduced the ladies flocking and swooning around him. In fact, he proposed to her publicly on the stage of AY Live.
“It went viral online that white Nigerian is now married. I’m a person that is friends with everyone. And I think the ladies are aware of that. Most of the ladies are always asking about my wife and my baby.”
Reaching for the hub
THOUGH, currently based in Abuja, Jammal thinks the FCT is not the best setting for entertainment. While his music, with Hausa lyrics and a fast tempo, is danceable and accepted in the north, Jammal also said that he is eyeing Lagos.
“When I went to Lagos, people don’t really care about what the song is saying; whether it’s Hausa or Igbo or Yoruba, as long as the beat is nice and it is something they can dance to. A lot of people sing my song but they don’t know what my song is saying.”
Jammal sees his relocation to Lagos just as a matter of time.
“If you want to do entertainment,” he said, “Lagos is the right place to go. You have no choice but to go to Lagos. But before you start anything, you need to focus on your target audience. I think that’s I what I’m doing. I’m focusing more on the north and I think eventually I will break into the Lagos market, but there is a lot of difficulty trying to break into the entertainment market. There are a lot of talented artistes in Nigeria that need that financial push. I know a lot of artistes in Abuja who are over-talented but their talent is being wasted because they have nothing to do with it.”
To him, upcoming acts stand little chance of being invited to shows because people “want the biggest names in the show and those upcoming artistes don’t get the opportunity. I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about people I know.”
And while he can afford to own his record label, Jammal is a sort of cowboy, preferring to leverage on his skills and relationship within the industry.
“I don’t own a record label and I’m not signed on to anybody. I do my things myself and I think at the end of the day, it might not be a good thing. But it’s not a bad thing either.
“I think it’s all about how you can push yourself and your relationship with people in the industry.”
Not surprisingly, he lists AY as one of his role models in the Nigerian entertainment industry.
“He’s a businessman, he’s an entertainer, he’s a family man and he’s been doing very well for himself and I really look up to AY a lot.”
He also likes Ice Prince whom he refers to as “my J-Town brother.”
But would Jammal give up construction business for entertainment?
“No,” he says without hesitation. “Business for me is what I live for. I enjoy construction because I like seeing me building things. There’s that satisfaction I have when I’m into the construction. It’s not about the money, it’s about the satisfaction it gives you. Entertainment; there’s that satisfaction of making people smile, making people dance, making people happy but I don’t think I’d give up construction for music full-time. I think I’ll focus on both of them at the same time. Business is not about being there the whole time. It’s about having the right people around you. If you study business, you’ll know that business is not a one-man show. And as a good businessman, you have to make sure that the people around you can get the job done. And you don’t have to be on site when you’re doing your work. You go out and inspect. And you make sure you have your meetings on a regular basis.”
His rising profile as an entertainer has not escaped the Lebanese government who recently gave him an award in Beirut for his achievements thus far. According to Jammal, the award by the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was ‘in recognition of your success story.’ He joined the likes of Miss USA and other artistes and entertainers of Lebanese extraction for the award.
But for the white Nigerian, the ‘success story’ is all a work-in-progress.
Source: The Nation