While his name may not be a household one, Stanley Okorie‘s influence is woven into the very fabric of Nollywood‘s evolution, having witnessed its inception and contributed iconic soundtracks to hundreds of movies. From the infectious beats of ‘Billionaire‘ to the timeless charm of the Nkem Owoh-performed ‘I Go Chop Your Dollar,’ Okorie’s musical prowess has left an indelible mark on the industry.
As the singer-songwriter behind international hits and classics like ‘Karishika (Queen of Demons),’ Okorie stands as a luminary in Nollywood’s soundtrack realm. Dubbed the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) of Nollywood soundtrack production, Okorie’s extensive catalog includes notable works such as ‘Happy Mumu,’ ‘National Moi Moi (performed by Mama G),’ and ‘Ashawo No Be Work.’
We read through two recent insightful interviews with the maestro, one by Premium Times and the other by Culture Custodian, from which we have produced the following comprehensive overview of the man behind the melodies and the unparalleled impact of his decades-long career.
The Beginning of Stanley Okorie’s Journey into Music and Nollywood
Stanley Okorie’s journey into the heart of Nollywood’s music industry is a testament to the transformative power of passion and perseverance. From pursuing a Master’s degree in Mass Communication at the University of Lagos (Unilag) to becoming a leading music producer in Nollywood, Okorie’s story is marked by an unwavering dedication to his craft.
Okorie’s artistic journey didn’t begin with aspirations of becoming a music producer for Nollywood. Initially interested in painting, he faced skepticism from his grandmother, who encouraged him to pursue a more conventional path. Despite contemplating a career in politics or painting, fate had other plans for Okorie.
It was during his time at school, while sketching and singing, that Okorie’s friends recognized his talent for singing. Encouraged by their praise, he began exploring music as a creative outlet. This shift ultimately led him to discover a deep-seated passion for music, overshadowing his initial interest in painting.
As Okorie delved into the world of music, he faced resistance from his father, a professor who had envisioned a different path for his son. The conflict arose when Okorie opted to pursue music over completing his Master’s degree. Despite familial pressures, he chose to follow his passion, a decision that laid the foundation for his remarkable journey.
Before venturing into Nollywood, Okorie gained valuable experience in a studio, initially rejected as a music producer. Undeterred, he and a friend took on the role of cleaners at the studio, waking up at 6 am to learn the intricacies of music production. From sweeping floors to singing backup, Okorie’s multifaceted roles in the studio shaped his skills as a producer, songwriter, and sound engineer.
Okorie’s move to Lagos proved pivotal in his career trajectory. Living with fellow musician Sammie Okposo, he immersed himself in the city’s vibrant music scene. Despite registering for a Master’s program, Okorie found himself spending more time in the studio, recording and assisting Okposo with soundtrack production for Nollywood films.
The turning point in Okorie’s career came when he began singing and writing songs for Okposo’s Nollywood soundtracks. His unique talents caught the attention of the industry, leading him to emerge as a sought-after music producer in Nollywood. From a reluctant backup singer to a prominent figure in the industry, Okorie’s journey reflects the essence of passion and dedication.
Stanley Okorie’s Relationship with Nollywood and His Pioneering Contemporaries
Stanley often lies behind the scenes, weaving the musical tapestry that enhances the cinematic experience in Nollywood. Being a prolific music producer, he has left an indelible mark on the industry with his unique blend of talent and collaboration.
Okorie’s journey into the Nollywood music scene was shaped significantly by his collaborations with key players in the industry. Klint Studios and Midtown, notably with Johnson Davidson, were pivotal locations where his skills were honed. However, it was his partnership with Sammie Okposo that played a transformative role in his career. Both Okorie and Okposo complemented each other’s talents, creating a harmonious synergy in the studio. Okposo’s prowess as a keyboardist and producer seamlessly blended with Okorie’s exceptional writing skills, laying the groundwork for many successful projects.
Transitioning from live music to studio recordings, Okorie found his true calling in the controlled and refined environment of the studio. “I wouldn’t say I like live music,” Stanley admitted in an interview with Premium Times, “Live music sounds noisy. I love studio music. Studio music can be fine-tuned.” He prefers studio music over live performances because of the ability to fine-tune studio recordings, which is essential for creating movie soundtracks.
Okorie’s journey into soundtracking commenced with his involvement in the movie ‘Compromise,’ a project that marked his initiation into the captivating world of Nollywood film scores.
Sammie Okposo, a pivotal figure in Okorie’s musical journey, played a crucial role in shaping his early experiences in the industry. Their friendship and collaborative efforts were initially harmonious, with Okorie concentrating on writing for Okposo’s live music performances and soundtracks. The duo’s creative camaraderie reached new heights with Okorie producing his first soundtrack, ‘Jesus I Love You,’ a project that showcased their collaborative genius. Sammie was one of the first few people Okorie met when he first got to Lagos. “I lived with Sammie for some months,” he recollected. “Sammie was my everything.”
Despite the success of their collaborations, creative tensions emerged between Okorie and Okposo. As Okorie began focusing on his projects, clashes arose, leading to a unique agreement. In a lighthearted resolution, they decided on a reciprocal arrangement – Okorie would write for Okposo, and in return, Okposo would play for Okorie. This compromise exemplifies the complex yet enduring nature of creative relationships within the industry.
During this period, Nollywood was still in its infancy, creating a competitive landscape for musicians and composers alike. Okorie, Okposo, and other musicians played a crucial role in providing the industry with the musical accompaniment it needed. From standing outside the door to finding their space and ultimately relaxing within it, their journey mirrored the evolving nature of Nollywood’s reliance on music records to enhance its storytelling.
The Evolution of Stanley Okorie’s Creative Process
“If I had to cough for a living,” Stanley Okorie once remarked, “I would come and cough, and you would pay me.” Balancing various roles, including working in an advertising agency and contributing to Sonny Irabor’s Ruyi Communications, Okorie pursued his passion for music with unwavering zeal. His dedication reached the point where he humorously remarked that he would even “cough for a living” if necessary.
As Nollywood burgeoned, Okorie found himself thrust into the world of soundtrack production. In the early days of the industry, there were no established formats, providing an opportunity for creative exploration. Okorie reminisces about the challenges of crafting music that interprets scripts, highlighting the distinct interpretative nature of Nollywood soundtracks.
One notable challenge Okorie faced was the editing process in Nollywood. Editors, often unfamiliar with the intricacies of music, would sometimes misplace or mistime soundtracks, inadvertently revealing plot twists before they unfolded. Okorie recounts that this tendency used to irk his collaborator Sammie Okposo, emphasizing the importance of understanding the symbiotic relationship between visuals and sound in filmmaking.
Reflecting on his expansive discography, Okorie highlights some of his memorable works. From the early soundtracks like ‘Compromise’ and ‘Atrocity’ to the iconic ‘Evil Genius’ and ‘Karishika’ from the 1996 horror film, his contributions to Nollywood’s musical landscape have been both diverse and impactful. The recent viral sensation, ‘Billionaire,’ exemplifies Okorie’s ability to create streetwise, sing-song hits that resonate with audiences.
Despite his extensive involvement in secular soundtrack production, Okorie’s roots in gospel music remain evident. As a former gospel artist and lead singer for the Grace band, Okorie produced gospel-themed songs, including the famous ‘Jesus I Love You.’ While he doesn’t classify himself as a gospel artist, his music often carries themes rooted in the African consciousness espoused by iconic figures like Fela Kuti.
Beyond the realm of music, Okorie has explored filmmaking, directing two films during a course in film school in Canada. Focused on completing his upcoming album, ‘Best of Stanley,’ Okorie envisions collaborations with notable artists like Davido, Flavour, and Don Jazzy. Embracing the acknowledgment as the “GOAT in soundtrack production,” Okorie expresses openness to exploring other facets of the industry.
Stanley Okorie’s Perspective on Nollywood
Stanley Okorie reminisces about the early days of Nollywood when the industry was fueled by passion and a genuine desire to showcase artistic gifts. In those times, filmmakers were driven by the love for storytelling rather than monetary gains. “Then we were not doing it for the money,” he confessed, “we were doing it with passion and showcasing our gifts.” Okorie acknowledges the industry’s initial quality, fueled by the dedication of individuals who poured their hearts into their craft.
While Nollywood has seen considerable growth, Okorie highlights areas of concern, particularly in the quality of personnel. He observes that individuals with little or no training often join the industry without proper guidance. The focus on financial gains has altered the dynamics, making it more challenging to make a living from soundtracking. Okorie expresses concerns about the rising costs associated with creating soundtracks, signaling a shift from the earlier era when passion fueled the creative process.
A central theme in Okorie’s assessment is the need for Nollywood to return to its roots in storytelling. He advocates for a revival of authentic African narratives, beliefs, and values. “Enough of the fake accents and Westernized narratives,” Okorie laments the prevalence of fake accents and Westernized narratives, urging a shift towards stories that reflect the richness of African culture. By doing so, he believes that Nollywood can carve a unique identity and stand out on the global stage.
Acknowledging the growth and evolution of Nollywood, Okorie notes improvements in technicality and the quality of visuals. The industry has diversified, providing space for filmmakers across various tiers, from A-list to B-list and Z-list. This inclusivity has allowed for a broad range of production styles and creative expressions.
Regarding the soundtrack department, Okorie acknowledges both progress and areas that need improvement. While he commends some movie soundtracks for their quality, he refrains from outright criticism, emphasizing the vast opportunities for everyone to contribute positively to the industry. Okorie’s nuanced perspective reflects an understanding of the challenges faced by those working in the soundtrack department.
Stanly Okorie’s Personal Career Challenges and Lessons
When asked about his most significant career challenge, Okorie points to the “brutality of Nollywood.” Undoubtedly, the entertainment industry, particularly Nollywood, is known for its fierce competition and demanding nature. However, Okorie’s resilience shines through as he recalls his grandmother’s wisdom – “if you are very good, you can’t be ignored.” Despite the challenges, Okorie’s prolific dedication to music, spending ten to fifteen years in the studio, became a testament to his commitment to excellence.
Acknowledging the sacrifices inherent in creating great art, Okorie opens up about moments of contemplation in his career. There were times when he considered leaving soundtrack production, realizing that the pursuit of artistic excellence came at a cost. The toll on his personal life, especially his marriage, became apparent. Okorie candidly expresses regret for not being a more sensitive husband due to his unwavering focus on his artistic endeavors.
Through the challenges and sacrifices, Okorie’s career journey is a testament to the transformative power of art. He recognizes that great art often accompanies pain but acknowledges the lessons learned along the way. The impact on his marital life has prompted introspection, leading Okorie to strive for balance and a renewed focus on personal connections.
As Okorie reflects on his past, he expresses a determination to break free from the confines of a closed-in persona. The recognition of personal growth and the desire for a more balanced life signal a new chapter in his journey. With the wisdom gained from challenges and the resilience forged in the crucible of Nollywood, Stanley Okorie emerges as an artist who continues to evolve, learn, and contribute to the vibrant tapestry of Nigerian music and cinema.