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I remained in Europe due to the war in my country of origin: Liberia. I would perform for free with a reggaeton sound system in Enschede, a Dutch Town along the border with Germany. It was fun and exciting. I later realized that it was easier to jam with a band in Holland during a little musical show than to record a demo. In many parts of Africa, it’s quite the opposite.
When I lived in the Ivory Coast, I recorded demos for twenty U.S. dollars per song. A professional album comprising of eight songs could be recorded in a reasonably modern studio for one thousand U.S . dollars. In Holland one would need over one thousand dollars to record a song. That was a big surprise to me. In Africa, I recorded demos with a full band and in Holland I couldn’t easily afford recording demos with a full band. I had to be content with recording one song with one guy playing and programming a synthesizer in a makeshift recording studio. That was my own version of surprising Europe.
Years went by without being able to afford to record a demo. I had a full-time job, though a job that had nothing to do with music and entertainment. However, after paying bills, there was nothing left to record an album. In 2004 I re-mastered one of my demos in Holland. It was a demo that I had recorded in the Ivory Coast many years earlier. Thanks to the arrival of social media like Hi5 and Myspace, I started uploading the mp3 versions of my songs online. I got positive reactions from people all around the world. This encouraged me to save money and buy my own keyboards, computer and laptop in order to open my home studio. Almost all my songs are recorded in my home studio at my own time and pace.
Another big surprise about making music in Europe was getting airtime. In Liberia, I would take my demos to any radio station and my songs would be played on air. In Europe it is very difficult to get airtime. The advantage of being an African artist in Europe is that it is easier to save money to buy instruments and set up your own studio. But you should be able to play several instruments, mix your songs and do so many other things yourself.
Thanks to internet and social media, the world became more interconnected. Digital technology has enabled us, the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) generation, to make music alone, with very little means and also to be taught by others online and to be inspired by them. YouTube is the biggest gift to me and the music industry.
I would later on record my own video clips with my camcorder and upload them to YouTube. I became a worldwide reggae sensation in Africa and other parts of the world ever since I started uploading my videos on YouTube. I learned a lot of things such as playing guitar and keyboard, setting up my home studio and producing music using digital music software and samples. My songs are now being distributed by the big names in music distribution and online streaming services like iTunes, Amazon, Myspace, Spotify and Rhapsody.
My stay in Holland enabled me to mingle with many asylum seekers from around the world. Most of them came from Africa. I visited camps for asylum seekers and talked to many people there. Based on their stories and what I experienced as an immigrant living in Europe, I composed the song ‘European Train, American Dream’. This song is about the struggle and plight of refugees and immigrants living in Europe. Every asylum seeker I talked to dreamed about obtaining a residence permit one day in order to live the equivalence of the American Dream in Europe; that is living in a peaceful environment, enjoying freedom and equality, finding a job, getting married and educating their children while living to the fullest of their potentials. This dream doesn’t appear to become a reality for most of them.
I plan to return to Africa very soon to record a reggae album in the Ivory Coast with one of Alpha Blondy’s producers. Another album will hopefully be recorded with Lucky Dube’s band. This will be the icing on the cake of my musical journey which began more than two decades ago when I took part in high school talent shows in Liberia.
When my demos were played on radio stations in Africa many years ago, people would ask whether it was Alpha Blondy singing. Nowadays people around the world say I sound like Alpha Blondy and Luck Dube. This inspired me to record the song ‘Humpty Dumpty’. I produced this song imagining a duet between these two kings of African reggae. It is a big hit on YouTube and Daily Motion.
Maybe one day when somebody asks the question about another reggae king coming from Africa I would be able to say: ‘Clay 2 Nine’. And even though my journey in this European Train hasn’t quite turned out to be an American Dream, it may well lead me to realizing my African Dream-a dream of becoming one of Africa’s biggest reggae sensations and media golden boy. I am going back to my roots: Africa!
For more information, visit my website at: http://www.reverbnation.com/clay2nine