P-Square: Playing the Double Lives
PETER and PAUL OKOYE, popularly known as P-Square, have come a long way, music wise. First as Smooth Criminals, a group of twelve young boys miming and dancing to the songs of popular international artistes. Then as MMPP, doing a cappella, political jingles and movie sound tracks. And now as the rave-making P-Square of “BizzyBody,” “Do Me” and “Personally” fame. Peter Anny-Nzekwue spoke with the duo for fifty minutes and came out with the impression that Peter and Paul, the artistes popularly known as P-Square, are humble, honest and down-to-earth.
Peter and Paul Okoye are twins, identical twins. But that is where the similarity ends. A very close observation of them will reveal that Peter and Paul are two different personalities, each being his own man with his own unique gifts and talents. Peter is a very good dancer; Paul has keen interest in writing and singing. Peter loves R&B; Paul prefers rap. Peter is the quiet one; Paul is boisterous, well, in a quiet way. It is these differences in personalities that define the P-Square as a music brand.
Still you must not be confused by that into believing that P-Square is also Peter and Paul because they are not. P-Square and Peter and Paul are two different entities. P-Square is the public image: energetic, boisterous and eccentric characters bestriding music stages in Africa and beyond, while Peter and Paul are quiet, reserved, urbane and humble people, who crave privacy, and they do not take these distinctive personality trends, which are uniquely Peter and Paul’s, to the stage as P-Square.
This is how Paul explains this: “People need to understand that as P-Square we are playing two lives: I’m playing the life of Paul (and Peter the life of Peter) and also the life of P-Square. As far as music is concerned P-Square is for everybody. At home, Paul is a reserved person. When I am outside my house, I’m a crazy person and that is P-Square. As P-Square we are jovial.”
P-Square’s journey actually began at the University of Abuja, Nigeria. But before P-Square there were first “Smooth Criminal” and then “MMPP.” Peter formed Smooth Criminal while they were students of St. Murumba College, Jos. Led by Peter, Paul was an ordinary member, Smooth Criminal was a dancing group of up to twelve members, dancing and miming the songs of popular international artistes like Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown and MC Hammer. After a while, Paul decided to leave the group.
What must have provoked Paul so much that he had to leave the dancing group, Smooth Criminal?
Peter explains: “When we were having rehearsals and I was shouting at Paul and the rest of the crew he didn’t like that.” Well, that is Peter’s version. Here is Paul’s version: “Though we were doing well, but people were still seeing us like “small boys,” doing kids stuff, and they were looking down on us. And when I tried to make Peter understand my concern and worry, he would insist that as far as dancing was bringing a little respect to us and some money we were doing the right thing. Then we were talking about five thousand naira.”
“And to you five thousand naira was peanut?” I ask. “It’s not as if it was peanut; we were comfortable with it. In Unijos with five thousand naira you are a big boy. We are talking about over ten years ago.” Paul’s anger was that Peter felt that no matter how much people were screaming for the Remedies or Plantation Boyz they were still screaming for Smooth Criminal.
Still, Paul left to form a cappella group called MMPP. The group was made up of Michael, Melvin, Peter and Paul. MMPP led by Paul existed side by side with Smooth Criminal led by Peter. But while Peter was a member of MMPP, Paul still didn’t want to have anything to do with Smooth Criminal. MMPP was doing movie sound tracks and political jingles. Unfortunately, both groups were not able to withstand the test of time and had to disintegrate, couple with the fact that Peter and Paul got admission into the University of Abuja and other members of the group had admission to other Universities.
Now what was left of Smooth Criminal and MMPP was simply Peter and Paul. And Peter and Paul, kid protégés at these early years, were now lacking professional direction and identity in the University, but it was not for too long. At the University of Abuja they still manage to cling together, hoping to have another breakthrough one day. It was not long in coming.
One day, Peter and Paul were invited to perform in this particular show in the University of Abuja. They were desperate to make impact. There initial idea was to have the whole member of their former groups go on stage and live the old dream, but it would be very expensive for them to invite the other ten people from their different locations to Abuja. They were in a dilemma until Paul came up with the idea that they should both go on stage and perform the a capella.
Now it was going to be Peter and Paul thing. They had a song, a rap song, but they had no professional name. Then people called them different names: Peter and Paul, P raised to power two, P & P, P2, Two Ps and whatever name that caught people’s fancy. But that night they were introduced on stage by the MC as Peter and Paul. They went on stage to perform a song that was used for a movie (Seniorita) sound track and the audience was very impressed. Still they had no name. They were still simply Peter and Paul.
The name did come, but it was by chance. Peter and Paul had this friend called Richard. Richard was having an argument with someone about who did something between Peter and Paul and in the heat of the moment, looking for a single word to qualify both of them, he burst out with the name P-Square. Peter and Paul were there and the name never left them. While they were back in the hostel, Peter had that name in his head. Paul also had the name in this head. And it was very easy for both of them to agree that P-Square was the right name for them, and all they wanted to do after that was to make the name a brand. They decided to write their first song as P-Square. This time they brought in different styles: R&B, Hip hop, Afro and dancehall. The song was called “Kolo.”
Peter explains: “And the first time we did it on stage it was a massive hit. Thank God for University of Abuja, in fact, University of Abuja made the name, P-Square, popular. They stuck to the name as their own. And even when musical acts from Lagos came and perform in school, the general feeling among University of Abuja students was that they couldn’t do better than their own P-Square. Then in a semester we would have five shows and all five shows would be sold out. And ever since we’ve grown. We can’t forget our friend Richard that gave us that name.”
In 2003, P-Square released their debut album, Last Nite, with tracks such as “Kolo,” “Seniorita” and “Igbedu.” The album was a success, but it would not be compared to what happened with their second album, Get Squared, with the hit track, “Bizzy Body”, released in July 2005, and it was an instant hit. It became the rave in Africa and beyond, selling over ten million copies. Get Squared was Top 50 MTV Base Most Requested Video, MTV Base Hot list and Number One on MTV Base charts for many weeks.
There was nothing stopping P-Square. But if you thought they had reached the summit, more was yet to come. In November 2007, P-Square came out with another hit, Game Over, a third album. The banger track, “Do Me”, made waves, but it also gathered innuendoes because of its seemingly risqué lyrics like “You put it on me/I put it on you.” The general interpretation among music fans is that “Do Me” is about sex, or love making. Even the video is very suggestive: raunchy, sexy and jerky kind of dance routine.
Is the song, “Do me” really about love making? First, Peter explains: “The song, ‘Do Me’ is like part two of ‘Bizzy Body.’ The phrase bizzy body in Nigerian Pidgin English means doing what no one sent you to do or going where you have no business, but we brought it to the dance floor. It’s the same thing we have done with ‘Do Me,’ which in Nigerian Pidgin English is a “beef,” like saying ‘an eye for an eye.’ ‘Do Me’ song has nothing to do sex. It is taken from a Nigerian slang that has to do with beef…”
Paul cuts in: “There is this thing about P-Square, we try to bring out a particular word that is reigning in Nigeria and give it back to the public. When two people are dancing they are communicating. The girl is bringing a particular dance and the guy is trying to learn it from her, and vice versa. Also, there is this competition going on when a boy and a girl are dancing: the girl is trying to show that she could dance better than the boy, and the boy is also trying to show that he could dance better than the girl. In this process, what both of them are saying through dance is that, if you do me I do you. Unfortunately, people are now leaving the dance aspect and the biff aspect and looking at the song from the angle of sex.”
The point is clear: P-Square don’t want their fans to see the “Do Me” track as a song about sex, and they don’t want people to see it that way. Is it because they are both religious? I ask. “It’s not about being religious. P-Square has a very commercial value and people love us so much that we would not want to lead them to the wrong route,” Peter says.
The point has been made, but I am still not convinced. I, like many other fans, have always seen this song as sexually suggestive, and I have come to this interview with this mindset, changing it needs a lot of convincing. And even when you are not too sure of the lyrics, what about the video? I probed further. Paul responds: “I must tell you, when we were writing the songs and planning the video, we made sure that the song was going to be a hit, but we didn’t want the song to be banned. Another thing we looked at was not to bring God’s name into it. You know that the original phrase is, ‘Do me I do you God no go vex.’ So we replaced the word God with Man. I blame Tony who brought the choreography.”
Tony, their brother, was present during this interview, but has just stepped out and so I missed the opportunity of asking him to explain himself. I look at Paul he’s looking very angry. I look at Peter he is calm, stroking his beards. And what is going through my mind is: well, that is art for you. Every work of art whether music, or creative writing, or fine art, once in the public domain it’s subject to different interpretations, and most times these interpretations are off the mark from what the art’s creator has in mind.
Actually, before we began this interview, my charge to Peter and Paul was the need for honesty. Most artistes would want to tell you the things the fans want to hear, repeating the old cliché about themselves and shying away from the truth as a market strategy. I have asked them to be as truthful as possible in their answers to my questions and, if possible, to reveal what they have never said to any media before. They gave their word, and so far during this interview, to me, they have kept their word.
Are they lying to me now? I don’t think so. Their face and their body language show how genuinely concern they are that “Do me” is taking the direction they never intended. “Do Me” is P-Square’s song. If they say the song is not about sex, and they have kept their promise to me all along, then I have to accept that “Do Me” is not about sex. I resolved not to pursue this further, but to move on.
How do P-Square compose their songs? Paul says: “Most songs come from me, and later we come together, with Jude, our elder brother who is our manager, we look at the song, its message. We don’t do songs for Nigerians only so we would want to know why an African, a European or an American would accept this song.”
The P-Square motto is: bring two different things together as one. This is how Peter explains the synergy: “It’s like bringing 50% of what Peter can do and 50% of what Paul can do, and we put them together.” Peter, with the assistance of Tony and Oshevire Ovuorho, their cousin, choreographs all the dance sequences in the group. He also plays the acoustic and bass guitars and drums. Paul plays the keyboard and does the production and sequencing of their songs.
But I want to know what each person’s strong point is from the other person’s perspective. First, Peter: “There is one thing I have come to realised over these years, when I am composing a song, I am going more towards R&B side, going towards the western world, Paul is returning me back home. We used to argue about it, but at the end it works in his favour. Before we had the Get Squared Album we had a lot of argument. Then we had about twenty songs and we needed to have only ten songs for the album. We then resolved that we should each select five songs. I selected my best five without “Bizzy Body” because I didn’t like the track. Paul selected his best five with “Bizzy Body” and it was the song that blew up P-Square. So because of that when we were working on our last album, Game Over, with the “Do Me” track, I left everything for him. It’s all Paul’s concept.”
Then Paul: “I am not a good dancer. Play the beat and tell me to dance, you are wasting your time. I only do what I am taught to do. So when you see us perform on stage, or in our video and our dancing steps make you scream, I will say give it to Peter.”
Peter and Paul are from a family of six boys and two girls and they are the last boys. Their family is based in Jos, Nigeria, but Peter, Paul, Jude and Tony moved to Lagos a few years ago and they still live there. They are Ibo, from Anambra state. But where does their talent come from, mother’s side or father’s side?
Paul: “My parents are both talented in their own way. They love to be their own bosses and we have inherited that mentality from them. They owe their own businesses: our dad has his own bakery and our mum was into tailoring and design before she went into ministry, doing the work of God.”
Knowing that Peter and Paul are each his own man, what are Peter and Paul’s likes and dislikes? Peter says: “I dislike fake people, people who claim to be what they are not. I like anything that moves life positively.” Paul says: “I hate liars. I like people who are open and truthful.”
Are Peter and Paul womanisers, well before Peter got married? Peter: “There is nobody in this industry that is not a womaniser because if you don’t womanise you will be elsewhere. If we say we don’t womanise, people would call us gay. And everyman must be with a woman. And our kind of job is such that we must have fans, and we have to claim and proclaim to love every woman. Sometimes if you don’t love them, or you don’t play along with them it becomes a problem. As far as this industry is concerned, having girlfriends is even a risky game, but have a girlfriend and communicate, play with everybody.”
But when I ask Paul to define a beautiful African woman, he waxes philosophical: “Beauty comes in different ways.” I insist that I want a straight forward answer. “She must be attractive, though some people may be attractive physically, attitude wise they are babas.” He says. I still haven’t got a definite answer. I insist. “A beautiful woman don’t need to apply plenty make-up. I like a woman who wakes up, applies mild lip-stick and she’s on the go, and when you see her you will still look at her twice.”
What are your guiding principles? Peter: “Take life the way you see it. When you wake up and your day is bright thank God, but if it is not really bright, try and make it bright. You must make use of what you have at a particular time.” Paul: “There is nothing that is not adjustable, there are ups and downs and there is left and right, but with God everything is possible.”
What is P-Square’s message to their female fans? Paul: “I hate girls using their appeal as a woman to get everything they want, sleeping with different men to get money. I know that is not the purpose of God in a girl’s life. My advice is: keep yourself, girl. If you want to be a working class girl, you can be, but keep yourself.” Surely, Peter would have a different thing to say. I then look at Peter. He nods in agreement. I have just spent fifty quality minutes with these talented guys that I can conveniently say to you that when Peter and Paul agree on a particular issue then it is neither Peter nor Paul that is talking, but P-Square!
Never-seen-before-Photos from Peter’s Marriage