Obituary: Sound Sultan defined the sound for a new generation, here’s why he lives forever

Afrobeats to the world!
It is easy to scream that now that Nigerian pop music is making inroads in even the most unlikely spaces. But for the artistes who built the foundations of this sound from the ruins of the economic devastation of the nineties, that moniker must take on a special significance. Sound Sultan was one of those artistes and even though his life was short, he packed a lot into it.

There are artistes that define a generation. For the crop of artistes who took on the unwieldy responsibility of bringing pop music back to the airwaves and national consciousness, 2Baba (formerly 2face) Idibia is probably that artiste. 2Baba wasn’t alone though. He had Sound Sultan for company. Together, both young men who claimed Festac as their base of operations in Lagos defined not just the sound that would come to be known as Afrobeats, but also the idea of the contemporary homegrown popstar.

No mean feat.

This spectacular success story, still in the process of being written, came to an abrupt end Sunday morning when Sound Sultan’s brother, Kayode Fasasi announced the passing of the rounded entertainer following a hard-fought battle with angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma. He was 44. He died in the United States where he was undergoing treatment for the condition. Earlier in the year, certain blogs had carried unconfirmed reports that Sound Sultan had been diagnosed with throat cancer.

To better appreciate the importance of Sound Sultan, think back to 2000, the year that he released his breakthrough hit, Mathematics. A career in the music business was an unlikely concept and scoring a hit single one day was no guarantee of a follow-up. Worse still, avenues for profiting from music were not clearly defined. For the most part, it was young people doing it for the love of creative expression.

Sound Sultan stepped into this uncertain, unstructured world with the experience he had garnered managing his amateur band and also from hustling and supporting his more successful elder brother Baba Dee. Wise beyond his years, Sound Sultan arrived almost fully made. Mathematics was an instant hit having the distinction of being both feel good and socially conscious. In the catchy chorus, Sound Sultan reclaimed the BODMAS formula popular in math classes to decry corruption and poor leadership.

Tall, lean and handsome with a gap-toothed smile that instantly endeared him to his fans, the newly minted superstar was a bundle of charisma. It wasn’t obvious back then but he was also a renaissance man.

A gifted musician at the core, Sound Sultan shifted easily between music genres. He embraced rap with the same dexterity that he attacked sounds like Fuji, highlife and R&B blending them into a whole that while ambitious, was not always consistent. It was often hard to pin Sound Sultan down to any particular sound and the albums that he released- the latest one, 8th Wondah only last year- often suffered from this troubling inconsistency.

At any point in time, Sound Sultan had multiple ideas swimming within his lanky frame and he attempted as many of them as he could. Away from music, he was also an actor having produced and appeared in films such as Head Gone and Tunde Kelani’s Campus Queen. He also contributed to the latter’s soundtrack.

Naija Ninjas, the creative company that Sound Sultan started in partnership with brother Baba Dee was the parent organisation for a record label, a production outfit and clothing line. If Sound Sultan dreamt it, then he tried it out. The outcome was often immaterial. For him, the victory was in the expression. He explained this listlessness in a video interview last year, “I feel like artistes are actors” he said. “When you look at entertainment, it is just one big estate of creativity. You can have a neighbourhood where there are both music and movies. They are just closely knit.” He explained.

The instant success of Mathematics gave the impression that Sound Sultan was an overnight success. The truth was far from it.

Born Olanrewaju Abdul-Ganiu Fasasi on 27, November 1976, in Jos, Plateau state to the family of Adeyinka Ajarat and Liadi Alarape Fasasi, Sound Sultan developed a flair for theatrics at a tender age. The fourth of five offspring, he obtained a degree in Geography and Regional Planning from Lagos State University in 1999.

Somewhat of a prodigy, Sound Sultan mimed performances at school parties and began writing his own lyrics. He learned how to play the guitar after his secondary school education and worked the talent shows circuit, participating in and winning several of them. This experience would come to be useful when he became an executive helping to launch the careers of Young GreyC, Karma Da Rapper and Blacka. While none of his artistes would come close to achieving his level of celebrity, Sound Sultan would also be known for assisting big names like P-square and Seyi Shay whom he once described as his “smallie” on their come-up journeys.

Mathematics preceded Sound Sultan’s debut album, Kpseeeeeeew, his interpretation of the sound of a long hiss. At the time, Sound Sultan was frustrated by the aborted promise of the country of his birth. Even when he made his fair share of dance anthems throughout his career- Kokose with Wizkid, Orobo with Flavour– Nigeria remained on his mind and he made songs like Ise with Sarkodie and the guitar classic Motherland which both provided commentary on the way that we live.

A perfect gentleman, Sound Sultan had a generosity of spirit that endeared him to people. He remained fast friends with the comedian Princess, a childhood friend and this would translate to a healthy working relationship. His brotherhood with 2Baba is one of the great ones of the Afrobeats era and remains till the end, an example to their colleagues. Their creative collaboration which birthed several classics like Bushmeat, Enter the Place and even M.I’s terrific Human Being was one of the music industry’s most prolific, and rewarding, lasting as long as both their careers.

Sound Sultan understood his friend’s greatness early on, lived it with him and was happy to stay in 2Baba’s shadow when the moment demanded it. In the rap polemic, Kuku No Worry from his Out of the Box album, Sound Sultan nodded to this friendship, declaring, “Shout out to my friend Innocent /I know after him I’m the best.”

This did not mean that Sound Sultan saw himself as inferior though. Responding several times to questions about his place in the culture, he rejected the idea that he was underrated, “I am not in competition with anybody” he once told Ebuka Obi-Uchendu on Rubbin’ Minds before stressing the need for extending positive energies across. Elsewhere he would ask in response to the same question, “Is oxygen underrated? Is it spoken about every day?”

Sound Sultan was consistent, his work ethic unfailing. He was in the habit of putting out hits just as he was about to be written off. His last two albums were not the hitmaking machines of his earlier days but perhaps that was to be expected. He had succeeded in carving a niche as a respected icon. Sound Sultan remained at the top of his game for over two decades and working with Clarence Peters and Kemi Adetiba on the hits Natural Something and Hello Baale, helped rejig the music video format.

When filmmaker and casting director Lala Akindoju began work on the Nigerian leg of the forthcoming Disney biopic about NBA icon Giannis Antetokounmpo, she went to Sound Sultan for assistance. His love for the game was legendary. A lifelong supporter of the sport, Sound Sultan would frequently use his celebrity to attract attention to the game.

In 2015, Sound Sultan acquired a stake in the Lagos Islanders, a Lagos-based basketball club founded in 1984. He spoke with the NETng about his love for the game, “I played basketball from 1991 till date. Iwas the basketball team captain of my secondary school and even my University. That’s the kind of prominent role I’ve always played, so for me right now it’s not out of place that I now invest in the game.”

A devout Muslim, Sound Sultan married his long-time girlfriend Farida (formerly Chichi Morah) in 2009 and they bore three kids, the youngest of whom is seven years old. His young family is left behind to mourn him.

Even when he didn’t always get his due, Sound Sultan remained grounded and had a heightened awareness of himself as a person first and foremost. He confirmed as much to Premium Times in a 2020 interview promoting his last album released during the lockdown, “I would never trade the respect I have for anything, I would never trade the respect I command as an artiste, a person, as an individual in the industry, I would never ever trade it for one billion dollars because it is inexhaustible and I can always tap into it and get anything I want.”

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