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Songtrust Spotlight: Big H

Harold Ikechukwu Esindu, popularly known as BIG H (now Hafiz), was born and raised in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. His parents, Mike and Dolly Esindu owned a media production company that included a state-of-the-art audio recording studio, where they “employed” all their kids and subjected them to rigorous training. As a result, Big H emerged skilled in all media practices, with a special interest in and talent for music-making and music production. 

In 2010, Big H moved to the U.S. to study Radio-Television production at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. In 2014, noticing a growing interest in modern Afrobeats and anticipating the current popularity of the genre, he created beatsbybigh.com, the first online instrumental store dedicated to Afrobeats. It featured compositions, not just by Big H himself, but from several upcoming producers including the now-famous Ckay. The service provided artists from all over the world with beats that span from Dancehall, Reggae, and Reggaeton to Afrobeats subgenres like Afroswing and Afrotrap. The online store grew in popularity and thrived until Big H moved on in 2020. It is currently being rebranded as Afrobeat Squad and will be launching early this quarter. 

Big H, now known as Hafiz, is a futurist, spiritual visionary, writer, and all-around creative.


WHAT OR WHO INSPIRED YOU TO GET INTO MUSIC?

My earliest inspiration for music was my father. He was an avid record collector, so music was always a part of my life from early on. He was a songwriter as well, and he wrote several songs on spirituality. Of course, like most people who grew up in the ’90s, I was drawn to Hip-Hop. In my teens, the Biggie persona (more so than his music) gave me the confidence to navigate teenage life as a chubby kid. Hip-Hop artists became my biggest influence: Mr. Cheeks, Busta, Capone-N-Noreaga, Dip Set, Nate Dogg, DMX, LOX, etc. One Mr. Shawn Corey Carter stood out for me though.

Growing up in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, I was part of the generation that started to merge the Hip-Hop genre (as well as Dancehall and Reggae) with our homegrown African rhythms and dialects. That is what created the foundation for Modern Afrobeats. Looking back now, I see why Timbaland and Pharrell were my strongest influences as a producer; they were the first I heard using ethnic percussion and off-the-grid drum patterns heavily in their compositions.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE OF MUSIC AND PERFORMANCE? HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PHILOSOPHY AND STYLE AS AN ARTIST?

My approach to music has always been to create a new experience for the listener. I make a concerted effort to stay away from the norm. Again, because of the way Afrobeats was born, I’m always trying to blend genres and combine flavors to create a new concoction. Of course, this doesn’t work all the time, but sometimes something truly magical emerges. To become more effective at it, I try to apply what is called the MAYA theory. It basically means “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.” To sell something familiar, make it surprising. To sell something surprising, make it familiar.

WHAT DRIVES YOU TO CREATE, AND HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS FOR YOURSELF IN MUSIC?

The driving factor behind the need to create art changes as the artist evolves. Starting out, success always seems to correlate with how many people play your music, how many know who you are, and how much you get paid for it. All the stereotypical accolades that come with “blowing up.” Over the last three years, my perspective has completely changed.

Now, I see music purely as a conduit for sharing wisdom and tools for introspective contemplation. If I can’t create music that gives deeper insight into how humanity can achieve much-needed unicity, then I’m not doing it. There’s no more time for “business as usual.” Global consciousness is in dire need of a paradigm shift. Being part of the solution; that’s success.

THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER, WHO HAS HELPED YOU THE MOST WITH DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPORT?

Since I’ve been an Afrobeats producer most of my musical career, I find I’m the one that’s constantly giving support and guidance to others. I’ve always felt that it’s a fundamental responsibility of the producer to bring out the best in the artist. It’s my job to take whatever creative nugget the artist brings and make it shine while staying within the confines of the artists’ vision for the project. Maybe even push them to break out of those confines. As a result, I can’t really say I’ve had any one person that gives developmental support. I do have well-wishers that I’m truly grateful for.  

More recently, however, I have become increasingly aware of (and found peaceful solitude) in the Universal Source. The boundless vastness within all of us that the five senses, the body, the mind, intellect, memories, thoughts, and intuition all exist in. Sounds like metaphysical bullshit, right? Lol, I know, but it’s the truth.

Upon deep inquiry, it will become clear that the world only exists when the five senses interact with the mind. The mind also houses memory, intellect, and one’s personal sense of self (that is the identity you accrue after physical birth). It’s all within that intangible mind. Yet each of us is aware that we have a mind; we can observe it. So who’s the one that can observe your mind and its content? Certainly, there’s no mind without that You. Which is more real, the concepts accumulated in your mind, or the You that observes and owns the mind? Each individual should put some time and attention into finding the “I” that is not dependent on the mind’s personal and often wrong perceptions. Find it and find support that no external source can equate. That also gives humanity a better chance of collectively evolving from homo-sapiens to homo-spiritus before our current approach to existence manifests dystopia or worse. Time to leave the “savage” animal instincts behind. Ever seen a puma with sneakers on its feet? Or a cougar with a new set of teeth? Lol.

SOMETIMES BEING IN THIS BUSINESS CAN BE OVERWHELMING. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR MAINTAINING PERSPECTIVE AND NOT SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF?

The creation and the business of music can certainly feel like a maze. If I have any advice, I’d say truly look within and find out why you’re doing it. What are your underlying reasons for creating music? It’s natural to want recognition and fortune for your art, but is that what motivates you to create? How long will that sense of fulfillment last if and when it’s gotten?

Objectively ask yourself these questions, be aware of the biases that arise, and understand them. As creatives, we all have an innate need that we’re looking to fulfill when we create. That need may not always be obvious to us, but identifying that need and reminding ourselves of it through the journey will help form the staying power to keep doing it. That will ideally serve as an anchor for when the stormy waves of uncertainty arise.

WHAT CAN OR SHOULD THE NEWER GENERATION OF MUSIC CREATORS, AND MORE SPECIFICALLY BLACK MUSIC CREATORS, FOCUS ON AS THEY ENVISION A NEW MUSIC FUTURE?

This is by far my favorite question. Humans resonate (literally) with music because it separates us from our cognitive minds and puts us in a semi-hypnotic state that is, for lack of a more descriptive word, spiritual. Older civilizations often used music to pass down wisdom, knowledge and forge a sense of synergistic unity. However modern music has become, at best, shallow ear candy, romantic crooning, or camaraderie in the pains of life. At its worst, it’s been a tool for encouraging our most carnal impulses, fostering a sense of lack and consumerism, and creating more division. I’m not here to point fingers. What I’m saying is, for your own survival, the content has to change. People don’t want to hear that anymore. I just found out that “200 of the top popular new tracks now regularly account for less than 5% of total streams.” That’s less than half of what it was just over a year ago. That’s terrible news for new musicians. Even young listeners are going back to old music.

Look around you. There’s enough sorrow, lack, and pain to go around. Doom and gloom are everywhere. It’s actually indicative of an impending change. The old system is on its way out. The masses are craving something more. They need a sense of hope, a deeper connection to life, a source of upliftment that is not based on rivalry. That adversarial mindset is part of the old decaying system. If we’re speaking on an enemy, can we point others and ourselves to our greatest common enemy; the shadow self within? That shadow within all of us makes us prone to FUD, anger, greed, vanity, envy, prejudice, and attachment to materialism.

As humanity moves slowly towards unicity, artists have a major part to play in catalyzing that movement. If we’re speaking on struggle, let’s focus on speaking transcendence of that struggle. We can’t afford another generation of people (and people of African descent specifically) who see life only through the struggle lens. Let’s tell our kin, there’s much more to life. We must free ourselves from the internal mental confines we've unknowingly created so that external change is lasting. Certain aspects of culture don't serve us anymore, and only stunt our collective growth. Let’s seed and transmit freedom, wisdom, compassion, and grace. Can you make it dope to be compassionate? The old regime taught you that compassion is weak. Actually, it’s the opposite. It takes courage in today’s world to show and have empathy. Tell me, what’s cooler than genuine Love? Consciousness is not a box, it’s the miracle that existence is founded on. Let’s celebrate that, and teach coming generations to celebrate it as well. Your music will stand the test of time as a result.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE MUSIC INDUSTRY DO TO TRULY BE A REFLECTION OF THE CULTURE AND COMMUNITY IN WHICH IT CREATES?

The business of music has been shrouded in deception and predatory practices for too long. It’s evident to even the people at the top of the totem pole. Unfortunately, that is the way the entire system of “free” enterprise was built. Music is materially intangible. The exact potential value is not always clear to both the artist and the investor. This gives even more room and justification for why the artist is taken advantage of. For that to change, the industry must abandon these contractual practices that have been accepted as the norm. It’s the artists’ job to create, and the label’s job to make the art profitable for both parties. The sharing of that profit is where the discord mostly occurs. Yes, artists should learn the business. However, putting the onus on the artist to correct a foundational flaw in the structure of the industry is…just wrong.

BLACK ARTISTS, SONGWRITERS, AND CREATORS HEAVILY INFLUENCE MOST TRENDS IN MUSIC, ENTERTAINMENT, AND SOCIAL MEDIA - BUT THEY OFTEN DON'T RECEIVE THE RECOGNITION THEY DESERVE. DO YOU HAVE ADVICE FOR DEVELOPING CREATORS WHEN IT COMES TO PROTECTING THEIR WORK?

This is a subject that I’m currently spending some time to find new solutions for. So far, I’m not sure we’ve seen anything yet that could give better protection than blockchain technology. I encourage artists to look into NFT’s and smart contracts to see how this emerging tech can better protect intellectual property and optimize the monetization of that property. NFT’s are gearing up to be a game-changer. Time will tell if it finally gives artists the leverage. Overall, as much as I hate to say it, learn the business. I’m learning to be better at that too.

DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER ADVICE FOR YOUNG ARTISTS AND MUSICIANS JUST STARTING THEIR CAREERS, BASED ON WHAT YOU’VE EXPERIENCED?

Re-evaluate your schemas. Schemas are like the filing cabinets of the mind. For every concept you think you know, you have a preset schema in place. Constantly review and update those schemas. Most of what we think are our own thoughts were taught to us, or stuff we’ve picked up subconsciously or unconsciously from our environments and hive-minded media. Don’t be afraid to find and understand new perspectives that might be different from yours. You have the intellectual and emotional intelligence to do so constructively. It’s in you already. That will undoubtedly add depth to your art that enriches both you and your potential listeners. You got this!

WHAT DO YOU HAVE COMING UP IN 2022?

I spent the last two years in a retreat of sorts. I’m gradually returning to creating again. This year, I’m putting all I’ve learned running beatsbybigh.com into a new incarnation of the site called Afrobeat Squad, which will be launching real soon. It’ll be a member-based marketplace for artists interested in international rhythms to get dope exclusive beats and songs.

However, most of my attention will go into creating and sharing content on Unity, Wisdom, Self Knowledge, and Spirituality. This will be in the form of music, written text, discourses, and a podcast called “The Sangha.” You can check out Episode 0, here, where I talk about “I Amness & The Trinity of Perception - The Perceived, The Act of Perception and The Perceiver."

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