Rophnan Nuri, Rophy, was only 16 when he started producing music, literally six years after his first performance before his classmates. The ninth child of a family of 10, he has gone through a career path as a DJ, composer, guitarist, radio host, producer, and songwriter.
A native of Addis Abeba, the 27-year old recently released his first album, Netsebrak [Reflection], adopting a new genre of mixing music electronically. Fans put him in league with Swedish musician, DJ, and remixer, the late Tim Bergling, stage-name Avicii.
As his album hit the market just a few months ago, Rophy has rapidly gained momentum and is winning the hearts of the younger generation, whose infatuation with electronic music is emerging. Produced by SIGMA Entertainment & Events Plc, the album was published with 50,000 copies and was well received among the youth. Rophnan, who blends high tempo electronic bits with Ethiopian melodies, sat down for an interview with FORTUNE'S EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, FASIKA TADESSE.
Fortune: This generation is into many music genres such as hip hop, rap and reggae. Why do you choose electronic music?
Before a career as a disk jockey (DJ) and a songwriter, I am a musician. Like a chemist, I always search for a new thing to mix to invent something new. This is the philosophy of jazz musicians. The genre is suitable to create new music by blending it with other bits. In due course, I find electronic music fits into my philosophy.
Every ethnic group in the country has its musical tradition, beat, rhythm and instruments. They also use music for different occasions, such as weddings and mourning. While studying this music and trying to bring them to modern contemporary music, I discovered that electronic music is the best tool for me as it does not limit me and allows me to create different kinds of mixes.
It does not mean that it is the best genre, just that I found it best for my work.
Q: For how long do your DJ sessions last on stage?
In one performance I can DJ for a maximum of two hours. Previously when I was only performing as a DJ, I used to run it for four to six hours. I was meeting the demands of customers, and I play as many sets of music as possible based on the audiences' request.
People are now coming to hear Rophnan's music, not only the music I present in a DJ performance. Now, my sessions are one hour and a half or two hours at most.
Q: You are a DJ, songwriter, composer, producer and musician. If you are given a chance to choose only one of them, which one would you pick and why?
Oh yeah! Songwriting! It is something that I cannot give up. I believe songwriting is the root of everything. DJing is a platform that I use to reach the mass audience.
Q: What do you do when you are frustrated or stressed? Do you have a ritual?
I don't like either stress or frustration. I try to get out of it as fast as possible.
Mostly I transcend difficult times by reading books. Two things are there. Beyond getting new things from the book, I realise the accomplishment of the writer in publishing the book.
Q: Whom would you invite to perform at your wedding party?
Gigi [Ejigayehu Shibabaw], for sure.
For me, she is the ultimate. Not only at my wedding, but I also want her to perform everywhere. I grew up with her music. She is not a single artist; I get so many things from her. I like how she crafts music from her first to her last albums. Her voice and music are so natural, and she is everything to me.
Q: Perhaps if you are forced to live outside of Ethiopia, where would you choose to live?
Nowhere. I had a chance to move abroad a couple of times but skipped the occasions. I cannot think of living outside of my country. Whenever I am out of Ethiopia, I begin to be stressed out within two or three days.
Q: What is the place you want to visit next?
I am planning to visit the Mursi [a Nilotic pastoralist ethnic group in Ethiopia]. I also want to go down the Omo Valley. I am planning to research these people for my next album.
Abroad, I want to visit Rio de Janeiro and New York City.
Q: Which food did you like the most after trying it for the first time?
I cannot name a single food, but I am a crazy lover of ice cream.
Q: If you were not a musician, what would your profession be?
At school, I was good at physics, and I think I could have been a physicist instead of a musician. Music arrangement and physics have a shared string. Both of them are about invention and discovery.
Q: When and where was your first performance?
I first performed at a gathering when I was 10 years old. It was a class performance, and I played Gigi's music from the "Kuas Medaw" album.
Q: What was the reaction from your classmates?
No one applauded me since everyone else was doing the same thing.
By the time I was 14, I had developed musically while the rest of my friends had faded. People who did not grow up with me especially were surprised. At first, I thought everyone could make music naturally and that it was not a natural-born talent.
I realised I had talent at 14 and what I was doing with music was different and unusual from what other people were doing.
Q: What was the music you were listening to while coming to this interview?
My album "Netsebrak". I enjoy listening to my album. I listen to it repeatedly.
Q: At what age do you want to die?
I do not want to live to a very old age. [Laughter]. When we are old, how we think will be affected. Because it is our body that carries our mind. I do not want to reach that point.
Q: Which mobile application or computer software eased your life?
FL Studio [a digital-audio software]. It is frequently updated. When I start using it, it was in the third generation, and it has reached 20 now.
I grew up using the program ever since I was very young. It is an excellent option for musicians who cannot afford the purchase of a program online. I developed most of my work on it.
I also use Pro Tools, Abelton Live Pro, but for music production FL Studio is the best.
Q: What do you do before you go on stage? Do you have any special ritual before you perform?
I remain completely silent for five minutes before going on stage. I do not speak to anyone, and I do not answer any phone calls. I just listen to myself and meditate.
Q: Many artists with dreadlocks play reggae music, but you play electronic music. Why do you choose this hairstyle?
It is not a style. I grow my hair in dreadlocks because I do not like getting haircuts. My mom was strict on haircuts, and she was forcing me to keep my hair short. I never liked getting my hair cut ever since I was a child. That used to get me into fights with my mother. The dreadlocks relieved me of that problem.
Q: If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be? Why?
That is a tough question. There are a lot of people. The ones that have passed away are many. That is what would make it hard to pick. Obama? It is a hard choice for me.
Obama is one example of a human that is close to perfection. He is an inspiration to many Africans or anyone who has been born where there are barriers. Yet, he became a leader of the most powerful country.
I can get audiences if I make good music. But if you are in politics, even if you had the greatest way of thinking, you may not find followers. It takes magic to become someone like him. The other is consistency. He made no mistakes during his time in office. Obama was Obama from start to finish, and he showed us that consistency. He seems almost perfect.
Q: Which track do you like the most from your album? Which one also represents your life?
Chereqa, [moon] is my best choice. Many artists say that they cannot tell apart their work, distinguish one from the other, but I do.
My track "Bye Bye" resembles my life, clearly. It is all about my story.
Q: What is a question you wish you were asked in an interview but never did?
It is hard to remember. I really do not remember.
Q: If you were to choose a gift to be presented to you, what would it be?
I would choose time! Time is the most important gift a person can give you.