In case you missed it, speaking in a chat with NET, the J‘owo‘ singer
narrated how she opened for Onyeka Onwenu at a recent event and
afterwards, she was called to take a photo with the legend but Onwenu
“As I got close to
her, she just went off on me–she was like, ‘don’t touch me’. It was
crazy, and it’s still like the worst experience I’ve ever had in my
life,” “Everyone was staring. It was weird.”
“But I still took the picture but it scarred me, because…when I see
someone I look up to, I want to be in front of you and say, ‘see, I love
you‘,” said Aramide. “But when I get that opportunity and I’m shunned,
it makes me feel really bad.”
She continued, saying;
“I don’t think I will see her now and want to say hello. It is what it is.”
Now, on TheCable Lifestyle’s latest edition of The Legend Series,
Onwenu, talks about her foray into music and acting, present-day lyrical
content and videos, as well as fighting for respect in a chauvinistic
After spending decades in the industry, what changes and innovations do
you appreciate the most — and have had the most impact on your craft?
It has to be the digital advancement and other technical improvements
and renovations available in the studio, such as voice corrections. But
then one has to be careful with these because the analog system has its
The sound is richer and more authentic to the ear. We get around this by using both systems.
Also, the fact that you do not need to be signed to a record company
for your music to be heard is a good thing for up and coming artistes
who probably would not have had the opportunity they now have to simply
reach their fans through the internet.
How did you get your first break into music, then later, acting?
While still in the United States in 1978 or thereabouts, I happened
to speak on the phone with Sunny Okosuns. His first wife Nkechi was the
sister of my first cousin’s wife, Ada Dan-Chimah and Sunny had called
their house in Chicago where I was spending my summer holidays.
I told him I was interested in having a professional music career. He
asked me to send him a demo tape, which I did and which he liked. When I
got back to Nigeria in 1980, I contacted him again and he took me to
EMI. I was signed on and Sunny Okosuns produced my first album, ‘Endless
I never planned to go into acting. My immediate elder sister Ijeoma
was the Actress in the family and she was very talented, my mother too.
However, around 1989, Zik Zulu blackmailed me into acting in the film,
The story was about a childless woman who found an abandoned baby and
raised her. He promised that the proceeds would go to an orphanage. He
had faith that I could act. The film was well received and my acting
career took off from there.
Your role in the adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ earned you wide praise.
How was that experience?
It was very special on a number of levels; It was Chimamanda herself
who insisted that I must play the part and she felt really vindicated
after my performance. The producers thanked her for it.
The experience of working with Hollywood greats like Chiwetel
Ejiofor, Thandi Newton, Annika Rose provided me with a great opportunity
to learn a thing or two. To have received the reviews I did, in the
midst of them, was something to be proud of. It was God’s grace.
I am also very proud that one of us John Boyega who was later cast in a Star Wars film is now the toast of Hollywood.
I am hoping that opportunities like that will also come for me, from
my appearance in Half of A Yellow Sun. It was a pity that for some
political reasons, efforts were made to kill the film in Nigeria.
Finally, for the first time in Nigeria, Biafra could be depicted in a
film. It gave us the opportunity to discuss our history. This is
something that is needed, even if it still makes us uncomfortable,
discuss it we must, so that we do not continue to make the same
You have managed to keep your personal life vis-a-vis your children
from the media glare. How’s that been possible and is that, in your
opinion, the way to go?
I am a shy and private person. Because I insist on living a down to
earth life, going to the market, doing the school run and going to
places with my children when they were younger, I knew that I had to
play down the celebrity lifestyle to a minimum.
I am a diva on stage or in any situation that calls for it,
otherwise, I am just an ordinary person. That simplifies my life and
protects my family from unnecessary scrutiny and unwanted attention. My
children are not keen on capitalising on their mother’s name. They are
intent on making their own. I respect them for that.
A lot of veterans have issues with present-day lyrical content and shoddy live performances — what’s your take on this?
I grew up in Port Harcourt in the ’50s and early ’60s, before the
Nigeria/Biafra war. Those were the days of Rex Lawson, Osita Osadebe
Celestine Ukwu, etc. Their songs were philosophical.
But they also had lyrics castigating women and calling them Ashawo,
‘One Pound no balance’ and so on. That made me promise myself that I
would sing songs that would uplift women.
My point is that sexy, nonsensical lyrics have always been with us.
As each generation matures, they realise that what endures is what
edifies. They will switch tactics and write better songs.
I am more worried though about their videos. They are becoming more
sexually explicit by the day and the children are watching. In fact,
they are being influenced by the lewd dances they see in these videos,
and their parents seem unconcerned. Mark my words, sooner than later,
these children will begin to enact these sexual moves in real life.
I was at a children’s party recently and I nearly cried at what I was witnessing. Many parents were around and didn’t care.
But when I took over the microphone and began singing my songs,
Iyogogo, Ekwe, You and I, Bia Nulu, Alleluya, etc, the dance steps
changed. The children enjoyed dancing and synchronised their steps but
no lewd movements.
What was it like starting a career in entertainment at a time when there was no technological disruption or internet boom?
It was very interesting. We knew no better, so we took it all in our
stride. For example, with the analog system of recording we were using
in the early 80s, you had to record with your band, all playing and
singing at the same time.
If one person made a noticeable mistake, you had to start all over
again. It was quite frustrating at times. Also, there was a noticeable
drop in the technical quality of music recorded locally, compared to
what was obtainable abroad. Mixing was also challenging.
You had to cut, slice and join tapes, which was not always neat. The
engineer also needed to be hands-on and remember the manipulation of the
panel, as programmed in his head.
Many Artistes would compensate by starting their recording in
Nigeria, but finishing in London. Still, the technical problems
In 1984, however, when I recorded the album ‘In The Morning Light’,
which contained songs like Ekwe, Bia Nulu and Alleluya, I decided to
scrap the initial recording I had done in Nigeria because the technical
quality was suspect and start all over again, from scratch, in London.
We went partly digital, using the FairLight system. It turned out to
be the first album in Nigeria with a digital component. The difference,
of course, was remarkable.
The release and promotion of an album after release also were
challenging. You had to work with a recording company and physically
take your music to the radio and TV stations and of course the print
There was no YouTube or iTunes so distribution was laborious and fraught with exposure to piracy.
Did you ever consider taking a hike when the entertainment industry wasn’t as financially profitable as present day?
Yes, I considered leaving the music industry, but not for financial
reasons, but for the lack of respect and consideration from the
audience, the press, as well as the male practitioners in the industry.
Sometimes, people feel that you are public property just because you
are a woman and an entertainer. They feel that they are entitled to talk
to you anyhow, touch you, use your services and not pay you.
I had to devise ways to protect myself. My policy is to only mix with
people on a professional basis. I am very formal. I do not joke around
and I do not socialise. I also collect all my fees before the show.
By the same token, I conduct myself in a professional and
self-respecting manner. I leave no room for failure to live up to
expectations. In fact, I strive to exceed expectations in my
I must say, however, that this has led to some people labelling me a
snub. But I am not. I am indeed shy and very down to earth. I am also
confident and self-assured.
What projects are you involved in other than entertainment?
When the music industry took a nose dive in the ’80 and ’90s, when
record companies such as Polygram, EMI and Sony left the country,
artistes like me picked up the gauntlet and continued to sustain the
industry by financing releasing and promoting our music, under
Mine was called Ayollo Productions. We owned and rented out a rehearsal studio, musical equipment and the Kabassa Band.
I also set up and Events Center in GRA Ikeja called The Unity Center.
As a member of PMAN and PMRS, I contributed my bit to sanitising and
regulating the music industry, with regards to issues such as piracy,
intellectual property and copyright dues. PMRS metamorphosed into COSON,
one of the two collecting society in Nigeria today.