I 've not run out of songs— Lady of Songs, Christy Essien Igbokwe
Christy Essien Igbokwe, remember her? She once ruled the Nigerian music scene with her soulful, but moral songs that have remained evergreen in our hearts. Relentless in her pursuit of new challenges, the actress, songwriter and singer who has been off the entertainment scene for a long while, is stagging a come back to her beloved profession as she later disclosed in this interview.
As we settled down for a chat at the dining corner of her posh living room, Christy, dressed in a red tunic top and sky blue jean trousers, looked very natural, with her hair woven to the side and packed half way. I asked if she would wear some make-up, as I had my photographer ready to take shots of her. 'No I won't' she replied. “I don't like make-up. If you check my albums from the beginning to the end, I was always natural. Make-up doesn't do anything to the skin, it rather clogs the pores. I love to look natural. For instance, no one will tell you that they have ever seen weave-on on my head. I wear my natural hair all the time.”
For her, a new beginning has come, after twenty-six years of marriage. With her children all adults now, the 'Lady of Songs' is set to continue and explore further from where she left off. In this interview, she talks about life, marriage, music, acting, among other issues.
You have been out of the entertainment scene for a very long time, what has been happening to you?
That is what people think, I have not been off the scene, I have been there in a very humble way. One thing people do not understand and I hope one day, they will get to understand is that, there are times God will slow you down. You are not out of ideas, you are not out of circulation, but God will just say I want you to slow down a bit. That was what happened to me. But like I told one of your colleagues, very soon, you will not believe how I will come out. You will forget that I stayed so long before coming out. I am not out of songs, I can still perform more than a younger person. I do not want to disgrace them because I want them to grow. Like I sang in my album, Freedom and Give me a chance, I believe in all that, because that is how it should be. I have a studio here and people have been coming to record free of charge. I want people to know that God has just slowed me down for the reasons best known to him. It is not because I can not do an album. If I can afford to provide a studio in my house, what stops me from recording one million songs.
Yes. Next year, I promise you that. Quote it real good. If I do not do it then, let me be the liar, not God.
I will not change from what I have always been doing. I am a contemporary artist, that I will remain till the day I go into my 6ft. That gives me joy because you cut across a lot of people. You do not know who are your fans until you meet them. I believe everything you sing about, every story you tell about life, mean a lot to people that you do not know.
That is why I want to keep on with that. I have all the genre of music in my album. I mix gospel, pop, etc, because I know that you cannot put God out of any good programme. In all my songs, I talked about goodness and goodness is about God. It is not until you call Jesus Christ. For instance, if I say to you, “sweetheart, please don't cheat on your husband.” I am telling you about God. If you pick all my songs from the beginning to the end, all is talking about God. How to behave in a Godly way. And to me, God is very pleased. He has told me that he is pleased and I need to hear from him not from anybody.
What led to the exit of your character as Apeno in the New Masquerade?
I got married. Then, they said we should continue and I did. But I told them the reality of life. And what is that reality? Every step you take in life has it's own consequence and people do not understand that. When they wanted to record, The return of the New Masquerade, that was when Ben Bruce was there. They needed sponsors and Ben told them that they will not get sponsors until they bring back Apeno, because everybody is asking for her. But I told them I did not want to hold them to ransom, but that my kids were growing up and they needed me. Can we have five different scripts because I know I can cope.
They know that they do not have a problem with me. On any set you put me, once I read the script for one day, I just improvise. It is not about the script, it is the message. When I get that, I add my own attitude to it and it always comes out right. I told them to give me five scripts for five episodes, and I will come, record it and go. As I am recording, they should give me five again to go away with. I hate to say what I want to say now, but I have to say it. Envy did not let that work. They went lying against me. The day I met Ben Bruce at the airport, I told him everything and told him I was still keeping his EAS ticket that I did not travel anywhere. He said people withdrew their sponsorship because they felt we lied to them. What is wrong with me asking for five scripts, when I know I can cope? They kept telling me of one script, that was why we did not agree.
What happened to your other home video roles, or do you just prefer comedy?
Do you know that comedy is the most difficult sphere of acting in the world? For you to act comedy and people to appreciate you and laugh, without you laughing, is not easy. That is why comedians are the highest paid all over the world. Apart from that, I am not just a comedian, I act serious plays. I was in Flesh and Blood which was so popular one time in this country. The whole country is waiting for the part two that has never come. I took part in Scars of Womanhood, which was shot in Ghana and many more. If I wanted to act in any movie that came my way, I would have done so. People keep coming with proposals. But there are things I believe in and there are things I think I should help to protect and portray. So, when things do not come the way I want them, I won't be part of it. The reason I took part in those movies, was because they had deep messages in them. Flesh and Blood asserts that children should learn to do good. Like my song Omo mi she 'un rere. If you watch that movie again, you will see that I was against my children doing evil. In Scars of Womanhood, I was against woman circumcision. If you bring me the part that I am comfortable with, I will do it. Right now, I have some scripts that I am considering.
As a former PMAN President, what would you say on the crises that continued to rock the association.
I am not supporting any faction or party. I am the founder of PMAN. I cannot support problems in my own house. I do not know what they are doing. They say they have gone to court, let the court decide.
So, how has it been running the home and family in your 26 years of marriage?
When you get married, what you think now, is not how it will remain. When you get married you are getting into an unknown terrain and you start all over to learn and as you learn, you accept. As you learn sincerely, not aggressively or proudly. That is how you get to your destination. And what is that destination? Having kids that you will love, and in turn, you want them to appreciate you for that love that you showed as a mother.
Your mother may be lucky to have her soul mate, but you may not be lucky. It is the sincere advice that your mother gives to you, that will help you make it when you get to a terrain that is not your own.
I want to tell you now that, it is only a woman that can keep her marriage. My husband will tell you that I am the one keeping my marriage. When my husband and I were courting, it was my grandmother that saw my husband and she told him, “you won't be faithful to my granddaughter, but she will be faithful to you, because I have groomed her well”. Do you know why I am saying this, because my husband publicly declared on my 40th birthday that he has been unfaithful to me.
My grandmother told me, no matter what you are going through, keep your marriage. And I have been living with that.
Your idea of dress sense
I love dressing. I love to look good, but I would rather look simple all the time because I can not wear expensive clothes or carry expensive bags when people are hungry out there. That is my problem. Right now, I am putting pressure on my first son to marry, so his wife can take everything.
What special things do you do to enhance your looks?
I do not do anything. I am naturally blessed with my skin. I could abuse it by not eating well, I am not a food person. I can drink for a whole month without eating and you will not know I have been drinking wine. I think I abuse my skin in that area. I am trying to correct that now. Though I do the cooking, but getting me to eat is the problem.
How do you unwind?
When I want to relax, I have a friend I call over and we just go to a restaurant, sit down and just have fun. Or I could attend a friend's function.
What is your view on the music scene?
It is very vibrant. I am happy for them. I just pray that they keep it up. My fear for them always is that they do not get influenced negatively. How do I mean negatively? Being told that they can perform better under an influence, that will only destroy.