It's not easy being a single mother—Kween
From being a choir girl, live band vocalist and hanging around with musicians abroad, she got herself registered in the Nigerian music industry. Queen Chinyere Onokara popularly known as Kween is not your regular artiste that crashed into the scene. From a rather young age, she knew she wanted to become a singer and gracefully pursued her dream. Today the Jebele crooner has achieved some measure of significance in the male domineering music industry in Nigeria. In this chat with AHAOMA KANU, she opens up on how it all started; the challenges, thrills, sacrifices and promises.
Getting into music
I first of all knew I had a talent for singing when I was in church choir a very long time ago. Back then in Abeokuta, I had great friend that were musicians and played a lot of music; Kwame and others were DJs at OGBC at a time, Father Xmas. This was in the 90s and they wee all in Abeokuta and they were into music and in radio stations. I came to Abuja to study Public Administration at the university and was singing with a live band at Sheraton Hotels and Towers as a lead singer for the band for a number of years. So with such kind of style of doing other people's songs every night, I got bored and wanted to go something original. I was tired of sing Whitney Houston's songs, Mariah Carey and whoever that was in vogue then but majority of them were foreign artistes along with some Nigerian artistes. I felt I was doing my thing. I then went on to do my thing.
The minuet I started in church, I knew that was what I wanted to do and I haven't looked elsewhere, I have always concentrated on that. I never worked in an office, I have never done any other kind of job other than music acting and modelling but music stands out in all I have done. I grew up listening to Fela,Miriam Makeba, Onyeka Onwenu, Christie Essien Igbokwe and Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston and other good female singers. I loved them because they produced evergreen songs.
Combining music and education.
I never made that mistake of allowing my passion for music override education. So many artistes make that mistake of not getting education, so I do go to school. Even though I loved music, I had to also equip myself intellectually with education; I had to equip myself to better face the future. It is an advantage with what I have studied; I have more power to take control of things. I can handle my business and manage people.
It was really difficult because I was a full time student so needed to be receiving my lectures during the day. I found myself waking up early and going to school and when the band has rehearsals, I sometimes miss lectures to come for rehearsals and also missing rehearsals to take my lectures. Again, I was always coming back from school so late in the evening and start preparing to go to play with the bands which also makes me come back late in the night. I was very tedious and very challenging but because I loved music and knew the value of education in my life, I was able to manage it. Today, I have been singing professional for like 10 years and I have my degree.
Genre of music.
I am African, Nigerian and proud Igbo girl I just feel that I have to do songs that I am really comfortable doing. I can't go out there singing like Tony Braxton and doing the American thing because you can't do it better then the Americans. But I can sing something that is very much African, Originally Nigerian and pass my message. I am being real. I will say I sing Indigenous Soul music with a lot of traditional feel.
Knowledge of culture and tradition.
I don't do research for my songs, music comes to me in different ways; it could just be what I am going through and I write it down, it could be somebody else's experience or something that is happening around me. And again, working with great producers has helped me a lot.
Problem of having few female artistes.
In the past there was a balance between the male and female artistes, actually there were fewer female artistes; the ones you had were the likes of Onyeka Onwenu, Christy Essien Igbokwe, Becky of the Mandators and so on but the men were like Sonny Ade, Sonny Okusuns, and so on but these days it seems it's just all about the male artistes. The Nigerian music scene seems to be male domineering and I don't know why. Maybe because we are not many, I don't know.
Reactions of parents to profession.
I have always had parents that were understanding when it comes to what you have passion for as long as there is a future there. They supported me and gave me their blessings. I had some uncles and family members that never liked what I chose to do. I did not really care because my parents were with me.
Experience in the UK.
I left for the UK United Kingdom shortly after my first single, Oluronde was released in 2002. It was a folksong that was produced by Alabi Pasuma Wonder and it did really well. People loved it but I travelled to the UK almost immediately. When I got there, I met JJC, he was a very warm and wonderful guy. He gave me a lot of support and I did a lot of recordings and work with them even when we came down to Nigeria to do shows. There was JJC and the 419 Squad, D'Banj was featuring with them and there was still Don Jazzy; they were always together and they took me as part of the family. I learnt a lot being with them. Don Jazzy has produced some of my songs and I am very grateful that I met them.
When they decided to come home, I knew it was the right thing to do because everybody wants to come home. It was easier for them to take that decision and come home. But for me, it wasn't because I have a family there; I have a little son there and I just couldn't leave him. I just couldn't wake up one morning to decide to come to Nigeria without putting your house in order. I had to take care of things before coming home.
Favourite of songs.
I will say Jebele is my favourite because it has a lot of messages that a lot of people can relate to and also it was an experience that I went through and for me to get over that situation and sing about it is great.
Inspiration for Jebele.
A true life experience inspired that song; I have not seen any man or woman that have not been heart broken, that was the basic inspiration that brought about that song. I had such a relationship.
Gretest Challenge in the Industry.
The first challenge is being a woman and getting people to believe in me; a lot of people felt that I wouldn't make it there and told me to go do other things other than music. It wasn't easy for them to accept women and again was the finances because music takes a lot of money. But I thank God that I have been doing it and have made it happen for me.
Sustaining the Nigeria music scene.
I think that we can sustain the Nigerian music scene if we appreciate our artistes in all ways and at all times. As you can see, our artistes are winning international awards and it is no longer a big deal to bring international stars to Nigeria now because we have made a mark. It's just that the government should appreciate and put the structures down for entertainment in Nigeria in terms of building music schools and management agencies that will control the industry and also in distribution of records.
Artistes longing to work with.
The female artiste I will like to work with is Asa because she is talented while the male artiste that I would have loved to work with is Fela Anikulapo Kuti because of his style and personality.
Most embarrassment moment as an artiste.
I was on stage performing one day during the Sound City Blast and this guy just came out from the crowd and ran into the stage and wanted to hug me, it was very funny.
Challenging of being a single mother.
It is very tough. When I look at him, I know that I have to work and take care of him but I have a wonderful family and they help me take care of him.
Somebody that is God fearing, considerate, intelligence and strong and tall with a flat tummy. And he should support me in what I am doing and accept my son as somebody.