I’M A CONSERVATIVE AND CRAZY MUSICIAN –STELLA MONYE
Stella Monye made waves in the 80s when she released an epic debut album, Okomiye, into the Nigerian music scene. In this interview with ADAEZE AMOS, she talks about her career since then. Stella, why do you think so many musicians are crazy?
This creative part of them makes them crazy. To create something that has never existed like creating a song for instance or writing a play; you have to do things out of your imagination and that creative aspect makes you crazy. Some people say they liken the artiste to God: that God is a creative person, because he created a lot of things; but it is not that they are God (laughs). I was just trying to say that people say creative people have this thing inside them, have this element of madness. You know, you have to be mad to be able to create things. I believe that to some extent. Though I tag myself as one of those conservative musicians, I think I'm still crazy (laughs).
Most parents discourage their children when they want to study music in university. Is this because of the same crazy attitude?
Well, I don't think that is what it is. If you ask me properly, I will say they are not discouraged because they think some of them leave their hair very dirty and go on the street. I think, looking at the economy of the country, and looking at the viability, it is risky to play music in Nigeria. It's like you either succeed or you don't. So, a lot of parents don't want to waste time taking that kind of risk. But the mistake they make is that everything is a risk, including the so-called good courses like medicine, law, accounting, and others. You may not necessarily become a successful lawyer. We have a lot of them doing charge-and-bail in Ikeja after reading so much. Some of them don't even have offices; they have to squat with friends. So, every profession has a risk element.
How did you start singing?
“I started from school' or whatever but you start from somewhere. So, for me, I will say that I started when I was in secondary school. Then, I was participating in so many musical things. The awareness must have come from there. I then started realising that I could write songs. I could just sit down and make up melodies that didn't exist. This whole thing started from there. And as you went on, people were now encouraging me to go into music. I never really wanted to go into music; my father wanted me to read law. Then my father used to tell me that 'you are an orator, you know how to defend yourself very well.' In fact, when my friends and I committed anything, and we were asked to come and talk, I would be so sharp, I would talk and talk and my father would say 'haa, this one would read law because that was the only way I could be satisfied.' But when I grew up, my friends kept pointing out to me, that you know, you 'write good songs;' 'you were sometimes so melodious in class today when you were singing, it was fantastic' and things like that. I now started taking note and I started asking myself whether I'm getting towards this one or what is it? As a matter of fact, what I wanted to do was broadcasting. That was my major interest.
Do you think music is what God destined for you?
Well, sometimes, you don't even know your divine destiny, that is the truth. You may be a fantastic singer, and that may not be your calling because if you want to talk about singing, if you go to some churches, you will hear some people sing and you will be amazed that such voices are there and they are not being heard? They are not being noticed outside, it will amaze you. It necessarily does not mean because you are a fantastic singer, that becomes your calling. It could even be rice-selling that is your calling (laughs). It could be anything. But you have to follow your instinct, follow your interest, what makes you happy, start from there. If it is your destiny, it will prove itself. You don't have to push it.
Which track shot you into limelight?
I was in school then, I was in University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), when I made my first album, Okomiye. I remember I used to shuttle from Ife to Lagos then to record. My friends were pushing me, so I did one demo (tape) and I left it there. Then, one day I came back home, there was a letter waiting for me in my father's house. The letter said that my demo came first at a panel, I was asked to come and sign a contract and start the recording. So, the whole thing started from there. I went to see them and before I knew it, I had done the first album and it was all over the place. And it was Okomiye, it sold and sold. That album shot me into the limelight. It was a big hit.
What are the challenges you are facing as a musician?
Haa my dear, let me catch my breath first. There is so much challenge in this our profession. You have to be patient, you have to be rugged, you have to believe, you have to love the profession, you have to be able to endure; there are just so many things. It is because the artiste is at the receiving end. The promoter is on your neck, the record company owner is on your neck, the manager is on your neck, the pirates are on your neck, the people you deal with are on your neck. So, it's a vicious circle. If you don't stand firm, you can become colo mental like Faze sang. I know people say there are many challenges in other professions, it is true, but I think music is more challenging especially in this part of the world where the profession is not well defined. We don't have a thorough professional standing. For instance, you hire a manager, he becomes an errand boy. But it is not like that abroad. Managers and agents abroad are the ones that discover you. They discover you, put you in a vantage position where they can sell you because you are a product. They package you and at the end of the day, you are not the one going to source for money for God's sake. But here, oh my God, you will produce, if care is not taken, you will direct, then you finance. These days, a lot of artistes are having labels, they are marketing themselves.
With all these challenges you have mentioned, have you for once regretted being a musician in Nigeria?
No, I have never regretted what I'm doing. You know everything on earth has advantages and disadvantages. I have never regretted anything I do. I take responsibility for anything I do.
You said you have never regretted anything you did, haven't you been jilted in a relationship and you regretted ever starting it in the first place?
Yes, some people could say they were jilted, I have never said like that. I have never said somebody jilted me (even when it happens) not to talk of regretting it. If a guy walks out on me, I will start blaming myself. I will say 'why did I even agree to hang out with the idiot in the first place?' 'Why did I even allow myself to be used?' I will take the blame for everything that happens; that is what I do. I will ask myself 'why didn't I know better?' 'Why did I fall into his trap?' 'Why did it happen?' I don't blame the other person for anything. So, I don't have any regrets for any thing I do, including my profession. That I chose this path and there is so much challenge and I have to face the challenge, who do I blame for it?
How about the advantages of being a celebrated musician in this society?
The advantages are many. One day, I was going somewhere and a policeman stopped me and he was saying, 'madam where are your papers and your licence?' When I brought them out, he screamed and asked me why I did not tell him who I was. He said, 'Madam, I'm sorry na you?' He said, 'please you can go' and while I was going, he called the other policemen to come and see me and all that. That is one of the small benefits that we derive as artistes.