THE HIGH AND LOW MOMENTS OF MY CAREER @ 50 â€“ LADY OF SONGS, CHRISTY ESSIEN-IGBOKWE
Nigerian-born internationally-acclaimed Lady of Songs, Christy Essien Uduak Abasi Igbokwe, MFR, will be 50, on Thursday, November 11, to the admiration of her family, fans, friends, colleagues and associates.
And as part of the humble activities lined up for the golden jubilee celebrations of the first female president of PMAN with close to 100 awards in her kitty, the mother of four boys will be visiting four less privileged homes with her team tomorrow afternoon.
During these visits, Mrs. Igbokwe would also make humble donations and spend quality time with inmates of Modupe Cole Memorial Child Care and Treatment Centre, Old Peoples Home, Nigerian Red Cross Society and the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, all in Yaba, Lagos. While on the D-Day, the boss of Chiduak Group and SoulTrain Entertainment would be hosted at a luncheon by the Institute of Corporate and Business Affairs Management, Nigeria.
The revered body will also decorate the Okat, Onna, Akwa-Ibom State born superstar with its honourary fellowship and equally inaugurate her as the deputy vice president/vice chairman of its governing council, at Elephant House, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos. In this special interview that dwells so much on her 50th birthday, the amiable singer cum actress opened up to Daily Sun on other germane issues, especially the high and low moments of her over three decades thriving career.
Congratulations ma, you'll be 50 this Thursday, November 11, how do you feel?
No! No!! No!!! I don't, I won't even feel 60 if I get there, even 70 or 100, for me, it's just a matter of numbers, just to help you be grateful to God, otherwise, people really don't need to say I'm 10, I'm this. Let's just say I've reached that age and so I give thanks, that's just the reason and I think so.
What has the milestone been these past 50 years?
50 years? I've been in Nigeria going out and coming in, I want to really thank God that Nigeria is still Nigeria, I want to celebrate my birthday in a very humble way, because I want to do more of thanksgiving to God within me that Nigeria is still Nigeria, still together and tolerating ourselves and allowing God to take control, even though we know that he has already taken control. I just want to give thanks and praises.
What would you consider the highest point of your career, especially now that you're turning 50?
What I set out to achieve in music, I have not. But I will tell you that I'm grateful to God that he used me to change the system and encourage those who are educated to come into the industry then, even though that I didn't go to school. Like my sister Onyeka Onwenu, some one like her wouldn't have come into the music industry, if God didn't use me to give her that leverage. I told them to come in because they can make it and that was how she abandoned whatever she was doing and came in alongside others. I'm grateful to God for that, so much. Apart from having my children, four boys, people said that once you are into music, you're a prostitute, you cannot marry, this and that, but today God has made me the one woman standing. I'm not boasting about being the only woman still standing in her marriage in the whole world. BBC came to interview me some four or five years ago, and they said that they read from somewhere that I'm the only one standing in the whole world, that is married with children for many years without any scandal. I told them thank you and asked that when'll they give me the award. (General Laughter).
What would you attribute all these to because it's very obvious that you're still the only woman standing among your contemporaries?
It's my up brining; you see the up bringing of a child really matters. Be that child a boy or a girl, I always tell people that. Even though I went to my mother when I was almost 12 years, she took her time to train me and told me things about life. I also learnt a lot about good up bringing from my grand mother very well. Like I said before, this thing about 50th birthday is just a matter of numbers. But they say its golden jubilee, is this and that. And for me, Nigeria is also 50th and we are both celebrating and that makes me happy because Nigeria is just a month older than I.
Anyway, what I know is that 50 is my life right now. And what I have been doing to help the down trodden secretly, I will keep on doing it, even greater now. And that is why I said that this birthday will be celebrated in a very humble way. I want to give so much to the society this time.
You've said so much about celebrating in a very humble way, how humble will the celebration be?
You know when people are 40 or 50, they will always say that they'll roll out the drums to celebrate, but even when I was 40, it was my friends that were calling for celebrations and I was not excited. Already, for this my 50th birthday, my friends have started calling me again and demanding for a big party and I don't even pick most of their calls. The time has come for me to be the way I've always been. I've always been a very simple person. I don't like making noise, I hate it. Why do I need to start throwing champagnes around when many people are so, so hungry, right now, even as we are talking. I may not be the one to solve all the problems, but you see, when I think, pray, worry and focus about it, I believe that God will use me to touch others to also help.
What is your assessment of the Nigerian music industry, since you were a pioneer member and later, president of PMAN?
The industry is very, very exciting right now and do you know why its exciting? I think its because of what is going on in the country and people are looking for ways to excite themselves. Whether the music is good or not they just want to excite themselves, but not that they are really excited. I've told my son not to play noise like them because everything has a season and reason… So this is the season and this is the reason. The season has come for noise making. Now, musicians are using music to protest and everybody is dancing, including grandmas.
You went into music when it was male -ominated, how did you manage to sail through and what were your high and low moments as an accomplished musician?
Let me start with the low moments because I lost my mum when I was approaching 12, so I had my father and other families members around me. I was later abandoned at a point in my life and an angel appeared to me and told me not to feel bad. In fact, I was in love with my grandmum and it was prophesized that I was going to be a great woman. In fact, people were afraid of me when I was a child. And all these further confused me when I was abandoned and it led me closer to God. In the midst of these confusion an angel again appeared to me and told me to go to Aba and stay with my late mum's friend and that I did by leaving my brother's place. I was not up to 13, while all these were happening.
One woman, from Onitsha believed in me during these tough period in my life. And till date, I'm still looking for her to say thank you in a special way, because she was the one that gave me the transport fare that took me from Ikom to Aba, she gave me enough money. Despite being a stark illiterate, the woman I was staying with in Onitsha believed in me and eventually bought me my first fairly used tape and cassette that I used in recording my voice, whenever the spirit of songs possessed me in her compound. One day she came to me and asked if I knew that any woman that sings is called a prostitute. I told her not to worry that the angels will take care of me and equally take me to the person that will eventually release my work and whatever I say is what the person will do.
She instantly reminded me about my age and I told her it had nothing to do with my age. I also told her that I will be the one to bring respect to the industry and that its me that God wants to use. I also made her realized that God told me not to work for anybody in my entire life. The day I told Elder Ukaonu same thing, he equally laughed at me and publicly berated me in the presence of his staff, in Aba then. I remember telling Ukaonu who was a big name in the entertainment industry then that he will one day book an appointment to see me and that he must surely grace my wedding, not necessarily because he wants to be there, but he must be there. He got offended and told them to stop me from performing with Now Sound on NTA, Aba. But immediately they stopped me, letters started pouring in from viewers and later advertisers, who threatened to quit advertising on the programme if I'm not brought back. He later called me through my manager and pleaded that I should come back. And the truth is that I have several low and high moments in my career, but I'm yet to witness the highest moment of my career till date. The respect I got and still getting as an artiste, especially then that I was coming up, was part of the high moments of my career. Even the so called big men they were also respecting me then as a very young lady.
Are we right to say that God's will has been fulfilled in your life now that you've turned 50?
God will continue to fulfill his will in my life, because my native name Uduak Abasi, equally means God's will. 50 is not the end for me or the end of any one's life. Every year you see is the beginning of your life, that is how I see it.
No doubt, at 50, you're immensely blessed and accomplished, what else do you want from God?
What I sincerely ask God to do for me is that Nigeria should not break; this is what I want from God at 50. Nigeria has helped to sustain so many countries not only in West Africa, but the whole of Africa and even beyond, especially South Africa. Because of South Africa, Nigeria is still suffering till date. The amount of money, energy and challenges we put in was what gave them freedom.
Despite all these help, South Africans are still ungrateful to Nigerians. Pray that they repent before its too late. If they were in our shoes, they wouldn't have done what we did for them that brought about their independence today. They should not insult us anymore. The reason an average Nigerian is still suffering on the street is because of South African problem that we carried on our heads… I want all Nigerian to join me in praying fervently that we should not break. I have a message for this country; an angel appeared to me and told me that if the 2011 election is not fair, it will begin the process of our breaking up… Every body is talking and nobody is listening.
What is your relationship with your State's Governor, Godswill Akpabio, taking into cognizance that you once had a face off that was well celebrated in the media, with him?
The so called faceoff has been resolved, na them take their mouth say I do wrong, na them again take that same mouth say I do right. I'm a stakeholder in Nigeria, I'm not tribalistic or ethical, I'm a freeborn Nigerian that had suffered and tried in my own little way to contribute to the stability of this country. The Governor of my State is my own brother, but that does not mean we should not disagree to agree, because even siblings also do that.
Ma, do you believe in love and how did you find love?
I don't love, but only like. Because, if its love, I would have killed him (referring to her husband, another bout of laughter). Please, don't believe in love, only God loves, because you can't see Him. But loving a human being is a thing of the heart and it does not last, its very deceitful and destructive… My grandmother whom I was in love with told me not to love anyone, but to like somebody because likeness is from God.
Let's talk about your days at PMAN; did you fulfill all you set out to do at PMAN during your reign?
I stayed four years at PMAN, which was no joke. After that four years I came back to get myself together because PMAN took a lot from me.
All my contacts were just for PMAN. Its on record today that I'm the only PMAN president that was accountable. I accounted for every kobo spent in black and white, and till date, I'm still the only one with that record. My family almost abandoned me when I was in PMAN. I'm also the first PMAN president that gave some musicians money to build houses and live comfortably, its on record. Then they said PMAN was my baby and must not die. I was also the only PMAN president that didn't take shows while serving, despite the avalanche of shows coming my way. All my shows I gave out to my colleagues without asking for anything in return. I never used PMAN's money to go to official trips, even as president. I never took any commission while there. I always tell my people that if you want to serve, go and serve selflessly.
Do you have political ambition?
God is the only one that can ask you to go there and serve Him. I'm a very sincere person; I 'don't praise myself, anything I want to do, I will tell you, because nobody can stop me. Whatever I want to do, I will tell you sincerely. Let me also remind you that I'm the first artiste in this country that actually got a village for musicians. I did that for musicians first in the whole of Africa…
How many of your children are following in your footsteps?
I don't know, but I think my second son, in fact, all the kids have my attributes, just that one of them is more outstanding. They all love music, the third son sings to key even though the voice is not yet sonorous. And how he does that marvels the dad and I, he's more of a producer, very talented.
What happened to your Limo?
Nothing happened to it, just that it got old and tired. Remember it was a gift, do you know how many years the person used it before giving it to me? You should also blame us, because we do not know that the car needs to be on the road always.
Your last hit album was released in 1994, how soon do you intend going back to do another hit for your teeming fans?
I've done a new work for my fans, by early next year it should be out. But right now, I want my son to finish his own work first, before mine comes out. I also had a duet with him in his forthcoming album.
Your mentor and friend, IBB wants to rule Nigeria again in 2011, are you in support of his ambition and would you also campaign for him?
IBB is my uncle, shout it loud. I'm not against anybody contesting, even a truck pusher, give him a chance. Give everybody a change and let the public decide. I don't like all these things going on. This is our country, its your right to say I believe I can serve you better if I didn't do it well the first time, I can do it better the second time. I'm not campaigning for anybody but we all have the right to vote. But one thing I cannot forget about IBB is that I used him to achieve a lot of positive things for our people. Things that they wanted so much for meaningful growth and development, the Niger Delta, abrogation of offshore/onshore oils dichotomy, FRSC and several others…