I’m no longer the little Benita people knew –Benita Okojie
Ten years in music, what does that mean to you?
Well, it has been exciting; secondly, there has been a lot of work and there is still a lot of work to do. The ten years have actually been exciting. They have also thought me a lot about the music industry and myself personally. So, it has opened ways. It's been good; it's been a learning process for me. It has opened doors for me and I intend to have other doors opened as time goes by.
When you started music, did you know anything about music and did you know what you are going into?
I had no idea what music was all about. I started, I think, at the age of six, so I didn't know anything about music. I only know that I loved the way my mum sang and I wanted to sing like her. So, when I started the first album at the age of 10, I was just following my parents and doing exactly what they said I should do, how to do it and every thing. I didn't have any knowledge about music, but over the years, as I grew in my musical career, I began to learn things about music and musical career that built me and built my ministry.
So, what is music to you?
Dating back to when I started, I won't say I understood music for what it really was and gospel music was not so popular at that time. Now, that I've been in music for this long, I'm seeing music in a different light. Personally, music is something I love to do. I tell people music is my life and I believe that the best way you can pass a message is through music. So my own kind of music this time is adventurous, very African and the whole essence of my music is to win souls for Christ and at the same time talk about the societal ills.
Do you see music as a calling or talent?
I see it first and foremost as a calling and as a ministry. I also see it as one of the many talents that God has given to me. It is the major talent God has given to me to preach the gospel, because that is the best way that I can reach out to the world.
You burst into national limelight with the song, Child of God; subsequently you came out with one or two albums focusing on the gospel. But towards this later part of your life, we tend to see a different aspect to your music. Many wonder whether you are moving into political activism especially when we saw you with the agitators for resource control. Could you talk a little about that?
A lot of people have raised different opinions about that. I just felt like that was for me like every other project that I've done. I did projects like the theme song for the Eight All Africa Games. So, the Niger Delta thing was also like another project and the more reason why I was interested in that is, first and foremost, I am from the Niger Delta, and secondly I just felt like power should be shared equally and I thought it would be a good idea if some one from the South-South took over . So that was the reason for that.
Some people feel that being a gospel musician and moving into the political realm, it kind of shifts attention from your primary focus of being a gospel artiste leading to a kind of crisis of where to place you, a gospel musician or a political-cum-social crusader?
I think that God, first and foremost, is a God that promotes unity and he is a fair God. He is not a partial God. Our religion also tells us about being fair and being just in everything we do. That is exactly what this whole thing was all about. It wasn't that I was fighting for any particular thing or fighting that a person of the South-South must be president or anything; we just felt that it would be fair just for someone to rule, from the South-South. One thing I preach even in the song I sang was unity. We had a lot of problems, we still have issues even in the Niger Delta right now, but the whole idea was to preach unity and at the same time ask that we should be part of the people that take decisions in the country.
In Nigeria, there is a particular trend, most child- protégé singers, such as Yvonne Maha, Tosin Jegede, Chi Chi of Africa, after the initial push by their parents, fizzle out as adults, unable to keep the momentum. They are normally unable to find their rhythm in music, how do you see this trend?
I think that it is a personal thing and it depends on these child protégés that you have talked about. It depends on the age they started and the knowledge they have in terms of music, their parents, and most importantly God. God has been our own strength, help and source of support in my family. I know that continuity has always been a challenge for child stars. It is something that we have considered seriously since I have been growing up.
One thing we have also tried to do is to build up my profile as a grown up person because a lot of people still regard you as the little Benita…
So, are you still the little Benita?
I'm no longer the little Benita. I am the grown up Benita and I think that I've seen a lot of write-ups saying I am no longer the little girl but even till now people still call me little Benita. But the whole concept of this album that we have just released is also to trash that issue out and create the awareness about the all grown up Benita. I think that continuity is something that we will dwell on seriously and hopefully, 20 years from now, we will still be in music.
As a child music star, the creativity may not come from you in the area of song writing and compositions, now you are faced with the issue of having your music reflect your personality, how are you dealing with that? Are we going to see your personality as an individual reflected in your music?
I think that one of the major things people enjoy in the Child of God, the one that had Osemudiame, was the indigenous song we had in it. A lot of people appreciated the fact that we celebrated the Nigerian culture. That is what I will keep celebrating. I think that generally, the Nigerian artiste always have this problem of trying to copy the hip hop artistes outside the country and we kind of forget our culture and heritage, instead we promote the culture of the Westerners. That is what I intend to do. South Africans, when you hear their song, you know it is South Africans. So we want to project that, although I know the trend has changed from when I started and now. I intend to have a fusion of what is happening now and mix it with music from different ethnic groups that we have here in music.
Right now my Dad is still producing me. He has a wealth of experience. He still has a higher knowledge of the industry than I do. So he is not forcing his own ideas on me, I'm not forcing mine on him. We are just trying to balance things together. That is what we are able to do in this album that just came out.
So, what you are saying is that there is a little bit of the personality of Benita as an adult rather than the child artiste?
Yes, that is because over the years, I've heard other people sing; since I enjoy the song that they sing, I think I should be able to do better, especially for my target audience, the youths. I know the kind of songs they like because I am a youth, I intend to use that and bring out something new.
Will it be a continuation of gospel music or you intend to broaden your horizon?
I always sing gospel songs, but sometimes I sing inspirational songs. That is what I'm doing mostly and then inspirational songs.
Ten years down the line, what has music brought to you?
I will say God actually brought music to me and by the grace of God a lot of things have happened through music. I got a lot of things in my singing career. I've won awards, I've actually got a lot of youths to see me as a role model. It is something that I'm very grateful to God about. It has also gotten me some little modeling jobs that I've done, and it has taken me to a lot of places I never imagined I will get to.
Some child musicians suffer from being unable to live out their lives as children due to the demand of their status as stars; did you miss anything in your childhood because you have lived in a certain way being a star?
Yes, I've had to trade a lot of things like my privacy and secondly, playing. I started early and I had a lot of things that I had to do away with. But the good thing about it is that I was able to play in the house, be myself, but when I go out the I had to like restrain myself, do what I ought to do. It is like a stereotyped life out there and living the real life at home. That is what I appreciate about starting out early. My parents never held back the most important things from me. I was a child, I needed to live like a child, behave like one and then grow out of childhood and mature into a teenager. Some way, somehow, everything that I had to trade for music, my parents have been able to help me to get them back, not necessarily everything, but just in the sense that I could still live that life in the house.
There was the rumour that you had your car with customised registration number and so on, how true is this?
I didn't have a car with a customized registration number. I still go in my parents' car and I will get a car when the time is right for me. I'm in school right now, it is proper that I face the major priority right now and not get carried away. Of course there is a lot of glamour in the music scene when you get invited to a programme and you have to look like a star, you know. The most important thing is that you don't rule all that out and at the same time you don't forget who you are to live a glamorous life.
Personally, I see myself as a gospel musician and the glamour is just something that goes with it. It is not the most important thing. I live my life first and foremost as someone whose motive is to save souls and reach out to souls for Christ and then the glamour and the others can come after that.
Talking about your primary job of being a gospel musician and reaching out, taking into consideration you started out early, one could say as a Christian you couldn't have been in a position to take that kind of decision of what you wanted to do. Don't you see it as an imposition by your parents on the kind of life you should live?
Well, I guess that if I wasn't enjoying what I was doing, I would have said my parents pushed me into it, but it brought me a lot of goodies and I'm very grateful for that. I can't say it was imposed on me.
Was there a particular time later when you decided that you want to be a Christian and want to sing for God?
I think that it never occurred. I love music, even if I didn't launch out as a gospel star, I guess I would have still been in the children's choir. Music just happened to be something that I really love and my parents were sensitive enough to help me out and start a career. As I am growing I've realized how much love I still have for music. The decision that they made I think was just the best for me.
As an infant you featured in the late Sonny Okosun's video Woman; he is gone now. Did you have the opportunity of meeting him as a grown up and how did you receive the death?
He was my uncle so we visited him a lot of times. I heard it while in school and I was really in shock. It was a shock for myself and my family, but we just appreciate the fact that while alive he did great things. He was a man of God and he encouraged many young people. He was very supportive of my ministry and he is one person that will never be forgotten because he also reached the world with his music.
You are currently in the university, what level are you and how is your academic life like?
I'm studying English Language. I am in my fourth year and I will be graduating very soon. I am doing well in school. I bless God for that.
Has music in any way affected your academics?
We had this challenge when I was in the secondary school, trying to balance music and school. It was very challenging and difficult. I think that if we were able to tackle that, then the university was not difficult, although it was like a different environment and I had to stay in school most of the time unlike in the secondary school where I went home every ay. The first semester was terrible but in the second semester, I picked up and picked really good. I think that in everything God has been faithful.
For almost two, three years not much was heard of you, and in your final year in the university you are re-launching, was it the academics?
Yes, because at a point, I had to like cut down on the programme that I had because of school. English is a technical course that needs a lot of time. So, I needed to dedicate a lot of time to my books; and no, because we have been in the studio for a long time, we've been writing a lot of songs and when we were very sure that this was what we wanted to do, we went for it. That was what happened.
So what has been the reception in the market of your current album?
It is doing very well in the market and my dad has been working tirelessly day and night. The response is very good and we are excited about it.
Do you normally get approaches from male admirers both in the university and outside by virtue of being a star and how have you been able to cope with that?
I am a very personal person and would like to get that personal. The only thing I can tell you is that we have managed that by God's grace.