‘My Dad Forgave Sony Okosuns’— Stella Monye, popular Nigerian female musician
Judging by the popularity her songs have brought her over the years, it is only fair to state that Stella Monye needs little or no introduction. Her hit tracks Oko- mi ye and Kilode produced more than 20 years ago are still sweet music to the ears and feets of lovers of good African music.
Indeed, Monye has come a long way. With six albums to her credit and over 24 years in the business, she surely ranks among the top female musicians in Nigeria.
Penultimate weekend, she released her sixth album entitled, Outburst amid funfair and glamour. Two days after, The Source was at her Gauranga Foundation office in Apapa. This mother of two was looking as radiant as she was when she made her debut in 1984.
All smiles, she went down memory lane about her early beginnings music-wise and how her late father, a trade unionist who wanted her to be a lawyer didn't quite encourage her.
“I really loved my father and I know he loved me too. He was so proud of me when I was young that he told whoever cared to listen that I, his daughter is going to be a lawyer. He used to call me an orator,” Monye told The Source.
But fate was to draw her to her true calling while in secondary school whenshe began to write songs, produce and presented them to live audiences who happened to be her schoolmates. Probably prodded by her secondary school achievements, she proceeded to study Theatre Arts at the University of Ife. "I have never worked with my certificate before, but the knowledge has helped to handle my stage performances well,” she says, full of mirth.
Monye recalls that she joined the late Sony Okosun's band as a back-up singer, got impregnated by her boss, and then “All hell was let loose.” Her mother who hailed from Edo State, and dad “wanted to kill whosoever did that to their precious daughter.”
Even though her dad who hailed from Delta State died about eight years ago, at 62, Monye said she is ready to honour him even in death. “I don't feel happy that my father is late. He was my strong supporter. I wish he had sticked around to watch me grow into an accomplished musician- a trade he didn't like when I started, but later became interested in and supportive before he died because he saw how serious I was. For his, I am going back to school very soon to read Law/Business Administration. I want to please him even in death because I still love him so much,” Monye said.
We hope you'll enjoy reading this week's interview featurinig Monye.
Since your debut in 1984, how many albums have done till date?
I have had five albums. The first being Mr. Right, which had Oko mi yee as a single hit track. It was followed by Samba which had Kilode. Then Change of Heart and One Nation, which one of the regimes used as their campaign material. Then I released I believe.
Which of the record companies are you working with now?
Well, if you assess the situation critically, you'll see that we don't realy have any recording company in Nigeria. What musicians do is to take their albums to the “Alaba Boys.” A lot of artistes release on their own production companies or a privately-owned company which will then go ahead to give the work to the “Alaba Boys” who then market it. The structures we used to have those days are no more, where they had various departments like, production, marketing, promotion. I have a label now called Outburst Africa plus one. I do a lot of things on the label, like events packaging, promotions, et cetera.
A lot of women are currently venturing into music. What's your take on this development?
I have always been a strong advocate of women generally. Some men tend to see us as not being serious but I don't think so. Most women are very brilliant and would like to take things to the next level, but some men are hiccups, they look at a woman and don't see anything but her pants. They reduce her strength and ability even though they know that you can do that thing. That doesn't mean that some women don't come cheap. For the female musicians in Nigeria, we are trying but the industry is not being fair to us. Look at the corporate bodies, when they have a show, they put about 15 male artistes on, then manage to squeeze in just one female who, maybe managed to push her way in. Female musicians are not treated fairly, so how would they have money to move forward? We are serious-minded but when we don't get shows how do we get money to foot bills?
Would you say music has been fair to you since you started?
Everything that has ups surely has downs. Sometimes because you are famous things work out, then atimes they work against you. If you ask me for a balance, then I can say it is nice to be famous, even though you don't make a lot of money. It has a lot of advantages.
Many people wonder why someone as good looking like you never settled for married life. Why is this so?
Well, marriage has nothing to do with good looks. It is a union between two different people who agree to come together to share their lives. For God's sake, if it's not right, then it's not right. You shouldn't say because your friends are doing it you too must do it. It is beyond that. You have to be happy with this other person. I don't want to be married then half-way we start keeping malice, nagging, et cetera; we don't even want to see eye to eye. What I have always wanted is to wake up in the morning and long to see my spouse. If I can't have that, 'am sorry. I have never been the type that would worry about my age because I feel that the older I get, I will find someone older who would like me enough to say he wants me. It just has to be right.
So, what you mean is that marriage is not ruled out for you?
No, certainly not. I am a woman and they say two good heads are better than one. No matter how much stardom you have achieved, you sure would need a companion in the end.
How is your son doing now?
He is okay. He still goes for his medical check-ups, but the tragic part is over. Whatever is remaining is something that can gradually be handled. He is up and doing and is going around.
...And your daughter?
Hm… what about her? There is nothing to say. They are living their lives while I am living mine. Children are from God, so after they come into the world and are of age, they must have to do what they have to do. She has nothing to do with anybody.
Tell me, is it true that both of you are not close?
I have never been close to her because she didn't grow up with me. The last time I saw her, she was two years old. It's only natural that since she didn't grow up under me, she doesn't have to hang on my aprons. Even my son who grew up with me doesn't. I don't even know where he is right now. I just feel that people grow up and do what they want to do. But that doesn't mean that we don't call each other to check on ourselves.
But there is this talk that since she grew up with her father, the late Sony Okosuns, she has nursed a certain resentment against you for abandoning her?
So, what business of mine is that one? 'Am I supposed to be losing sleep over it? If that is true, then it is her opinion. I don't have to go to ask her what's inside her heart. It's really not my business.
Don't you think both of you need to be closer now that she has lost her father?
She is a big girl now. Supposing I was the one who died, she will go on with her life.
A lot of people are kind of confused about your religion, since they see you often in the Hare Krishna temple. So, what is it?
I am a Christian. I just work in the Guaranga Foundation, and here we have people of different religions. Thank God that Bolaji Rosiji, the founder of the foundation does not discriminate. The cook in the kitchen goes to church. Of course, if you had asked me if I am curious about the religion, I would have said 'yes.' I am curious about a lot of religions. I read Hare Krishna's books, I read the Quran, et cetra. I am free with my religion.
Some people believe Bolaji Rosiji and you have something much more than friendship going on. How would you react?
People say all kinds of things. But I'll want you to know that if some-one does not want you around, you can't stick around him. So, maybe, I am valuable here, that's why I am around.
Are you affirming the tale?
I am not going to say anything (laughs).
Let's go back a bit to when you started music. You were in your teens when you became a professional musician. How did your parents take it?
My dad was against my going into it. He totally didn't like it because all along he wanted me to be a lawyer. He knew I could talk well and often he called me an “orator.” Well, I discovered my music talent when I was in secondary school. I loved singing a lot. I wrote songs, produced and sang them. Even my colleagues all told me that I was going to end up being a musician. It was at that point that I realised myself, but I never really thought I was going to one day finally settle as a musician. My first album, which finally became a hit, was done to please friends who wouldn't just stop bothering me to release one. Right after that, the recording company called to say that I must release another one. It was at this stage that it dawned on me that I had become a professional musician. Then I just put all my being into it.
If not music, what other profession do you think you would have gone into?
A lot of people told me that I was a good actress, but really maybe I would have ended up being so many things because I do like trading as well. All those times I was not singing, I still did other things, but its always my fans who come to remind me that its time to release another album. You know that was what happened to Outburst. They urged me to continue with my music. Its good if you ask me, because it shows that a lot of people still care for you out there.
When your dad discovered that you were pregnant as a teenager for the late Okosuns, what was his reaction?
Oh! All hell broke loose. You know them, our parents wanted us to go to school, finish, then get married. Oh! Indeed, hell broke loose. It was terrible because he loved me so much and to him he was disappointed.
Are you the first child?
No, but the first daughter and the fourth child. He believed I was intelligent and smart. He didn't feel that I should be the one to make mistakes. He had very high expectations from me, but I disappointed him that he even wanted to kill me and kill whoever was involved. There was a lot of mayhem that I had to leave home to stay with my aunty. My mother was in the middle of so many problems because it was blamed on her that she didn't take good care of us. Well, it's one of those things because I have put it behind me.
Did he ever mention that you must marry the father of your baby?
No, he never did. Not even for once because he was just full of hatred for him because he thought, 'why should anybody distract his daughter from focusing on her education?' He couldn't push me into marriage at that point because I was still very young. My dad forgave him later, but he was never friendly with him.
What's your hope for this album?
I happen to be one who does not hold on to anything. I know that naturally if it is a good work, then, it will live up to its title: Outburst. If it's not, well, so it depends. I am not a new artiste, I have been there and its my trade. If the mood is set for it, it will sell. I am not planning on loosing sleep over it.