Vanessa Vou Chenbap is a UK-born Nigerian from Plateau state, who has had a very strong passion for singing right from her school days, where she participated in a lot of events. The M.Tech Architecture graduate from the Federal University of Technology, Minna Niger State in this exclusive interview with Solomon Nda-Isaiah takes us through her world of music, her soft spot for the less privileged among other issues. Excerpts.
Tell us about yourself, how you started and the journey so far?
As you would have noticed, my stage and brand name VOU, coined from my middle name. It is my tribal name; I am a Berom from Plateau state, Nigeria. I was born 35years ago on the 16th of April while my mother was a student in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
I obtained an M.Tech in Architecture from the Federal University of Technology Minna, Niger State, Nigeria in the year 2002, after which I worked as an Architect for the first few years, until I left Nigeria for UK in 2005, where my love for music was given the wings to fly.
I had always loved music and stage performances, which was very much a part of me throughout my school days, I also sang in the church choir back then. While I was in the UK however, I found the courage and opportunity to develop my song writing abilities.
I fully engaged myself and the songs just kept pouring in. I remember sitting on my desk at the Marriott Hotel, where I worked, humming a melody and scribbling it on a window. I always sing! My colleagues often asked me "What are you happy about again today Vanessa?"
How do you get your inspiration?
I get my inspiration from the things I see around me, from a theme, and in prayers. Most of the inspiration comes from the fact that I have a message for the people; and I believe music is one of the strongest tools that could be used to pass a message that would linger on.
When did you release your debut album, how many albums and music videos do you have to your credit?
The first song I composed that got airplay was titled Bridge of Hope, it was very exciting. It was the theme song for a conference in June 2010. I had been working on other songs prior to that and after that song I continued to work on other songs. I have been busy doing different songs since then and it has been an uphill task.
But I finally released an 18 track album titled Experience VOU in May this year. I have shot videos for two of the tracks and promotions are on both in Nigeria and abroad to build up for the launch, which will soon hold.
What genre of music are you into?
My music is mainly message themed. For a definite genre though, I would say contemporary gospel. In my album, you will get a feel of some ragga and reggae, Afro-pop, rap and rock.
Why did you choose that kind of music?
The type of music I like is mainly rock, ragga, R & B and soul. But I also realise that I like the African rhythm, which has been forming gradually over time and constantly evolving. It has virtually become a genre on its own, so I like to fuse African flavour into my music.
Do you have motivations anywhere, say a promoter or sponsor?
My family and friends so far have been the greatest support and motivations I have. They believed in me in spite of the odds and supported me in the way they could: time, talent, applause and morale. To be fair, people around me have encouraged and believed in me so much but they have not been able to offer me what I need to move my aspirations forward.
I do know that everyone is preoccupied with pursuing their dreams and making them happen, so I do not allow it to weigh me down. In the area of finance and technical support, no, I haven't had any support so far. Recently though, having pushed this far, I have started getting promises and active support from a few places, even as I am still looking forward for more.
Have you performed in any concert(s), and how many award have you had?
I have performed in some corporate and social events, but no major concert yet. I believe the awards are definitely on the way.
Are you married and has your husband been supportive of your music career?
I was married for five years but I am now a widow. I lost my husband in January 2009, so I lost whatever support I could have had from him. I decided however not to let that deter me in anyway because I know that he always wanted the best for me and his two kids.
Which is your most memorable moment?
I have quite a number of them, but what has registered the most in my life, I guess is my arrival at new destinations, whenever I travel to a new location in the world, and meet people with different cultures. It is always intriguing to me! An example is the first time I was at Guangzhou Airport in China; it was a thrilling experience for me in communicating with the people, until I settled in my hotel room.
How do you relax or spend your leisure hours?
I love laughing, so anything that would make me laugh is usually my first option. I therefore like comedies and life shows. Generally though I like watching movies, photography (modelling), reading, swimming, meeting new people, and when I do have enough time, my favourite pastime is travelling especially, to new places.
Do you have any mentor(s) in the music industry?
There are artiste's whose style, creativity and bravery I admire. I observe and learn from them, but I am not directly in touch with any of them, so nobody is directly mentoring me. I like Bebe and Cece Winans, Indie Arie, Kirk Franklin, Bouqui, DAPS, Samsong and Kore.
What are your challenges?
Hmmm, quite a number of them.... Apart from the personal doubts and fears that almost everyone is subjected to, the greatest challenge I have is the financial support that would enable me move my dreams as fast as I want to, even though it is a general problem for most upcoming artistes.
The music industry is quite saturated with new artistes cropping up every day, how do you intend to make a difference?
This is very true and I have thought about it too. But I realised that everyone has got their own uniqueness and that is what appeals to the public. I have therefore decided that as much as I observe and learn from others, I will not short-change my talent by just being another buzzing sound or just another imitating act. I have something different to offer that the world would love.
As far as I am concerned -
"I'm on a mission no confusion, with a vision for my generation;
My nation and all of creation are waiting for my manifestation...."
- Culled from track 8 of the album Experience... VOU
All I have got to do is my own part and the rest will come to pass.
Aside music what else do you do?
I am an event planner and also an event anchor. I run an event management company; the head office is in Abuja, Nigeria. It is called Vou Events and Venues. I also run a charity organisation called Community Partners, which is a platform to bridge the gap in our community.
Where is your favourite holiday spot?
After going to Dublin, I thought that was it! I even named it my most memorable city. But then I visited Istanbul, Turkey. It is the best place I have been to so far. It is a very beautiful city with lovely beaches and very beautiful and rich fashion taste.
The terrain and vegetation is lovely, and the people are quite nice. I do look forward to visiting the Carribean Islands though, from what I have seen and heard about it, I think that would be my favourite holiday spot.
Who is your favourite designer(s)?
I am not particularly a label/designer freak but I love anything that is beautiful and has got good quality. Also, I have my own style and therefore make my designs as I go along; sometimes I cut, paste and blend from a few or various designers. I guess that makes me a designer collaborator (If it exists!). I give credits though, to all the designers' styles I use for any particular event.
What advice do you have for upcoming artistes?
Never give up, be unwavering, be determined, be strong, and most importantly be you.
Message to your fans?
Thank you for loving and supporting me, I love you all. And to the yet-to be-fans, there is more love to share, come join the band wagon and let us all love up.
As a female artiste have you ever been harassed in anyway?
No I have not, thank God for that.
Finally is there any other thing you will want the public to know about you and your music that we have not talked about?
Apart from my innate love for music, one of the things that motivate me is the need to reach out to the less privileged in the society. My debut album Experience... VOU is a social enterprise, my intention is to build around it and raise funds from its launch and subsequent sale to support others in dire need.
I also hope that with my brand personae I can solicit for, and raise funds through benefit concerts and the like. Initially, it was just the love for music that motivated me. But having lost my husband, I understood what it was to be at a disadvantage. I have two kids to cater for and it is a bit challenging without their father.
One of the things I am mindful of however, is the fact that I am more fortunate than many others, I know I am blessed. With that thought at the back of my mind, I decided to reach out to other orphans. I believe that we all have one role or the other to play to better our community regardless of whatever position we find ourselves.
I may not have as much money as I would like to give, but I know that my talents, contacts, goodwill and intelligence can be harnessed to achieve my goal in supporting the needy. I therefore charge everyone to buy a CD or two, or even five or ten and share with your loved ones or your neighbour. That way we can spread the message of love.