analysisBy Nseobong Okon-Ekong
Her moral fibre changes once she goes on stage and takes hold of a microphone. From a devout chorister, Janet Omotoyosi Ajilore, better known as St. Janet has acquired an erotic boldness previously unknown in a Nigerian female musician. In contrast to her raunchy lyrics, Nseobong Okon-Ekong discovers a withdrawn personality.
Hers is the classical case of exercising restraint before judging a book by its cover. On the face value of several vicarious encounters provided through various live recordings available to the public, Janet Omotoyosi Ajilore, better known as St. Janet has been labeled at different times as raunchy, erotic and lewd. However, an encounter with her at her Ijaiye-Lagos home reveals a withdrawn personality who had to be nudged gently to make her voice audible. As with many artistes, St. Janet is all at once a different personality on stage.
And the elixir that alters her character is none other than the microphone. Once she is on stage and takes possession of this instrument that amplifies her voice, her moral fibre changes. The microphone is like a temperament changing drug that catapults the Osu, Atakumosa West Council in Osun state born musician. St. Janet may be shy, but she understands the fundamental elements of show business, a la, controversy. This ability to cash in on the base sentiments of her fans has brought truck loads of reward, making her smile all the way to the bank.
For St. Janet, who has a diploma in Mass Communication from Moshood Abiola Polytechnic in Abeokuta, financial success rode ahead of fame. Long before she became a subject of public discourse, she was financially comfortable. From building a growing base of appreciating patrons, she began to grow a tidy fortune that continues to be on the rise. At the time, her music was like a sweet taboo, enjoyed and craved after by an exclusive list of clientele who paid a handsome price to have her perform at restricted private parties.
All that changed on one eventful weekend at Ajah in Lagos where one of her rich patrons insisted on recording the entire proceeding of the night. Previously, St. Janet never allowed the lewd session of her performance on record. Her sound engineer had a standing instruction to shut it out. It was strictly for the enjoyment of those at her live performance. That arrangement, to her mind, allowed a fair assessment of her competence and artistic variety. A typical St. Janet performance proceeds from the known to the unknown. She begins with gospel music, popular church choruses and anthems and then works her way through a string of trendy secular hits. All the while, she keeps the adrenalin of her audience pumping by massaging their ego with a soothing balm of praise singing which ensures that she is not only drenched in sweat but also with a rain of crisp currency notes.
As the night turns into the wee hours of the morning, an already excited audience whose enjoyment level has reached fever pitch have become morally weak and willing candidates for a complicated dish of lewd songs. That is when she slips in the sucker punch like a skilled pugilist delivering a knock-out punch. By this time, a combination of booze, a spirit of conviviality and all manners of intoxicants have combined to weaken the moral resistance of even the most pious audience members.
So when she adds a twisted meaning an otherwise devout subject, the already compromised audience only scream their approval and encouragement.
Incidentally, St. Janet is not the first to travel on the infamous path of the good-girl-gone-bad. Before her, there was the preacher's son, Marvin Gaye, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Betty Wright, Rihanna, Terry G and many others in an unending list of performers who traded approval from a conservative society for a free-spirited reign of the ludicrous. Like those before her, St. Janet comes from a spiritual background. Between age three and four, she was already in the church choir under the watchful eyes of a father who was a headmaster and a mother who was a school principal.
She finished her secondary school at 16 years. Two years later, she was lured from the church choir into the highlife/juju band of a certain gentleman known as Los Kenge as a back-up vocalist in Abeokuta, Ogun State. She served faithfully for nine years before launching out on her own, as they say, by popular demand.
No matter how one looks at it, St. Janet argues that her primary inspiration remains her Christian faith. "Ã cannot do anything without God." And to those who think God may have put a huge divide between her and the Supreme Deity, she presents the bouquet of supposed perennial penance which enters into by preceding every performance with a session of worship. There are those who think she should be barred from entering a church. And St. Janet wonders why her type of sin should be visited with such a daunting consequence. On the day of this interview, she was preparing for a ministration session in a church. "I am not saying anything that has not been said before by the likes of Sir Shina Peters, Grace Jones, Millie Jackson, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Obesere and King Sunny Ade. The entire hip hop generation of today is about sex and they are sometimes very explicit about it So what have I done wrong? Is it because I am a woman? Women are the ones who are used as mere toys for sexual appeasement of the male in many musical videos, why does anyone not see anything wrong in that? I am fighting for women. If you only listen to the fun part of my songs, you may miss the moral lesson which abound therein."
St. Janet does not exactly help her reputation by calling herself, the General Overseer of St. Bottles Cathedral, Sinners Chapel (perhaps, in the same manner that Fela called himself, Chief Priest of the Afrikan Shrine)). Her other appellation include Mama Yabis. No doubt, it takes a lot of courage and boldness to face an audience and use figurative speech and sometimes unambiguous lyrics, calling sensitive, private parts of the body in explicit words.
So famous has St. Janet become that not many remember that before her there was a certain lady by name, Roseline Iyabode who charted this path. She was also known as Mama Yabis. A couple of years ago, St. Janet's music was the subject of a heated debate on the floor of the Lagos State of Assembly. And she is altogether amused by this unsolicited catapult into eminence, even if in the realm of the infamy.
Recently, St. Janet was in the news. According to reports, her husband, Kayode Iyun.who was a guitarist at the time she was a back-up singer in Loss Kenge's band was caught making love to her 16 year-old daughter. This is another yarn that has helped to keep her popularity (or it is notoriety) on the front seat. To be sure, St. Janet has no daughter. Her only child is a six-year old boy, Orinayo Michael, who was brought home from school at the time of this interview. His locked hair and necklace, suggested his parents' membership of a white-garment church. According to St. Janet she suffered a miscarriage a couple of months ago.
Her description of the circumstances under which Orinayo (Yoruba for "songs of joy") was born paints the picture of a hard working woman, who pushes herself hard to make ends meet. "I almost had him on stage that is why I gave him this name." She said she was not under pressure for money, rather she was being true to previous contractual commitment to perform for certain clients. Again, she did not think she should take a break during her pregnancy. According to her, a pregnant woman needs to move about and exercise herself.
At other times, though, she comes under pressure of another sort from men lusting after her. She admitted no less. "Yes, there are. They try. It is not easy for me to sing and also live the kind of life that I sing about. It is going to be a rough life. I stand my ground. I have a policy. If I say that I do not want a relationship, that is it. I am an Ijesha lady and we are known for our steadfastness. I cherish my personality and if anyone is taking my courtesies for granted, I have my bouncers, if they are too inquisitive. You know men, they offer all kinds of enticements. If I want the current edition of Range Rover, I can get it from a man, if I choose to, but I like to have what I have worked for. I want to be able to say it comes from my sweat.
When I put together an album, I took it to one of these label owners. You know you men, they began to ask for something else and what they wanted from me is for my husband only, so I took my record back. It was pure juju sound. After that now that my recording is everywhere, label owners now want to sign me on. There is a rush for my signature right now, but I do not listen to them. I am on Galaxy Music. He is trust worthy, straight forward and an honest man." It was from turning down such lusty advances that set her recording career back by several years. After more than 10 years on the scene, she is just about to release a debut studio album on Galaxy Entertainment label. Whatever is being peddled out there in her name are harsh, unchoreographed live tapes that found their way into the public space.
The artiste who is in her 30s admits that of recent there has been a few cracks in the walls of her marriage. A pointer to this is her insistence on her father's name, rather than be addressed as Mrs. Janet Omotoyosi Olukayode Iyun. Just like parents who are both teachers, St. Janet believed that she would find an understanding spouse in a partner who is also a musician. Although, Kayode was a later recruit into Los Kenge's band, the two soon became stuck on each other like stamp on an envelope. The relationship led to a marriage. Orinayo, the only product of the affair is six years old.
St. Janet has inspired a couple of musicians who are modeling their pattern of music after hers. What they do is to buy her CD and then try to copy her style. To remain on top of her game, she chooses the arduous task of flowing her sound and lyrics spontaneously as the situation demands.