Vanguard (Lagos)

29 December 2012

Nigeria: People Mistake My Confidence for Arrogance - Lami

interview

MOST people may not know who Lami is, and that's because she is into soul-music which is relatively unpopular in this part of the world. But when it comes to her brand, Lami is one of a kind. Aside being a singer, she's also a song writer and a UN Ambassador. She was recently made an Oxfarm Ambassador alongside Tuface and Sound Sultan. In this encounter, she opens up on a number of issues ranging from her career, sojourn abroad, marriage among others. Except:

How did you get into music?

I started singing at a tender age. Then, people told me I sing with passion. With time, I started taking it seriously. I thought it wasn't easy actualising my dream in Nigeria because the environment wasn't encouraging. However, while in London, a lot of people encouraged me and here I am today.

Soul music isn't widely accepted in Nigeria. Why did you choose to tread that narrow path?

Music sometimes is like food. There are some food like ice cream that everybody likes. Then you have peculiar dishes that are loved by few people. And I'm that kind of person. I know my kind of music isn't for everybody. That's what my gift is, and that's what comes naturally to me. I always say to people that you can't give what you don't have. I would be a hypocrite if I mount the stage and start to do dance hall.

So how has Soul music been fairing in Nigeria?

When I first stormed the country, everybody said it isn't going to work but I'm a bit stubborn. And I believe in myself.Though initially, it was a challenge breaking into the Nigerian music industry. But now, people are reckoning with my music. It's not every event that people want pop and dance hall. Sometimes, people prefer to listen to Soul music at their weddings, inaugurations and other classy events. So, I'm enjoying myself. I love what I do and I have no regret whatsoever.

Does it pay your bills?

I would be making no profit if I try to be everybody else because it's better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a mighty ocean.

Are you not worried that Soul acts like you are not celebrated in Nigeria?

We are all human beings and it does disturb once in a while. I've been in the industry for the past ten years now and I'm where I am today. I don't take my eyes off the fact that God has been so nice to me. There are people who have been striving for years doing pop, dance hall and they are nowhere today.

Also, people like J.Zee, it took a long time for him to get a Grammy award. What makes an artiste is the quality of his or her music and knowing that you have your own fans who understand what you are doing. If they eventually recognize me, fine, and if they don't, it's okay.

How did you come about the UN job?

The UN position happened in a very interesting events and God was definitely involved. I had an interview with a BBC correspondent, and while we were in the middle of the interview I said a lot of things about Nigeria which impressed him. At the end of the interview session, he told me that UN officials were looking for a representative envoy in West Africa.

So, he asked if I would be interested in the job, and I answered in the affirmative. Later, I was invited first to Uganda and then Turkey. While in Turkey, we had a performance for dignitaries and it was really nice. That was when they picked me up and since then, it's been a learning experience for me.

Before I became Lami in Nigeria, traveling has been my hobby. My family travel a lot and the UN job further exposed me to African countries. I am planning tour for Eastabab, a country ravaged by famine, and some other African countries with Sound Sultan and Tuface in 2013.

How did you feel when you get to places like Uganda and other war-torn countries?

Actually, I couldn't make it to Uganda but my experience in Turkey was very interesting. I have my reservation whenever I visit countries with terrible experiences. They' provide security and make us feel at home. It's separate from music but it's still part of it because sometimes, I perform at certain UN events. So, they are all blending.

What about Oxfarm?

I went for a conference with the UN in Adis Ababa. And while we were there, we were talking about the famine situation in Africa and what we thought we could do, and Oxfarm basically is handling that project in Africa. They asked me, Tuface and Sound Sultan to help them and we agreed.

So we did that and people loved the song. We went to places like Brazil, Tanzania and other places and they loved it. they decided to even do a remix which we are working on. So, they wanted to make it official for us to be their ambassadors and that's like a big deal because Oxfarm is as big as UN. So that was how I got the job.

You just released an album?

Not really. I'm relatively new in Nigeria. But I'm working on my sophomore album, Pieces Of Love. The process takes a lot of time and I'm doing a lot of things at the same time. I spend a lot of time trying to get the right production and I'm hoping it'll be a lovely experience.

You just dropped another single, But You.

Yes. The first one was Ori Mi Wu featuring Ice Prince. The second one was Titi Lailai and But You- all produced by MOBO nominee, Femi Tones who has worked with Emmy Winehouse, George Benson and other big artistes. I enjoy his process because he's a good guitarist. But I'm also talking with one or two persons here to work with. It's not going to be more than thirteen tracks.

Coming out when?

By God's grace, in April, next year.

What is it about you that people don't know?

People don't know that I'm very silly and as much as my music is deep, the other side of me is very simple and easy going. I love watching cartoons, I like eating a lot and spending time with my family. It's simple things that make me happy.

Does being married contribute to you not always seen at social events?

No. My husband is an outgoing guy, very easy-going and supportive. He's my best friend. So, he's not one of those insecure over-protective guys. I think, Nigeria doesn't just support a woman who is seen outside all the time like men. We are stereotyped here and I don't want to get entangled. It's easier to keep to myself.

How did you meet your husband?

I won't tell you, but I'm happily married.

It's obvious you both met abroad?

Yes, I can confirm that.

So how do you combine marriage and work?

I see my music like a job. If I was working at a bank, I would have to combine it with my marriage. So, I give myself hours to do certain things. I have priorities- God comes first and then my family, everything else is an embellishment.

So, if certain things don't get into my priorities, it means they aren't important. I believe there's a time for everything because my voice isn't going anywhere by God's grace and God will be kind-I'll be able to do what I would do. I'm lucky because my husband is just superb. He helps me, he's the first person to encourage me to join a choir.

You are a chorister?

I was in London. He was the one who noticed my voice.

What actually happened back in London?

I was in England as a teenager and did my first degree and Master degree there. It was nice learning experience. I had the benefit of being part of a church family. I was protected from a lot of nonsense. And I think that was a very good foundation for me to do so many things and still be strong.

What happened after school?

I also did my second Master degree there. I have a B.A in Business Administration, M.A Honours in Change Management and an Executive M.B.A from Pensil University.

Why didn't you pick up a job?

I actually worked for a while but music was always there. Your gift and skills are two different things. I didn't have to go to school to learn how to sing but I had to go to school to become a professional. Going through the learning process was good for me and I'm happy my dad made me complete my university education because it makes me more confident as a woman.

Do you mean you would have toed the line of a drop out if not for your dad?

I think it was when I did my second master degree that I became restless. I'm just blessed because God loves me so much. There's time for everything. I love my life and the decisions I've made. I have no regrets and my family hasn't stopped me from following my desires but when it comes to education, if you have someone who is going to support you, get a hold of that because it's like a priced possession. No matter who you are-look at this Basket- baller, Shekiel,he went back to school after he was done with playing basketball. So, there's a discipline in going to school and I'm glad, my family supported me.

Can we say he discovered you?

I think he played a very vital role in making sure I took my music seriously. But who I am a product of joint efforts by my sisters, friends and strangers. There was a time I sang at the London Arena and an old woman held my hand and said to me "make sure you do something with your voice."

I've so many moments like that. Even when I was in school, my music teacher once told said "Lami I'm so sure I'm going to see you on MTV sometime," but I joked about it. It happened. I guess a lot of people saw what I didn't see

You left London for Nigeria...

From London, I went to America and then came back to Nigeria.

I'm sure you got married to your husband there?

No comment.

That's not fair. I just want to ask a question

By the time I came back to Nigeria I was already married.

Why did you decide with your husband to return home?

Nigeria is home. There were times I wanted to go back but luckily, there's an open door. Then, I realized that there's a part of me that got tired of people saying Nigeria isn't working. So, I decided to say it's not good for all of us to say Nigeria isn't good and we're all leaving.

I had an incline in my spirit to come back home to do the little I could. I don't want to be known as an American-African artiste. I want to be known as a Nigerian artiste and it's not easy but Nigeria is home, my family is here and I think, I can make a difference. As crazy as the system is, a part of me understands it. We have a long way to go. And it's very sad that we started the year with fuel scarcity and ended it with fuel scarcity.

So you dragged your husband back to Nigeria?

No, we agree on everything that has to do with us. I wanted to at first then later, he said yes. Now, if I said I wanted to leave, he'll say no. so he's my friend, we talk through things- we didn't rush.

How long did it take you to get used to Nigeria?

It didn't take long because I've moved around a lot. I travel a lot and I'm not among those afraid of change. Life is too short to be in one place and see things one way for the rest of your life.

What did you miss about London and America?

When I relocated to Nigeria, one of the things I missed was Star Box and I love to eat a lot. I always visit a certain restaurant where they sell foreign dishes to eat. As long as there's good food, it's okay.

You appear friendly and loving, yet your critics say you are a snob?

I think I'm just me. If I meet someone and he or she is easy-going, I'll just get along with that person. I don't have a chip off my shoulder. But at the same time, you have to respect yourself. People mistake my confidence for arrogance. I'm not arrogant.

We are all going to die one day and we aren't taking anything with us. But I'm a confident person and won't let you talk down at me because I'm a woman. And I like people who are humble yet confident and Sultan, eLDEE, Jimmy Jattz are confident and quiet. I think people just think that when one is confident then, she's proud.

Are you also contemplating of going into acting someday?

There are times when I feel like I would love to act but they would really have to do a lot of work on me. I did some acting while I was younger, nothing professional but if the opportunity presents itself,, I might give it a trial.

Have you ever been broke?

No. God has been very faithful. My mum also taught me how to save. Although, there were times I don't have as much as I wanted because of the expenses I was incurring. I try not to be vulnerable.

Many men find it hard to marry female entertainers?

I think everything depends on the couple. If you know who you are; it takes a very insecure man to stop a woman from exploring her gifts. There are different stereotypes but I didn't grow up here neither did my husband. So, you can say whatever you like, when I die, I'm not going to be answerable to any human being but my God. That's where my primary concern is and my husband too.

I think Nigeria is empowering women-it's a stereotype issue. If a woman marries a male artiste, she'll go through the same thing because there will always be women around him. I think we get caught up in things that don't matter, those things don't matter. A female banker would always have male admirers so it's everywhere. What matters is the quality of your marriage and character.

So how do you ward off men?

I don't even have time for all that.

What won't you be caught doing?

I'm really bad at dancing so, I won't be caught at choreographed dancing.

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