Samba Queen and CEO, Samba Wears, Stella Monye, spoke with nfc about her life, the music industry, her clothing line, new album, old and new school music, among other things
Q: There is a rumour that after the release of your latest album, Outburst, you turned tailor, how true is this?
A: There is dignity in labour, if my turning to a tailor has done me proud, then I am a proud tailor but I am still a musician and Samba Wears is mainly for me for now and it is my own clothing line.
Q: Other artistes’ clothing lines are either T-shirts or otherwise, why did you choose native fabrics like Adire and Kente?
A: I have always said one thing, that everything that happens to me has always been natural. When I gave birth to my son on 17 August, the date coincided with the former military ruler, IBB’s birthday and he was in power then. I did not induce myself to have the baby and since then, my son has shared a birthday with IBB. As for my designs, my mother was a designer for over 30 years, you can imagine I watched my mother sew and she would tell me to assist in sewing some clothes. So all my life, I have always seen her designing clothes, it is not that I see people doing it and I decided to join the bandwagon. Mine revolves around the family, it is in my blood. Also, my using African fabrics is not a coincidence, I am an African to the core. I believe that African fabrics are really lovely but people don’t know how to make things out of them. I see you in lots of African fabrics and I admire you in them, it is not that you cannot go to the shop and buy lots of shirts. In fact, you inspire me into doing Samba Wears. I use original adire for my wears.
Q: You said your son shares the same birthday with IBB, does he have the same traits like him?
A: No, oh, IBB is not his biological father, although I named him Ibrahim Onyemah, the birthday is just a coincidence and he was in power then.
Q: You had a campaign for your son when he had a problem due to a domestic accident then, how is he now?
A: Well, he is okay now but he still goes for check ups. If you ask me overall, I will tell you that my son is okay now.
Q: Was that why you went into an NGO like the Hare Krishna then?
A: Well, I don’t want you to mix my going into an NGO with a religious sect, some bank MDs are into other religions like Eckankar and Guru Maharaj Ji, so don’t mix my working with Guranga Foundation with the Krishna religion.
Q: How did you get involved with Bolaji Rosiji’s organisation?
A: Bolaji is a long-time friend, who wanted me to package an NGO for him called Guranga Foundation. It was into a lot of welfarism, it was something I looked forward to at that time as it fell on my laps to give back to the society what they gave me. Thank God, we were able to do a lot of charity jobs which we are proud of today. Guranga Foundation, I can look back and say I have done a lot of charity works whether through money or physical contributions, don’t’ forget that I also participated in lots of human rights activities by working with the likes of the late Gani Fawehinmi, Wole Soyinka, Adams Oshiomole and others. We always had rallies through music and that was also a new chapter in my life. Even when Gani died, I participated in the rally, singing from Ikeja to Yaba. Ordinarily, nobody can tell me to trek from Ojuelegba to Yaba.
Q: What has been your experience working with him?
A: It is really most wonderful, not that I have always got lots of support from him, he has also made me to realise my potentials, like when we were working on the NGO, he exposed me to lots of the administrative roles and I found out that apart from being an artiste, I was able to get exposed to the technicalities of event planning. If that is the only thing I have gained working with him, I think it is a beautiful experience.
Q: You started with the likes of Onyeka Onwenu, Christy Essien, Dora Ifudu, Funmi Adams and others, how have you been able to survive to date?
A: I don’t know how people live in their homes, sometimes, I look at myself in the mirror and say, Stella you must be very tough because there is a lot of frustration in the Nigerian music industry. There is always the good, the bad and ugly in all you do, but I have been able to survive through determination and being rugged, especially as a woman. I also know that a woman, you can take it back to the Biblical injunction, that finds a man finds something good and he who finds a woman finds something good. It is a beautiful experience that some of them want to find a man and stay there. This has always affected the career of an average woman, but I have always had a contrary opinion.
Q: So you are independent minded?
A: Yes, even if I find a man today, they have always been saying that you are too independent for my liking, I am like saying what do you mean, because I have always liked to be myself, which, of course, has been helping me in my career. I can work for 24 hours and while at work, I don’t want to be disturbed. I also ran into some of my colleagues and seeing them becoming born again out of frustration, getting so many children among other things, which has taken them away from their jobs. You know, in our job, if you are too independent, men will run away from you.
Q: Can we say your first romance with the late Sony Okosuns at a very tender age was the cause of you being independent minded?
A: I will not say yes or no, but that was what happened when I was a little girl, a little girl who is naive and did not know her left from her right as well as ambitious. A girl of 16, I was ambitious and wanted to play music, I was aiming at the top and went to England with Sony Okosuns to record an album at Eddy Grant Studio. I was staying in one of the biggest hotels in England, in Russell Square, so you can imagine a girl of my age aiming high and there was something I did not know about life then. I made a mistake, but it was a beautiful mistake because the product that came out of it, I can look back and say thank you Lord, contrary to what people think that I had a bitter experience and will not want to have anything to do with men again. I was never rejected by anybody and the pregnancy came, but I was not ready for marriage then. What I wanted to do was to ask whether it was psychological or not and, of course, it was not. I have since moved up with my life. The problem I had then and now is my ambition that is deep rooted in me. I was young then and I had not even started life.
Q: When you got pregnant, why didn’t you get married?
A: My mother got married at 16 and I don’t think her generation was to be compared to mine. It was okay because she was not going to school. That time, people didn’t see education as an in-thing, she even told us that she wanted to become a nurse, but her dad told her to go and get married. So, it was two different cases. I put my foot down that I was not going to get married.
Q: Why is it that most female artistes don’t have good home?
A: It is because they are in the public eye. There are lots of professionals that have the same problem. It is because there is always an attraction to people who are talented and I think the kind of job we do, that is music, which everybody loves, is the main attraction to us.
Q: What has been your experience with men?
A: As I said earlier, there is this attraction to talented musicians, so when one man is trying to have you, fans will say no, we are your fans, nobody can take you away because I remember when Chaka Chaka came to Nigeria for the first time and she walked in with her husband, I knew how her fans cried. I heard people ask ‘why will this woman get married at all?’ Sometimes fans are the burden we have; they determine the direction to take. Except one is determined, he or she may end up pleasing them all the time. That is the problem I have.
Q: So that is why you are not married?
A: I haven’t been lucky with men because even before we start, they will want to dominate me. I wanted to overcome this and try to get married recently, until one day he threatened that he would kill me if he ever saw me with any other man and since I am an artiste, I don’t take threats lightly, he could gun a fan down one day, so I decided to stop the relationship. Also, when a man tells you that you have to be at home by 6 p.m., when you are supposed to start a show by 9 p.m. or 12 midnight. So, what do you do in that kind of situation? As for me, I have never been lucky to have men who will say they want me to be myself.
Q: So Nigerian men are scared?
A: Yes, can you imagine Angelic Kidjo going on a three-month tour and when she was asked about her husband, she told them that he was at home baby sitting, saying that her husband understood.
Q: To say the truth, you are scared of Nigerian men?
A: It is not Nigerian men alone, be they white or otherwise, men are men.
Q: So if you meet the right man, you will get married?
A: Of course, yes, if he accepts me for what I am and I accept him for who he is. I think I have always been hunted by a long-time promise that if I eventually get married, I will never come out of it. So, I have been telling my God that if I eventually go in there, I will stay put. With the situation, I am getting scared of men.
Q: How is your album, Outburst, doing?
A: It is bursting, the promotion is going on gradually because the people discovered us, and every DJ wants to play the album. These days, money is the game, if you don’t have money to promote your album, forget it. Thank God, it is at The Galleria side by side Samba Wears.
Q: Nowadays, the likes of Lord of Ajasa, D’banj and others, are singing hip-hop with Afro flavour. What is your take on this?
A: The hip and the hop that is added to it is just the name. When I heard of Yori yori, what I heard was oriental music, while You don make me fall in love by D’banj is highlife, Igwe is highlife, but the hip and the hop, makes it the new generation music, even 9ice’s Gongo Aso is hip-hop and fuji. What he did was to use pop background to play fuji. I can see a lot of potential in their music, the bass line is like Onyeka’s One Love. Their music is Afro-pop not hip-hop.
Q: Is there any future for their music?
A: If their producers work very hard, they will go places, but if it is limited to playing commercial music alone, that is problematic. They should make more complex music. They just look for one chorus and sing along with it.
Q: How would you assess the old and new music industry?
A: The music industry is dead and unlike before, now it has been taken over by the Alaba people and until we put up a good fight against them, the music industry will die naturally.