In 2003 Nigeria was thrilled to listen to the lyrics of a uniquely dressed young lady encouraging all to praise God for His goodness. Five years down the line, Kefee looks at the music industry and gives Reporter, Darlington Abuda, insights on her pillars of strength what have kept her real and her music relevant.
She also talks about her new album, which she says will mark her fifth year in the industry.
What are those memorable nuggets that still come to your mind when you think about how you started?
One tender memory in my heart is the fact that my father was a major source of strength that has led me to where I am today. I started singing when I was in primary 4, my dad gave me five naira and I wanted more money so I continued singing and always made sure I was part of any musical presentation that I knew of in church. When I got a little older I joined the choir of Temple of Deliverance Mission, Sapele (Delta State) though I was almost kicked out because of my size even though I was about 16 years at the time. My dad convinced them to let me stay on and they did.
You started out as a duo but five years ago you launched your solo career, how has it been till date?
It has been good though it has its own challenges but I believe some of these challenges are needed to make us stronger in whatever situation we find ourselves.
Branama brought you to the limelight. How did you cope with the fame that came with it?
When I was growing up my dad always saw me as a star, he used to call me his princess and in his eyes I was already a celebrity. When the fame came I didn’t allow it get into my head, I continued living my life normally without putting on new airs. Looking back I will say yes it opened doors of opportunities for me but it also made things more expensive for me to purchase.
What are the elements you are putting together to celebrate your five years in the music industry?
The main element I will be using to mark this momentous day is the launch of my new album, which I will describe as a market place with diverse kinds of songs to satisfy everybody. You know when you go to the market you find different things to buy and in this album there is that kind of variety. I happen to like dancehall music, R&B, Jazz, Afrobeat and Afropop. I think I will also liken the album to food where different ingredients are put inside while it is being prepared but the taste thereof justifies them all.
The launch will take place at the Niteshift Coliseum on December 14 and some top Ugandan, Ghanaian and Nigerian artistes will be present to entertain guests at the event. The album will bring healing to listeners on various planes because it is a combination of love songs, praise songs, songs that can lure you to sleep or that you can sing to people when they are going through tough times. I write songs from my experiences and the things I observe around me so that it can be relevant to my listeners. I got the inspiration for a Yoruba song in a dream and I did the song as I got it. I did not change it to Urhobo because I am from there.
The Branama album had messages for its listeners that they could relate to, had related to or wanted to relate to. How do you get the content for your songs?
Well, if I want to write a song about the marginalisation of women in this part of the country all I need to do is see a story and try to make something out of it. I present the story in the way that it will make sense to people even if it did not happen to me and I think the songs do reach out to people because people come up to me and tell me of the manner in which my songs had inspired them. Most of them do not even know my name, they just call me Branama, even when I travel, and I accept it with gratitude because it means my songs are indeed having an impact.
There is this persona you created with Branama. Where did that come from?
I wanted to look different and be seen as a brand that stood for something, an African artiste. So, when I open my mouth or people see me anywhere in the world they know that I represent African culture and values just as the late music diva Miriam Makeba carved a niche for herself. I needed a style and chose the George material, which is unique to this (Niger Delta) region, the hairstyle and the horsetail to create the proper effects but over the years I upgraded the costume by including jeans material and they come out so beautifully. During my launch I will be showcasing some of them through my business line, which is called Branama Afrique. The line is all about showing off Africa; our hairstyle, our beauty, our clothes and every other thing that promotes Africa positively on the world stage.
How did Branama Afrique come about?
Branama Afrique is a commercial venture to market my styles to the world. Over the years people have been looking at my album covers, videos and posters and drawing out my costumes so that their tailors can make it for them and I believe it is time to give them the real thing. People even call me from outside the shores of the country for tips on my style so I think there is nothing wrong in cashing in on it.
The Nigerian music scene has exploded into the global market, how do you think we can maintain the momentum?
I believe Nigerian artistes need more encouragement to enable them keep their momentum, this is because it takes a lot to put together an album and the returns, which are supposed to come from shows or album sales, are not forthcoming due to piracy and bad deals.
At recent MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMA), Nigerian artistes took home most of the awards, what is your take on it?
The truth is that we have talented people here and I believe the best people went home with the awards, at the past KORA awards Nigerians also picked up most of the awards. Nigerians are genuinely talented people so I think it is more about our talent being appreciated on the world stage than anything else. Five years from now I see us getting Grammys and I am not just talking about Kefee though I know I will blow the minds of people. But the fact is other Nigerians are also working and so we will continue to bring pride to our nation by producing albums that meet and surpass world standards.
What is the downside of the fame that has come to you in the past five years?
As an artiste and a public figure you lose your privacy. To me that is the only downside that has come from becoming famous. Good and bad things happen to everybody but because one is now a star the ordinary situations in my life that ought not to matter end up making headlines. If you are in the entertainment industry people want to see you in your house and view the normal things that you do with a magnifying glass.
The situation between you and your former producer/husband has been on the headlines for a while now, can you tell us your stand on it?
I don’t want to comment on that. Seriously, I don’t want to say anything about it.
How do you step down after the high of live performances at events?
I love watching movies a lot; home videos and movies at the cinema when I am less busy. I also read novels a lot. These things relax me.
Not every musician we have in Nigeria is veritable live performer. How do you do it?
It comes naturally and it is something I have been doing for a long time. I remember when I was really young on Christmas and New Year ‘s Eve, my aunt would bring me out and I would dance. She realised that I liked dancing and every time I danced people would come around and commend my efforts. This has been the case over the years, every time I hear music I just want to move my body and respond to its rhythm. No matter how down I feel, when I hear music it turns me on and lifts me up. When I am on stage performing my songs I dance to bring home the message of the song to the audience.
Invariably, people see stars as models, what are you doing to bring a positive impact on those people who look up to you?
Like I said earlier, I am a very down to earth person and I think I should do more than living my life in a way that teaches those that look up to me the tenets of proper behaviour. I live my life in such a way that they see the originality of it and want to emulate it for good. I am a philanthropist by nature and was brought up by my parents to love people. I forgive a lot and this comes naturally to me because I was brought up that way. I believe everyone should love their neighbour not to want to hurt them.
I give when I have and when I don’t I give my time. During the album launch something I had been doing unofficially will also be unveiled on that day. We will be unveiling the Kefee Peace Foundation after two years of operations. The foundation organised a peace concert in its first year and this year we distributed writing materials to students who needed them in primary and secondary schools. We also got some local government chairmen to sponsor the children whose parents couldn’t afford their fees to schools. Other wealthy individuals were encouraged to send one indigent student abroad to further his education on scholarship.