Toyin Shokefun Bello (TY Bello) is an Ogun State-born singer, photographer and a song writer. Recently, she co-produced a song with Olufunmi, another singer. The song is centred around Madam Ekundayo, a 90-year old woman who has been running an orphanage single handedly since 1967. In this interview with FUNMI SALOME JOHNSON, she speaks on how she discovered Ekundayo, her relationship with the Kush team and her perception of the music industry, among other issues.

What is this Ekundayo project about?
It is basically a wake up call for all Nigerians to realise that the people who are really making a difference don’t have much, the people who are giving don’t have much, and the rest of us should not pass the bulk to the government or to the big organisation. We all have our parts to play in making sure that we are all taken care of in our society. So I think that madam Ekundayo is a wake up call to all of us to just wake up and realise that life is not just about us and our concerns and our everyday needs but there are people out there who actually need us as poor as we think we are, there are still some people out there who actually need what we already have to give at a time.

Are you in any way related to madam Ekundayo?
No, not at all, I am not from Kogi state, I am from Ogun state, but I have been traveling with Link a Child because I am on the board of Link a Child and I went on a road trip in year 2000.

What is Link a Child?
Link a Child is an organisation that basically builds a bridge between orphanages and the people who want to give to the orphanages, but they don’t raise the funds, they help people find out the information and encourage direct relationships between those who want to give and the orphanages. One of the Administrators of Link a Child, Bukola Olaiya went round the country at a time, this was about 2003 – 2004 tracing the orphanages in Nigeria and he came back with some very interesting stories on some people he has met and so we took a journey to see some and it was on that journey that I met Madam Ekundayo.

So how has she been coping all these years, caring for these children?
I would say that she, like many other people who run orphanages are far from coping. I don’t think our orphanages get all the support that they need, in fact, let us forget about all the support because I don’t think they get enough support because people only remember them at Christmas and at Sallah but they forget that these people actually have needs that run throughout the year and the Children actually do have needs. Madam Ekundayo has actually stopped taking in Children into her orphanage for a few years now, because she is very old, she is very frail, she does not have the energy as before to go out there and campaign for the kids as much as she used to in the past. Although, while I was there she admitted into the orphanage, a two year old boy named Bolu. So she is more or less preparing to pass on and hand the orphanage over to her daughter who is also very old. Her daughter has just retired and she is taking over the orphanage from her very soon.

You seems very involved in this or are you planning to open an orphanage?
That is exactly my message, that all of us cannot open orphanages and for those of us who because of our lives and things we are pursuing, cannot run an orphanage ourselves but it is our responsibility to support those who are doing it. For instance, you are a journalist and you cannot leave your job to start an orphanage unless God has called you to do it but we should be there to support those who have decided to do it and we must make sure that the work is not hard for them. If you talk to anyone who has orphanage, they will tell you it has been very difficult for them and I think that whatever we have, whatever platform that we have, whether it through our fund, or through publicity or even through our physical presence, if there is any way that we can support them, we should help go out there and do that.

Why did you choose Olufunmi for the song?
I don’t really know why I had to choose Olufunmi but I just find that as soon as I wrote the song, I just saw her name right on it. In fact on the book where I scribbled the song and put the words together. As soon as I wrote the song, I wrote her name on the song and I just knew she was the one who is supposed to sing the song with me.

Is it her voice or her vast experience in music that thrills you?
It is beyond her voice or looks, I think it is her heart and I think God really wanted her to do the song with me. It was not like a physical thing, I just knew instantly that it was Olufunmi who is supposed to do it with me. She is a very beautiful woman and she has a good heart for God who is even more beautiful inside and she has a heart for children. So I felt that she would be singing the song from a very personal heart.

You won a lot of awards this year, how does that make you feel?
I am very grateful for the awards that Green land has gotten me in the past years, the Nigeria Music Award and the Sound City Award. I think it was a blessing and I am pleasantly surprised because every single person that was nominated deserved to win the award so it felt good, and I felt much appreciated. It was really nice.

Your lyrics sounds very poetic. What inspires them?
Just like I was telling someone recently, each time I go to the market or anywhere I am passing, and a someone’s phone ring, and the ring tone happens to be ‘green land’, it makes me very happy. Green land was a song of encouragement and also a prophetic song. Nigerians are always saying ‘Naija hard, Nigeria difficult’ so I felt that this was a song to help Nigerians speak positively about Nigerians and when you speak positively into your life, good things start to happen. We are all praying that the nation goes well, but one of the very first step to making sure that things turn around is when we actually use our own words, our own mouths to proclaim good things, so I believe that Green land was a song given to me by God to help people speak positively in to their lives and speak the harvest into their lives rather than complaining all the time. Because Nigerians complain about many things but I think it is time that we start speaking good words into our lives so that things will start to take its turn for good.

From journalism to photography to music, how do you joggle all?
It takes the grace of God but at the same time I realise that I have to be very wise and I have to be very disciplined with my time lines. I also try and set my boundaries. For instance as a musician, I am a song writer and I work creatively with music and musical videos but I don’t perform so I realise that even though I want to engage in all these different activities I have to compromise because I realise that I can not do everything and so I set my limits.

Are you married or single?
I am married.

What about kids?
I have none yet.

What are your tricks for keeping out of scandal over the years?
I believe it is just the favour of God because no one wants to stand for anything negative or something bad and I think Nigerian journalists generally support their artistes and I think I have been very supported in my works in the past few years. I just do my work and I am glad that people have supported my work.

Taking you down memory lane, how did you begin your musical career?
I used to write songs as a child and my first major contact was that I became part of a choir when I was in secondary school and I was also a part of a choir in my church after secondary school and during my university years I became part of a group called Kush. It has been very interesting for me. Music has always been a part of my life.

What actually happened with Kush?
It was a great opportunity and blessing to have been part of Kush. I guess what happened was that we all decided to move on to other things in life but we remain very good friends.

What about photography?
I photo shoot almost everyday, it is amazing because I have never stopped taking photographs. Even when my album was released, the next day, I had a photo shoot done for somebody so I work all the time.

How do you handle advances from admirer and fans?
I guess I have been blessed because the types of responses I get from people are usually that of ‘I have been touched by your music’. I think the words of the song I sing has blessed a lot of people and I get a lot of feed backs on how they listen to my music and it has inspired them to do things and for me, that is like a biggest compliment because when people tell you that the song did something good to them. I have spoken to a few people who recently through Ekundayo have decided to get involved in orphanages, go visit orphanages, some people want to adopt or make a decision to adopt and for me, that is like the biggest thing that has happened to me. Knowing that the work you are doing is causing people to make decisions, it is a very big thing to have happened to me.

What is your perception of the Nigeria Music Industry?
The Nigeria music industry has come a very long way and we are really growing. I think that the boom we are experiencing now, we have not experienced in such a long time and I pray that all the stake holders and those involved will see what is happening now as something special and really support the industry because we have done Nigeria proud. 9ice just won a Mobo, loads of things are beginning to happen for us and I think that we are all doing great stuffs and I pray that the industry get the kind of support that we need.

What strategies do you have in place to protect your work from piracy?
Piracy is such a difficult issue. We have won many battle but I don’t think that we have won the battle against piracy yet. I for instance know that Green land has been pirated and it is not easy when you put your heart into something and there is somebody else out there reaping your labour. Music doesn’t sell for so much money, a CD is sold for a hundred and fifty naira which is like a dollar and if artistes are not making that much money from record sales in the first place and their music is being pirated, it becomes very difficult. I think there is need to be some form of syndication within the record industry to make it very difficult for the pirates to survive but I think it is much better than it used to be. The music are not being as badly pirated they used to be in the past, so things are getting better.

What advice do you have for upcoming artistes aspiring to be like you?
Find your voice, not only your physical voice but also your messages as a musician and stay focused on that message. It might look hard at first but with time God always blesses your work.

How do you take care of your skin?
For me, I believe more in cleansing, I make sure that I never go to bed with make-up on my face.