There is always something captivating about screen goddess, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde. She is not just a successful Nollywood actress, she has also made a huge statement in the Nigerian music industry. Last year she released her second album, Me, Myself And Eyes and featured in an international blockbuster, Ije. Yet, the curvy actresss moved a notch higher this year when she graced the Grammy Awards ceremony and recently acted alongside Kimberly Elise, an A- list Hollywood actress in a movie, Ties That Bind; thus making her the first Nollywood actress to do so. Amina, another international movie in which she featured, will soon be released. In this interview with NEHRU ODEH, the award-winning actress speaks about her experience at the Grammys, her music, marriage and her forthcoming movies
You were at this year’s Grammy Awards ceremony. What was your experience there?
It was a nice experience, really. I enjoyed every bit of it. Every experience in life is to nourish us and encourage us and open our eyes. I was there because I am signed on to a label called Universal Studios with Bungalow Universal. And they are promoting the song from my album called Stop The War – a song I did with Mode 9. I was also invited by my new management, BEC. And so with BEC and Bungalow, they arranged everything and made sure that I was at the Grammy Awards. So, most importantly, you need to be able to dream and see how things are really done. So the opportunity presented itself and I was just there to observe and see how the music industry is run, because they wanted me to see how different it was from the movie industry and also to see the similarities. And it was fun. It was a good learning process.
Do you think your being at the Grammys could impact positively on your music?
Yeah, it will, because in the long run it has allowed me to understand a few things about the kind of songs that make the Grammys, and the way they promote the songs that make the Grammys… why you win the Grammys. It has helped me to streamline. So instead of wasting my time and doing so many things that at the end of the day might not avail much, now I am able to start to re-organise. So, basically, it has helped me to understand what is required for what I need to do, so that I don’t waste my time and opportunities. I can plan directly for exactly what I want.
You were in Ghana recently where you shot a movie, Ties That Bind with an A- list Hollywood actor, Kimberly Elise, thus becoming the first Nigerian actor to star alongside an actor of that stature. How was the experience acting with her?
Kimberly Elise is a fantastic actress. I had met her before in Los Angeles. She is a very wonderful person. She is one of the best. She is very deep and extremely talented. So when word came that she was going to be the one in the movie, it was a privilege and I was quite excited because I have always liked her study of work. When I knew she was the one to do the movie, I was looking forward to it because I knew that she was going to do justice to the character that she was going to play and it was going to be another nice opportunity of meeting her. And she delivered. Yes, it’s a pleasure working with her.
What is your latest movie, Amina, about?
It is about the journey of a particular girl called Amina. She went through a lot of psychological problems when she was young and she overcame them. Life dealt her a blow but she eventually fought for herself and tried to regain her stand in life. And just when she thought everything was balanced and okay, something else happened and she had to deal with it. It’s a psychological thriller. It’s a very interesting movie and it had A-list British actors like Wil Johnson, and also Vincent Reagan (the Captain in 300), Alison Carroll, Van Vicker, then myself.
Who directed the movie?
It was directed by a man called Christian Ashaku.
When will the movie be released?
I don’t know when it is going to be released. But right now they are in post-production. We just finished shooting a week ago. So it is going to take some time. But I don’t think it is going to be later than this year, hopefully.
You have been known for living the glamorous life. Your wedding as well as your first and second album launches were spectacular events. Do you set out to make everything about you glamorous?
(Laughs) I don’t do things often and I don’t go anywhere often. I like to have a good time. When you choose to do something, I think you should just do it well. I am a perfectionist. I try to put my heart into anything I do, really. If it comes out glamorous, it’s not like I intentionally tried to make it glamorous. I am just trying to do the best I possibly could, really.
Why did you title your second album, Me. Myself And Eyes?
I just figured that at that point, a lot of people were now at a stage where they were surprised at the fact that I did a first and a second album. All eyes were on me. Everybody was watching to see whether I was really serious with that and everything. As I always told people, I am not doing music because I want to win awards or because I want to make money. I am doing it because it is something I love to do. It’s a mode of expression and it’s a way I also can express my views about either politics, the kind of work I do with the humanitarian bodies and all that. For me it is a way to relieve myself of all these ideas. I could do that through writing, I could also choose to do that through music. I do write. A lot of people remember that I used to write “Omotola’s Diary” in Saturday Sun. I intend to still go back to “Omotola’s Diary”. I didn’t know that it was that well read. I have been approached by a lot of magazines asking me to bring back Omotola’s Diary. And I intend to bring it back as soon as I can. I have always done music since I was young. I was in my church choir. I do love music and I intend to continue to express that love.
Could you speak more about the recording deal you have in the United States concerning Stop The War, one of the tracks in your second album?
Basically, it’s been picked up by Bungalow Universal. And right now that is the first single that they are promoting in the US. We are working on another single as well. It is not from my album, we are going to record and it’s going to have, by God’s grace, a guest star that I don’t want to talk about right now. We are taking things really nice and easy. I am doing the kind of music I want to do. I am putting out the kind of lyrics and the kind of topics I want to put out. So that is my vision concerning my music. I am lucky to have a record label that understands totally my goals, my dreams and my direction. And they are helping me to nurture the vision.
What is the latest about your charity work?
We have just done some international collaboration. We also collaborated with the Tupac Foundation on my last trip. So basically we are planning right now to stage another Give And Let Give concert where we would be able to bring all things that we can put together. Our motto is: There is something in your hand that somebody else needs. No matter how much you think that thing is useless, somebody else needs it. And most of us have things that we have moved on from: either we are moving house or we have finished having our babies and we have things that babies can use. Somebody needs these things; so that is the whole idea of Give And Let Give. We are in the process right now of planning and at the right time we are going to set out the date. It’s going to be, as usual, like a weekend programme. So people are going to be able to do drop-offs and, on the last day, we would have a concert where people that are hoping to can exchange gifts.
How was your encounter with Tupac’s mother. How did you feel when you met her?
My encounter with her was iconic because Tupac’s mother is also an activist and she has lived her life fighting for the rights of others and the right of expression. And you know Tupac was born in prison because she was fighting for the rights of humanity. So meeting another activist like myself and having to communicate with her was eye-opening. And basically it’s fine, because you learn from their wealth of experience and you understand where they are coming from, what their goals are and other things you can learn in the work you are doing as an activist. So, yes, it was very eye-opening and very inspiring.
Sixteen years on as an actress, you must have passed through a lot of experiences, both good and bad. So how have you been able to cope, especially when people write unsavoury things about you?
I really do hate them. I have to say that very clearly. And I am very vicious about it. People say, oh! you are getting used to it. I don’t get used to it. I don’t even want to get used to it. I think it is in bad taste for people to wake up and write things imaginary about you. I can understand if it is a rumour and it is not substantiated. Everybody can just get up and start a rumour. But I can’t understand why somebody’s job is to report to people what is really going on and he chooses to feed them lies. That I cannot understand and that Iwill not tolerate. I think journalism is a noble profession. It is a profession where you are supposed to feed the public what is going on, whether good or bad. So I am not saying don’t report scandals. What I am saying is try and do your homework and make sure you can prove what you have. So I keep telling people: if you have something, blow it out of proportion, but wait until you have something on me. If you don’t have something on me, don’t mess up or don’t try and play with my reputation because I have built this over the years. I have worked very hard to do this and I don’t think it is fair for you to just wake up one day and say: ‘Okay, I am just looking for something to write this week. I am just bored. I haven’t written about Omotola for a long time, let me just start a story.’ I don’t think that is responsible and I don’t think it is fair as human beings. I don’t get used to that at all. I don’t like it and I fight it. As I always tell people, if you write something false about me, I would really do come after you with everything I have. Having said that, I also want to say in the same breath, I have been quite lucky. I am thankful in the 16 years span of my profession, I can count how many bad press I have had really in one hand. So I think that is a good record for me. I think the few that have written have just chosen to dare or are the people who just chose irresponsibly to go out of the box. But I think the journalists who I have grown up with have come to realise the kind of person I am and they have come to closely watch me and see what my values are and how I comport myself. So most of them have decided I don’t need to smear this person if this person doesn’t have any reason to be smeared. And I try the best I can not to give them a reason. So I think it is an understanable relationship and I think a lot of mature journalists understand that and they respect that and I do respect them also. And I say, thank you.
You are a role model to many. And over the years you have been able to maintain a huge fan base. How have you been able to do that?
First and foremost I would say it’s God’s blessing. I would say it’s God’s wisdom .We are all human beings, nobody is perfect, And nobody is going to say, Oh! I am perfect all the time. But I think God teaches me how to comport myself and how to co-ordinate. Having said that, I think people can see through you really, they can idolise you for a minute but for them to idolise you for a very long period of time, you have to give them something that makes them want to always sit back and say: ‘You know what, let’s been realistic, this person is the real deal’. And I think, by God’s grace, that’s what I have been able to prove to people; that I am not here for the five-minute thing. I am not about I want to be out there, let’s party. No. I am really here to do my job. I am an actor, I love to act, I love to entertain people. I love to make people happy really. It’s a passion. I am a very loyal person. I stick to things. When I do something I do it with all my heart. I think people have been able to see that and say that I am dedicated in whatever I do. So I think those things that you see are the rewards of me showing my dedication to them.
You sing rock and pop. How do Nigerians respond to your music?
It’s been great really. A lot of sceptics who have never really heard your stuff are mostly the ones who usually criticise. And most of them seriously would tell you if it wasn’t you who sang it. I truly would have loved it. So I have come to realise that most of them don’t just want you to sing because they see you as this iconic actor they just don’t want to see you jumping around the stage (laughs). So I think I understand that, but I try to make them see that change is normal. We all find it very difficult adjusting to change. Nobody likes change. If you are very used to seeing things in a particular way or used to something, when that thing wants to change, you naturally kick against it because you are more comfortable with what you know. So I understand their fears and their worries and everything. But it is something I really want to do, it is something I really do enjoy doing; and if they love me, they would support me. It is better I try and I am happy than I don’t out of fear and what people are going to say and I am unhappy. I always say to people, try everything that your heart really wants to do because at the end of the day, if the worse comes to the worst, at least you know you tried. I think people who try things are better than those who never do; whether they succeed in them doesn’t really matter. Try something, put your all into it. And if it works out, fine; if it doesn’t work out, fine. At least you know you have tried and you have fulfilled that desire. So this is a desire of mine and I am fulfilled and I am enjoying it so far. I would really appreciate it if they could just support me.
You have been an actor for 16 years and your marriage remains stable and your family intact. How have you been able to do that?
I would give that totally to God. No matter how you as a human being think you can do anything, if you don’t invite God physically into your situation, He would just stand by and watch you do everything you want to do. As they say, it is not by power, neither is it by might. So you just see yourself running on the treadmill against the wind, because your wisdom can never keep a relationship, even a love affair, not to talk of marriage. You will really need the wisdom of God and you constantly have to ask for it. That is the truth. So don’t ever get to a point where you will say, ‘Oh! I know too much,’ or ‘I know this spouse of mine totally’ or ‘I am used to this person.’ In fact, being used to a person is even a danger. So you always have to ask God to give you His wisdom concerning anything you want to do. God has to always be your guide everyday. He is like your daily bread. Having said that, you also need to get to a point where you have to be aware that you are two different people. I think the problem a lot of people have is that they get too docile, they get too used to each other, too relaxed, following the same routine. That we got married just last year doesn’t mean I am still the same person this year. My dreams have changed, my perspectives have changed. So, for you to be a good partner, you really have to make an effort to understand and to be in your partner’s life. But having said that, you still have to find a balance and make sure you are not choking that partner. You have to make sure that you are not in their life to the point where they feel that they need space. Don’t be calling them every minute. I think the secret is that you have to act like you are still dating.
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