Omotola Jalade Ekeinde is one of the most familiar faces in the Nigerian movie industry. Five years ago, when it looked like the industry was troubled, she diversified into music and came out with an album. She speaks with ADEOLA BALOGUN about her music and marital life.
There are reports in the media that you are back in the studio. What is it all about?
It is about my second album. I have been on it for two years. Now, it is ready. We will be launching it in September. I have shot about four videos now; one has been released and the other one will be released shortly.
I heard that you shot your videos in South Africa.
Well, three of them were shot here in Nigeria; two are being shot in South Africa. One is out, the other one is not yet out. I am not one of those who believe in shooting videos in foreign lands. What happened arose totally out of necessity. It was because the person I wanted to do it lives there; not necessarily that I am crazy about having my videos shot outside.
So, how many do you intend to shoot before you release the album? Or are you planning to bring everything out at the same time?
That has always been my dream, even with my first album. I really wanted to shoot all my videos. This is because I believe that videos don’t necessarily have to be big budget jobs. I have seen videos of international acts such as Celine Dion, and sometimes, they are very simple videos. I would love to shoot all my videos, though I know that there is economic downturn. But we will do our best.
Are you affected by the downturn?
Well, I guess the whole world is affected, but I am not going to say it is a personal worry.
Contrary to the popular thinking that you only strayed into music by accident, you seem to have suddenly turned into a musician...
Suddenly? Well, I have been doing music since 2005. Remember, that is about five years ago.
Of course, I remember that you went into it when you and some other big stars in Nollywood had crisis and some of you were banned from acting.
And that is what I was trying to make people understand. But I just realise that sometimes, you do your bit and leave the rest for time. Basically, what I am trying to say is that at that time, it was unfortunate that it coincided with the period a lot of my colleagues were coming out to sing. It was not something that I started planning that year. I had planned the album, Gba, which came out in 2005, for two years. When it came out, people started saying ‘oh, everybody is now taking to music.’ It was not like that. It was something I had wanted to do. Music is a career for me, and a very emotional one at that, because I write my songs and sing from my heart. I sing my life when I am singing, whether you like it or not. I sing what I feel in my spirit; what I feel in my heart. And I drew closer actually to my music career because like acting, it is a gift also. But while I act out other people’s lives, I feel like most times, I am singing about myself or about things that are very close to me or things that I believe in.
Unfortunately, your first album didn’t fly commercially...
What do you mean it didn’t fly? Contrary to what a lot of people want to believe or accept, it actually was a success commercially. I know that a lot of people bought the album. That is the truth. But I understand that because it is coming from an actress and because it was a debut album, people would want to believe it didn’t sell. The truth of the matter is that I made what I set out to do. I came out and I made a statement; not because I am an actress. I had about three or four hit songs in the album, and I don’t know how many others who are normal singers have hit songs in their debut albums. There is nobody in Nigeria who does not know Nja lo wa, gba. So, for crying out loud, if that is the only thing I achieved from that album, I am fine. So, I am amused when people ask me about the commercial aspect. You see, sometimes, you don’t have to achieve everything at the same time. Sometimes, you keep to your goals. So, for me, it was a success, not only because it was popular but because I made the kind of money I don’t think any other singer made that year. I was paid good money for the album. It was a very successful album for me.
Do you maintain a band?
Yeah, I have a 10-man band and we have been together for long. We rehearse every week. When I came out, I didn’t claim to be the best. I was ready to learn. I give myself kudos for having the heart to do that, because I was coming out at the time despite the fact that I knew the risk involved and what it might do to my brand. But I wanted to use that to encourage other people out there who have dreams but are scared to come out because of what people might say. I want you to know that there is always a beginning, and you can always get better if you know that you love and have a passion for something. So I thank God for giving me the heart and the strength to wade through and to keep going. I pray to God that it gets better. I know that this next album, from what people have said, is an improvement on what I did in 2005, and that is the most important thing. I always tell people that my music career was not borne out of the notion of making money. I would not even put that first. The first consideration is that I want people to listen to my music. I want to connect to people who love my music, and when I have done so, whatever comes with it is bonus. And to God be the glory. When I set out to do movies, I didn’t set out to make money. I set out first of all to enjoy myself. Today, I am making money with it. So, I think that is the most important thing. If you love entertainment, you first set out for the passion. After doing that, if anything comes out of it, fine. That was what I wanted to do, and it continued to get better and better. So, that is exactly what I want to do with music. If at the end of the day anything comes out of that, I will thank God for it.
Do you agree with those who say that your acting career is suffering because of your music?
No, it is not. As I speak to you, I have three movies I am reading their scripts but don’t want to do. Whether you are in demand, whether you get scripts, it is not in question. What is in question is if you want to do it. I don’t want to do those kind of movies anymore. I choose not to do so many movies now also because I am very busy. It is not a matter of one aspect suffering. By God’s grace, I am very good in planning and managing my time. So, if I want to do a movie every other month, I can do it. All I need to do is to collect the money and keep them waiting. It is possible. People can be tricky. They will not tell you they are busy; they just collect your money and keep you waiting. That is why there is a lot of chaos in the movie industry right now. Do you think I don’t know how to do that too? But I chose not to, not because I can’t or because I am not smart. I simply chose not to do that because, at the risk of sounding immodest, I have achieved what I could achieve in the movie industry. I know that my fans who really love me and love my brand want me to do better movies and want me to move up from there. That is what I want to put my energy into now. It is not that I don’t do video movies anymore, I still have a film which is coming out soon and I do have a movie that I am going to do after the album launch in October. What I am saying is that the scripts have to be very good. The production crew has to be very serious. Also, I am trying to help people to aspire. So, for you to have an Omotola on set, you know you have to be very serious. If that is the only thing I can bring to Nollywood, I think it is worth it.
People have been talking about a movie, Ije, in which you and Genevieve starred despite the much talked about rivalry between the two of you. How did it feel to be on set together?
Well, we were hired to do the job. Besides, we had done movies together. Ije was not the first. We have done Blood Sisters, Sisters Love, Games Women Play and so on. You probably don’t see us often doing movies together probably because it is not very easy to pay big acts in a particular movie. If you can afford it, why not? You will see more of that. There is nothing like rivalry. Anyway, once in a while, there is bound to be something like that. There is always going to be rivalry. There is always going to be competition, either from the actors themselves or from fans or from the press. There is going to be expectations. It doesn’t change anything. But what matters at the end of the day is we are all professionals. We will all do our jobs and we will all get along. That is the truth.
Apart from music and a few acting jobs, what other things keep you busy?
I have my home to take care of if nothing else. Otherwise, I am an investor in the real estate. I am an estate surveyor; that is what I studied. I love estate business and I am involved in it.
Which means that you were in a way affected by the crash in the stock market?
Yeah, in a way. The real estate market is suffering from the crash around the world. There are some property you probably had hoped would have appreciated at a particular period but with the crash, the value depreciated.
You got married and in no time you had four children. Was it part of the planning that we have been talking about, so that you would continue with your career?
I am not going to say I really planned it. I won’t lie. I didn’t really sit down and say this is what I am going to do. I never set out from the beginning to make things to be like that. But when I realised how it turned out, I had to move on with it and decide, by God’s grace, exactly how I thought it needed to be. When I found myself getting married and getting pregnant, I had to sit down and make do with what happened. I don’t plan what happens, but I always plan to manage what happens. Directly, I won’t say I plan. But indirectly too, I plan and I allow God to do what He wants to do in my life, and I follow it up by making sure that I maintain it.
Do you still look forward to re-enacting that fairy tale marriage in the air when you want to mark a significant anniversary?
Absolutely. Even though I am still as terrified as I was when we wanted to do it. But I would still love to. May God give us the grace.
Since you have done the one in the air, would you probably opt for the sea, at least for variety?
I am not a fan of the waters, even though I am an aquarian. I am not actually afraid of height. But for some reason, I don’t really like water. I don’t even go on cruising and all that. I find it very terrifying. But the air, I can manage.
Why were you terrified?
It was just the whole idea of flying. And you know that all those flying were done not for business; they were just ceremonial. The idea was terrifying in the sense that everybody in that plane was your responsibility. I think that was the biggest worry. Ordinarily, when you get into a plane, you don’t care since you know that it is the responsibility of the airline to take care of passengers. But in our case, you know everybody, and with the realisation that everybody in the aircraft was your responsibility, that is a lot of pressure.
But whose idea was the wedding in flight?
Actually, it was my husband’s idea. He is very crazy about things like that. We just started discussing the wedding and how we wanted it to go and he just asked what if we did it in the air. And that was it. We didn’t think that anybody would approve of it because it had never been done before. And when he told his bosses, they sat down and nearly laughed their heads off and asked, ‘are you people serious?’ He said yeah. That was how the whole madness started.
People say you are lucky to have a good marriage. Do you also think so?
I am favoured; that is how I would describe it.
A popular and beautiful actress is married to a pilot who himself is very busy. What would you say is the strength of your marriage?
I want to think that I am a destiny child because I just think my life is orchestrated somewhat. It is like God already had a plan of how it would be and I am just lucky to be the one he chose. I found that right from when I was very young, I really don’t necessarily struggle for things. It is not that I don’t work hard, but when I put my heart into something, it works. Even before I knew God, I had always been seen as a very lucky girl. But after I knew God, I realised that it was not luck but God’s favour on my life. I don’t deserve it. I don’t know who I am to get such favour from God. Seriously, it is not me, because if it was up to me, so many things would have gone bad. That is the truth. If it was my power, so many things would have gone wrong. When I was younger, people thought I must be diabolical because if anybody did anything wrong to me or I was very upset with somebody, something terrible would happen to them.
How do you ward off advances from men even though you are married?
The situation is even worse now, but I have come to understand that I have to live with it. For me now, I am friend to everybody. That is the way I live my life now. I have come to realise that everybody is important, so that is why it is very crazy for anyone to write that Omotola is a snub. It is not me. Nobody would say they met me and I snubbed them. Never. I am one of those few people who I say God really blessed and I have come to realise that everybody is important. I know that I look like a snub sometimes. I put up such as a front because I can not afford to be too accessible, just to protect myself as well. But the truth of the matter is that I am one person who gets along with almost everybody. Back to your question, I enjoy meeting people because it helps me to understand life more.
So, those occasional strange calls from men have not caused any problem between you and your husband?
No. I am blessed with a very wonderful man. He is extremely confident in himself. He knows me. I mean people who know me never worry about me because they have an idea of what I can do. So, for me, I give people their space and I am lucky to have a man who understands that. In fact, he taught me most of what I know today. He taught me that in life, you respect everybody because you never know who you are going to meet tomorrow. You never know who is going to be important to you tomorrow. He tells me that I should never be disrespectful to anybody; just know yourself and maintain your self respect. For me, I don’t owe my husband any explanation, so to speak. I am not doing what I am doing because of him. I owe God what I am doing because He is watching over us all. I don’t go harsh with anybody. I have met so many guys who probably wanted to have a relationship with me and at the end of the day, they are my best friends today. And they have helped me in so many ways. So, just imagine if I was harsh to them. Something is going to bring somebody close to you; either they want carnal relationship or they want friendship or they are your fans. Meeting in life has to happen in some way, even by accident. It can happen when somebody bashes your car. I have read in the past when people wrote that I was mad at one guy who hit my car. That is not me. I might be angry or upset that my car is bashed, like every other human being would, but I don’t take it out on the person except the person is being very bad towards me. I will never come out and start screaming, because in life, I believe God would create something to make two people meet in a way. So how do I know that the fellow who hit my car is going to be my lawyer tomorrow? So I never take things for granted.