Toyin (Ty) Bello’s voice was filled with excitement at the concept of inspiring people everywhere to take care of abandoned children with her new video, ‘Ekundayo.’
As she spoke to Reporter, Darlington Abuda about her challenges and triumphs in the music industry and selfless acts of love to abandoned children the former KUSH member reminded us of why we fell in love with her in the first place.
What is Ekundayo?
Ekundayo means from sorrow to joy. For me it is a call to Nigerians to help wipe the tears from the eyes of the Nigerian child. Madam Ekundayo is a human being and she is an example of a Nigerian who from the 1940s has been able to cater for almost 500 children. This is not a woman with means, yet she has been able to do it so it is a wakeup call to all of us. We can’t just sit down in our office and acquire wealth. There are many children who could do with a whole lot more and I believe that it is time for Nigerians to start caring for Nigerians. People actually think I went to Kogi State and I am promoting Madam Ekundayo’s work because I am from there, but nothing could be farther from the truth because I am from Ijebu-ode in Ogun State. I chose Kogi State because I think the problem of abandoned children is not an Ijebu or a Kogi or a Lagos problem. In fact, we are very blessed in Lagos because it is a city. If you go into the hinterlands of Nigeria you will find even more heartrending tales; in Calabar there is an okada rider who runs an orphanage on what he makes. He has 12 children he is taking care of with no subvention from the government. There are so many great Nigerians all over the country who are determined to do a lot even though they may not have a lot of money.
What is the message of the song?
The whole message is wherever you are from in Nigeria or whatever the need you find, find a way to fill it even if it is not by giving money. It can be just by visiting or going to the orphanages to hug the children because they don’t get hugged enough. Another way you can help is to take your kids to an orphanage and spend time with them or during your children’s birthdays rather than spend money on the other rich kids you can actually take the party to the orphanages and celebrate with them there. There is a major problem with orphanages in Nigeria and it cannot be resolved by taking money or food to them during Christmas or Easter. Someone at an orphanage once told me ‘thank you for bringing me food this Christmas, but I actually eat throughout the year,’ so we should make a permanent decision that these people have needs throughout the year and function with that consciousness. Also, there are two major problems with orphanages in Nigeria. There is a physical structure problem and a management problem. So, whoever you are and whatever you do there is actually a way to help beyond giving money.
How would you describe your career up to this point?
My career as a musician has been very interesting, especially since I am not a full time musician. I am a songwriter, singer and creative person who uses whatever creative platform that I have to spread a message. Greenland was a message of inspiration to Nigerians. ‘Ekundayo’ is telling everyone that this is our business, we can’t leave our children to be cared for by foreigners. I hope that we have been able to do that successfully.
What was the inspiration behind ‘Greenland’?
‘Greenland’ is a message of creation, in other words the land is fruitful. It is not talking about scenery or vegetation; it is basically saying that things are good. Nigerians are always saying ‘the land don bad o’, this is not the case because the land is green, and the more you say the land is green the more green it is for you and I believe that that song is to help Nigerians always speak the words into our land.
How do you balance music and family life?
It is by the grace of God. I am not able to do this by myself but the grace of God makes it possible.
How does your family look at the woman in their lives?
My husband is very supportive and that is one of the reasons I married him. I know he understands what my feelings are and what my journey is. In many ways he is the one that encourages me. He knows what my passions are and makes sure I never give up on them. At home he just sees me as Ty.
What have been the challenges since your debut album?
I will say it has been amazing for me because every goal I have set to achieve has been achieved while I was making this album. God has basically taken it beyond that and I guess the album has also been a personal journey for me. This is because just about when it came out I also had just started a journey on learning how to work with videos as a new medium. So I will say it has been a very interesting year and challenging because of working with videos. But I am very happy with the way the album has performed.
What would you describe as your triumphs over the past few years?
I have been able to inspire people; the songs on Greenland were originally written to inspire myself, so when people tell me they were going through hard times and they listened to ‘Funmishe’ and got through it, I feel fulfilled because that was what I was hoping the album would do for people. I wasn’t just trying to make another nice sounding successful album, I wanted to put the word out there and encourage people who were going through difficult processes.
How would you describe our music industry today as against when you started your career?
Things have changed tremendously. It has evolved and grown in positive leaps and I think there isn’t a better time to be a musician than now. There is a whole new reawakening in the Nigerian music industry and I am happy that there is a whole new awakening in using videos to communicate the music as well. Though we are still growing and still trying to find our voice but you definitely can’t compare things to how they were 10 years ago.
What was your reaction to the award you picked up at the 2008 Nigerian Music Awards (NMA)?
I was pleasantly surprised. A lot of times when I hear I have been nominated for an award I just shut down because I don’t want to start thinking about it. I always say, ‘God if you give it to me, I am grateful but if I don’t win there are thousands of persons who deserve to win as well.’ But I am very happy that I was chosen to win the award.
What rewards have you gotten from your style of music?
My biggest joy is when somebody walks up to me and says, ‘Ty, I was going through a very hard time and was listening to your album during that period and I was able to go through it because your album encouraged me.’
That is bigger than any monetary reward I receive. Having regular people saying they have been able to make decisions because they have been inspired by the music that I make is the biggest reward I have ever had.
How do you cope with the pressure?
First things first. I don’t make my moves based on the results of my music or whether it is good or bad, I am a Christian and I believe in the principle of faith so what I do is I allow God lead me into every phase that I enter concerning my art. My photography, my music and my filmmaking or whatever it is that I am doing at every point in time is an expression of what it is I am passing through at that time. Therefore, it is a passion that determines what direction that I go not necessarily how well it feels. Luckily, I am very happy that the music has been well received but everything that I do and everything I am doing right now is based on direction and my passion.
With your new knowledge of videos, are we going to be seeing you produce videos for other artistes pretty soon?
Definitely, I am currently having a creative collaboration with Shola Allison, the lady who sang the popular Yoruba ‘Ife’ song and we have been working back and forth for a few months on a song titled ‘Obinrin.’ It will be released in a few months time. Apart from the songs that I have written I am going to working on a Ty Bello Project. That means I am going to find a way to use art, whether through songwriting or video production to create a platform for certain issues that are important to society. The same thing I have done with ‘Ekudayo.’ I just figured that there was a message I was passionate about and I felt that there was a platform. Also, in the next few months, I will find a way to use this same platform to inspire people in other directions as well. So, definitely, I will be collaborating with some other artistes in video works but very carefully so.
How would you describe the peculiarity of your music?
This is a tough question because I have never really tried to put my music into any box but the message is the same. It’s mostly Bible-based and it is straight from my heart. I write and create works based on things that I experienced personally and things that I am passionate about. So, genre wise, I wouldn’t put my music into a box. I will say my music is very experimental because when I write music I let it evolve in whatever direction it wants to evolve but it will always be an expression of every musical interest that I have had in the past. So, my songs are normally a fusion of everything: Nigerian folk music, a little bit of jazz and classical but the core message of my music is gospel because that is really who I am and what I stand for.
Based on your experience, would you say the group thing is particularly for the Nigerian music scene?
From my own personal experience I will say it was a great opportunity to be in a group, there is nothing as artistically fulfiling as a collaborative process. At the same time, it is also very challenging because you normally have different individuals with different artistic backgrounds and goals coming together.
I don’t think the group thing is not for Nigeria, I think it is for everyone but as with everything there is a time and a season. I think the group that I was part of was relevant at the time. We still remain very good friends and I don’t think that it is impossible that we won’t collaborate in the future. We still collaborate on many things.
What is that thing that a new artiste should do to ensure success?
First and foremost, I will say God is your strongest foundation but let whatever fires you up from inside be your biggest passion. I will say blaze your own trail and what is yours will come to you. What I find these days is that a lot of people compromise on their own creative integrity because they want to fit into what’s happening at a particular time. But if you look at most of the musicians whose careers have withstood the test of time, they are people who have created works based on their own artistic integrity. I think that it is important for every musician to find out who they are, what their message is, what their voice is and stay true to that, not letting their music be based on what is popular at any particular time because that is bound to change very quickly.
Do you think the Nigerian music industry needs any outside influence to take it to the next level?
There is nothing wrong with help from the government but I will say that we have done so well for ourselves. We have built an industry out of nothing but we still have a lot of work to do. I mean, it is sad that a whole musical album is sold for the price of meat pie. I do not think that is the correct value system and I believe that the only way that that can change is if there is a sort of syndication in the industry where we start putting value to the music that our artistes are producing. We do need as much help as we can get because Nigeria is really the hope of the future internationally, that’s my own personal belief.
How would you describe the input of the Performing Musician and Employers Association of Nigeria (PMAN) in the music industry?
PMAN is trying very hard, the industry is changing very quickly and it is important that we put certain structures in place so that we know where we are going. Yes, they are working very hard, I must give them kudos for that but right now the industry does need as much help as it can get to make the present growth sustainable. We have had such growth in the past but the industry will boom and then fizzle out and what we really need to find out is how to create structures that will make this kind of revolution that is going on in the music industry sustainable.
What are we expecting from Ty Bello?
There will definitely be more filmmaking because I really enjoyed working as a filmmaker on ‘Ekundayo’ and I am going to be working on more film projects. The experience was mind-boggling but I think the hardest part was editing but the joy at the finished work is priceless.