A star of many hit movies like Made in Heaven, Outcast, General’s wife, Wrong Number and her latest movie Superzebraman among others, the University of Lagos graduate of Mass Communication recently surprised the entertainment industry with the slated release of her debut music album Nkenkene. In this interview with ESTHER IJALANA, she speaks about her music, marriage and other matters. Excerpts:

Where did you grow up?

I grew up like every normal child. I grew up in a village called Idiba in Abi Local Government Area of Cross Rivers State. We were basically farmers. It was a whole lot of fun growing up in such environment because everything we have is fresh, we had fresh food, fresh air and water. My mother was a nurse and retired now,.I am an only child and I was given everything I wanted as a kid.

You don’t have any sibling?

No, I don’t.

Having lived in a village like that, can you say you are a village girl?

Totally, you know village life now. Going to the stream to fetch water, going to the farm and all that like every other village life.

You also act in Yoruba movies?

Yes, I have done a couple of Yoruba movies like K.K.K, Larinloodu, Kosorogun (No Rival), Ago Meje , Timbatayewa and others.

You must speak the Yoruba language fluently for you to have acted all those movies?

On the contrary, I don’t really understand Yoruba, infact, I don’t speak Yoruba. But as an artist you have to be versatile, I studied the Yoruba script on set and intepreted the role, but I really don’t speak the language.

Are you saying you don’t understand Yoruba language?

No at all, but I know ori e oda and so wapa.

Can you compare the Yoruba and the English speaking films?

is easier because I speak the language fluently, so it easy for me to adapt. For the Yoruba, because it’s a language I don’t speak, it was very difficult. You can imagine speaking a language you don’t know alone, but also acting it. But generally, it feels more at home being on a Yoruba movie set because everybody is a family and they are one, so its more fun and interesting than the English movie set. The English movie set might not be like that because most of them are busy doing unnecessary fuming, but we still cope though. The Yoruba film is much more challenging.

What do you think about their story lines?

I don’t think there is much difference in their story lines because if you come to think of it they are all telling the same stories. They are all African-Nigerian stories, whether done in English or Yoruba, except that the Yoruba are doing it in their own language and so they feel more comfortable in interpreting their roles.

At what point did you develop the love for music?

Since I started producing my own movies in 1998, I have always had to do the sound tracks and theme music. But it was three years ago I decided to do folksongs in my native language because I realised the kids in my village were not very conversant with those songs. There were folksongs our grandma taught us when we were kids, we came together at the end of everyday where she told us stories about the moonlight and most of these stories had songs. When I tried to gather some kids to do the same thing, I realised they didn’t know the stories, not to talk of the songs. So I thought the only way to get them to know these songs was to put them on CD, because I didn’t just want them to die. So I did my first album strictly in my native dialect from the first song to the last. People liked it and I was applauded for it, the acceptance encouraged me and I decided to do this second one. The album is titled Let Us Dance, three English tracks and others in my native dialect. One of the songs Ababa is playing on TV now.

Where do you get the inspiration to write your music?

Apart from being inspired by God naturally, I get inspiration from the people around me, day to day activities and the environment at large.

Are you leaving acting for music?

No, not at all. I will continue to do both, they are both entertainment and compliment each other.

Which do you love more?

I love both of them. The difference is that in movies you are playing someone else and you are playing something that is not you. But in music you have the freedom to express yourself and what you are really feeling, you are sending the message the way you feel it.

There is this belief that you are singing not for the love of it, but to make money from it. How true is that?

In the real sense of it, who wants to do something and not make money out of it? If I do movies, I want to make money out of it, I don’t want to do movies in order to be broke. If you are doing something that takes your time and energy, are you not doing it for the money? Whoever is saying I’m doing music to make money should keep saying it. If I’m not doing it to make money, am I doing music to make sand-sand (sand)? Na them know. At least I’m doing a good thing to make money, I’m not stealing or begging.

Apart from acting and music what else to you do?

I write and produce, it takes a lot of time to combine these things with acting and music. I tell people that being in the entertainment industry is not a part-time job. You need focus and attention to succeed in whatever you do.

Everything you do is in entertainment, and those in the entertainment industry have a huge role to play in rebranding Nigeria. How have you been doing that?

Right from the outset, the Nigerian entertainment industry has been doing nothing but re-branding Nigeria. You know, before they came up with this their big grammar Rebranding Nigeria and started floating all over the place, Nollywood has been rebranding Nigeria for over fifteen years now. So I don’t know this their new rebranding Nigeria English as if its something that is so new. We have been rebranding this Nigeria a long time ago, even though we have never had government support and up till now we still don’t have it. We are still rebranding, we write stories to correct the ills and norms of our society, for instance, a movie like Outcast which was done in the year 2000, which has to do with lots of our Nigerian girls taken to Europe for prostitution. At that time, many things were not known, if not for Nollywood many things will still be hidden. Nollywood has been exposing all the ills in our society, so they should just forget the big grammar of rebranding, they made it sounds as if its just today that they created the word.

Can you suggest other ways Nigeria can be rebranded?

Other ways of rebranding Nigeria are numerous. The government should first of all give us their support, Nollywood needs a lot of support because there are major problems in Nollywood. The first is there are no finances to do the kind of movies that will meet up to international standard. We don’t have that kind of money and when you go the bank, because of the system we have in this country you are not able to get loan no matter how good your project is, If they make provision for you to get a loan, it is a way of rebranding Nigeria. Our system has to do with who knows who that knows who, if you don’t know those up there you will find it very difficult to survive. Someone like me has been surviving through the grace of God because I don’t know who knows who. Nobody cares in this country, no matter your level of intelligence and creativity, if you don’t know who knows who, you are nobody. If they want to rebrand Nigeria, the first thing they will have to do is to rearrange the system, they should start from up there, there is no credibility up there, they should try to have some credibility and give somebody who is nobody a chance. What are they rebranding? We don’t have electricity, we don’t have roads, there is no well organised transportation system, today we have fuel, tomorrow we don’t have. We are blessed but the system is bad and totally down, how do human beings survive in such environment and they are making noise with one grammar they want to confuse everybody with. What are they talking about? Please help me ask them, what do they mean? Who came up with that particular phrase, Rebranding Nigeria? How far have they changed the situation since they started making noise all over the place about rebranding Nigeria? How far has the person that came up with this grammar gone? Please what and what have they done? Have they given anybody that is not their family or friend a job of also putting an effort in rebranding Nigeria? We Nigerians need to know, we are tired of hearing big-big grammar, they should start acting. We are celebrating 50 and I heard they want to do the biggest cake in the world that will enter the Guinness Book of Record, in this darkness? Please don’t talk about rebranding Nigeria, we are suppose to be partnering to move Nigeria forward, not one person oppressing others because he is in the seat of power. Many of them in the power don’t do their duties, some even come to work 7p.m in the evening, people who have proposals to move the country forward sit and wait for them until they decide to come to work, yet their salaries are so big. I spent four days in Abuja just to get an approval letter for a project I was going to start, not that I’m asking for money. I’m not going to mention names but these people should know that we all are not fools, you can not fool everybody at the same time. Nigerians should start speaking out and stop grumbling in offices and beer palours, we should come out and speak out. The truth is I’m not going to sit around and die of hunger, if hungry catch me too much; I’m going to do something drastic, because people that are in the seat of power are supposed to see to my welfare, if they refuse to do that I’m going to do something drastic that will affect you right there on the seat of power. The press have a whole lot to contribute, we don’t have to always talk of the problems on ground, can we profer solutions and make suggestions. The press should come out and start asking questions, not just reporting things like, ‘Federal Government said they have approved N20billion for so and so’, they should look into how the money is being spent, and if the large amount is appropriate for such project. I love this country so much that is why I’m getting so mad, if you love a child so much, you pay a lot of attention and correct the child each time the child is going wrong. I don’t want to go and live anywhere else, because I won’t be okay elsewhere, I love this country, this is the only country where if you push me I will push you, because its my country too. Let’s leave personal issues, lets see how we’ll come together and move this country forward. They should give us the chance, eventhough we are not somebody who know who knows somebody’s child. The so call somebody who knows somebody that are in some high positions, what are they doing? Than just using their father’s name as couch to misbehave. For God’s sake we have so many smart and intelligent people out there who can actually do far better than those people who knows who.

You were talking about a project, what is the project about?

It is a TV reality show which has to do with touring the 36 states of Nigeria. I mean exploring every tourist sites we have as well as selling it to the outside country, to let people outside Nigeria to see the richness and beauty of this country, to see the potentials of this country and its like trying to package Nigeria in a beautiful parcel and sell it to the outside world. We have been on this project for the past three years, we are not able to get sponsors, but they are launching things that are not relevant to the country. You know, Nigeria can actually give somebody high blood pressure, we have a board and parastatal that deals with tourism, and I’m wondering what they are doing. They make all kinds of noise, pay the press to write big head lines but we don’t see these things in practical. Why are they not coming out to support some very good projects. I can’t even get loan from the bank to do my project, even when I will pay back, it’s so ridiculous. This is what is driving every Nigerian crazy, people have the talent but they are not given the chance. Most of the projects on TV that everybody is watching, including these people in the seat of power that are holding our money and giving their children are being sponsored by private bodies. Which one is the government sponsoring? I have only seen one programme on TV which I really love, which is the one this Farida of EFCC is doing. It’s really nice and I think she has done a great thing, I don’t know her, I have never met her or made any move to see her, but I think she is really trying. For someone to come on TV and bring a programme on crime and EFCC, that is really interesting, I doff my cap for EFCC. I don’t know what the others are doing, I don’t mean placing a 30 seconds advert on TV that ‘this is our country Nigeria, it is a very beautiful country, one people – one nation’, that is all bush shit because anybody can do that. Why can’t they do something better and more substantial, something that we can sell to the outside world. I don’t want to mention names, but there are all kind of crabs happening in this country with those people in power. They should all know that we are human beings, and if you push people too much to the wall, you don’t expect them to be happy.

It is a known fact that actresses don’t have a private life, how has it been affecting you?

I tell you it’s not very interesting, there are times you just want to do your thing but like you rightly said it’s impossible because your life is in the limelight for the whole world to see, judge, castigate and hate you. You just have to live it, it’s the hazard of the job, just like every job has its own.

How do you handle pressure from the society and the press?

Mostly the press, because I know you are going to ask me who is my boyfriend.

Not yet, we have not gotten there, but I will definitely ask you. Although I have heard quite a lot of things about you and Jaiye. Why did you guys seperate?

I don’t want to talk about anything that has to do with Jaiye, no comment.

So there is another man now?

I don’t want to talk about it.

How old are your children now?

Very old, my first son is 23 and the other one is 21. I don’t like talking about my kids in the papers. I like them to have their privacy because my life is already opened and battered, I will like to be a slave goat for my children to have their peace.

I was asking because since they are old enough now, don’t you think about settling down again?

I know a woman who has been thinking of settling down since she was 19, she is 37 now and still not married. So I don’t it has to do with whether you are thinking of settling down or not, it has to do with what will be would be. This life, what will be will be, if you are a Christian you will understand that before you were born, God already knew your name, direction and destiny. Why do you stress yourself when you know that from the moment you wake up in the morning God has a direction for you..

Are you saying you are not settling down again?

I won’t know really, the thing is settling down is in the mind

Do you have it in mind to do it?

I don’t have to do that. It seems you are expecting a certain answer and if I don’t give that answer you will keep asking the question. The total sum of it is that, if there is anything any body wants to be in this life, its all in the mind.

I spoke to an actress recently, and she said actresses are victims love of life. Do you agree with her?

I want to believe every human being is and not just actresses. We are all victims of love and life, I don’t think it should be narrowed to only actresses.

Her point was that most actresses don’t know what is happening out there because they are always on location and has no time. For instance they go into a relationship without knowing the truth about the man and it eventually breaks up?

I believe that everybody is breaking up. This thing about relationship working or not, to me it has nothing to do with being an actress or not, people are breaking up in all sphere of life. You get to meet someone, you think the person is like this and after a while you get to discover somethings you can not cope with, not all relationship must end up in marriage. Relationship is a period of time when you get to know one and see whether you want to get into marriage with the person or not, either the woman or the man could see something and leave. Marriage is a long-term thing, its a lifetime thing and if you see something you can not live with for the rest of your life, you can leave. There are people in marriages that are not working, and they are dying inside the marriage because they don’t want people to talk about their marriage, a marriage that has already broken up. People remain in bad marriage because they are afraid of what family, friends and people will say. When it comes to personal issues, the bible advice us not to judge, because the fact that I got into a marriage, could not able to cope with the situation and I leave that marriage doesn’t make you inside the marriage better than me. Many of them are in marriage and are having extra marital affairs, they do worse things than me that have left my marriage, so they are not better than me. That is why God doesn’t want us to judge each other, and as Bob Marley said, if your light could turn to day; many people will run away, which simply means if those things you are doing in secret is opened the way my life has been opened, I’m very sure a lot of people will take to their heels. Typical African are naturally people who put their eyes and noses in other’s people’s frying pot. People judge other by their own standard, its not right because I have my own standard and I will live by my own standard. The way God created and wired me is different from yours, because there is a purpose for everything. You can criticize my movies for improvement, but when it comes to personal issues like how I live my life, with my family, it shouldn’t be anybody’s business. Because every relationship out there has got there own problems, there is nobody that wants to say Shan George broke up from a relationship, that they themselves have not broken up from an relationship before. I am 39 years old, I doubt any 39 years old out there that want to tell me they never had any problem in their relationship or marriage. I’m sorry about this relationship talk about actors and actresses, it therefore means they don’t do anything else, they make artists look like nonentities, whereby some artists are more intelligent, educated, productive and even closer to God than some of these people in other professions that think they are holier. Why is that all the press write about me is men, relationship and marriage issues, are there not other things to write about me? I will never stop being me. When we get to heaven, we will know who lives in face-me-face-I-face-you and who will live in duplex.

Is your music in the market now?

I’m still trying to put the music together, I will probably release it in December.

What about the folktale?

The album is titled Nkenkene I really didn’t release it in the general market. I only released it in my environment in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states

How did Nkenkene do commercially?

It sold quite well, that is why I am encouraged to do another one.

What is the boldest step you ever took in your life?

The boldest step I ever took in my entire life is to leave a marriage that was not working, irrespective of what anybody out there will think or say about me. I saw that I’m not waking up in the morning and being myself and I wasn’t happy, I had to leave. I don’t think its such an easy think to do, especially in the African society of our, most people won’t even survive it if they leave because they don’t even know there left from there right. Some people are lazy, I know of someone who left a marriage for much worse reasons than 200 people would have left their marriages, she didn’t last nine months out there, she couldn’t survive. It’s a hard world, lets just thank God for everything.