|Setting The Stage On Fire|
In this interview with BUKOLA BAKARE, the couple chronicles their journey through marriage and how they keep making melodious tunes together.
You have been married for a while and many know you through your music.
Where did the inspiration to go into music come from?
He: It started in my childhood while I was attending Saint Peters Anglican School in Ikole-Ekiti in the then Ondo State, (now in Ekiti State). It was a missionary school and quite different from others, because they made sure that music was part of the school curriculum. I was doing well as a member of the school band and later, became the captain of the band. I used to play the flute and drums.
What was the first instrument you learnt to play?
He: I was already playing drums before I got to school and while there, I learnt how to play the band set and flute, so it was good for me.
Were there influences while you were growing up?
He: Oh, Yes. My mother really influenced me musically. Usually, after everyone had taken dinner, she would weave Aso Oke and while doing that, she would sing and I would pick my own drum, sit down and sing along with her. She really supported me. Also, some Mambo musicians were always coming to me to teach them how to play instruments after school hours.
Prior to the time he was doing his own thing, I presume you hadn’t met him then?
She: I wasn’t even born then because that was back in the 1940s (chuckles)
He: Oh, Yes. I am talking about the 1940s.
She: He is 17 years older than I am!
So, where did you draw your own musical influences from?
She: My influences came from my late father. Then, I used to think I was Miriam Makeba, even though I was born in America. The first genre of music that I was exposed to was African music and I recall that we would tie gele, which we called turbans back then, and danced. I learnt music by listening. These were my influences. My mum supported me tremendously and when I started working with O.J, she said my late mum would be really proud of me.
At what point did you then decide to get married, was it destiny at work?
She: Destiny cannot be changed, even though it could be altered a little bit. God has his own way of doing things. We met at Pa. Ambrose Oladipo Campbell’s house. I met him when I was 17, shortly after the death of my father in Los Angeles, California. I would come to his house and he’d talk to me about music and Nigeria.
All the while, you never thought that you would marry a Nigerian?
|Couple With Kingsley Momoh|
He: Marry an African? No way!
She: I was in Pa Ambrose Campbell’s house and O.J came around with his Afro hair cut (chuckles), boot cut and that was it.
What year was that?
She: That was in late 1977.
He: It was in 1977. At that time, I was doing a recording titled: Going Back to My Roots. That was the why I couldn’t come home for FESTCA ‘77. I was busy with that recording and when we finished, the first place I went was Ambrose Campbell’s house.
From the moment you met, what happened?
She: I just said to myself, ‘Oh! This is the man I’ve heard so much about.’ I had heard his music too and I just said: ‘Nice to meet you.’ I was 17 years old at that time and wasn’t thinking about anything specific because I was a single mum and had just got my own apartment.
He: At that time, I needed a dancer for my band and my friend told me about Latoya whom I only remembered faintly. When she came, we began to work together and even though there were other females in my band, they weren’t appealing to me. I liked the way she sang and danced. There was already a man who was the father of her kids and she also knew most of my girlfriends, so, we were doing our own thing. As fate would have it, we ended up as husband and wife.
When did you get married then?
She: We got married when he brought me to Nigeria. We had been together since 1994 and we got married in May, 2003.
As performers, how would you describe your glide through marriage?
She: Marriage is good and sometimes, I wished I had married him back then. Like I said earlier, destiny can be altered and not changed. What makes it easy is the fact that we work together so we are always together. More so, trust and understanding play a crucial role in our marriage.
There is a 17-year age difference between you, how were you able to deal with that at the initial stage and didn’t it seem like a setback for you?
He: For me, it was not age that matters. It was the maturity and mutual feelings when we decided to come together.
What was the experience like when you took her home and introduced her to your family?
Did they have any reservations and wondered why you were settling for an American woman?
He: You won’t believe this, but they liked her instantly.
She: From the moment they came to pick me from the airport and took me to the house, his brothers and the entire family accepted me with open arms, warmth and affection. They have been so good to me over the years. They all love me. Even though I hadn’t given them a child, there was no pressure. They accepted me as a wife. I never had any problems with anybody in the family.
I must say that my husband is very different. He is not the average Nigerian man, God specially made him for me. We complement each other in so many ways because music is what brought us together. At a point, I was very frustrated with his band boys and said I wasn’t going to work with them again. My husband looked at me and asked: ‘So, how are we going to make this relationship work since music is what brought us together?’ In other words, music also helps to keep our relationship aglow. We love each other. I could go on stage and dance and he can be rest assured that I am his woman, just doing my job as a dancer. He could also be in the middle of a performance with ladies hovering around him. I am not bothered because I know that he would always come back to me.
That means trust and understanding, the two major elements remain unflinching in your marriage.
He: Yes. For instance, she has met some of the women that I knew before I met her, including the one who had a child for me before I left Nigeria. So, trust and understanding play vital roles in our marriage.
How would you describe yourselves?
She: We are very quiet and always like to be in our house.
When you are not working together, how do you unwind and relax?
He: At home, we relax and just like my wife said, music is also a form of relaxation. We sing some of the songs that I like and vice versa. I also get involved and contribute my own quota when she is doing her own thing too. Even though I had written a lot of songs before I met her, when I write songs now, she gives me advice on what to write or probably when it’s necessary to change some things about the song.
In addition, my wife loves my genre of music. I met James Brown and Louis Armstrong in America and a host of other musicians. We live alone and don’t have house helps or people who live with us so we complement each other.
Since you came to Nigeria, you have become so Africanised in so many ways.
What are those key things about the country that remain indelible your heart?
She: Well, Nigeria has good food, and, as you can see, I just ordered a plate of pounded yam and egusi soup (chuckles). Though, I must admit that I miss some delicacies from home because home is home. I miss soul food and the kind of communal cooking back home in America like pizza and hamburger. Thankfully, you can find all these in Nigeria and my husband always makes sure I get them whenever I wanted.
There’s also the fashion consciousness of the people. Nigerians are very intelligent people and they celebrate everything, from life to death. There are also various ethnicities with their peculiarities. There are so many things that we don’t have in America that Nigeria has. Another thing that I find fascinating is the language. Apart from pidgin, the people speak Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa in addition to other languages. I am impressed with all of that.
There is also the drive to be good and the drive for excellence. Have you ever heard of Lazy Nigerians? I am yet to meet a lazy Nigerian. Those are some the things I like about the country. Some families are away from each other because the mother has to travel abroad to make money and send home for their upkeep. They deal with it. We manage ourselves in Nigeria and remain resilient. When I came out of my mother’s womb, it was a Nigerian doctor who slapped my butt and made me cry (chuckles), a Yoruba man at that. This is no joke because my mother reminded me when I was 35 years old.
Do you have pet names for each other?
She: I call him Aremu mi
He: ….and I call her Aduke. I gave her this name in America.
She: At first, I didn’t know the meaning of Aduke, but when I later found out, I was really happy and eager to learn so many things about Nigeria.
He: Most of my songs are in the Yoruba language and it would interest you to know that, even in America, they can sing most of my songs.
These days, what we have here is the hip hop culture. Over there, they love my songs and when I take my time to explain what the lyrics mean, they are in awe at the end of the day. That’s the thing that makes me proud as a Nigerian, and an African man.
She: Majority of his songs are done in Yoruba so across our shores, many people want to know what they mean and wonder what he’s saying. Music remains a universal tool
What informs what you wear?
She: We don’t do the uniform thing, so we wear what suits us most time. However, I like to wear native attires because it is more comfortable for me. African fabrics are comfortable for this environment. Sometimes, you see people walking down the street in three piece suits and they take in all the moisture in the sunny weather.
I wonder how comfortable they are in such harsh weather conditions. The heels I am wearing right now are just for a while. I’ve got my sandals in my bag and will remove it very soon so I do not deceive myself. However, African attires are the in-thing at the moment. Iro and Buba protect you from the sun. My husband and I dress alike, sometimes when we have to attend weddings.
He: Like she said, we wear what suits us at every point in time.
What are your likes and dislikes?
She: I dislike dishonesty, just be truthful. Nobody will die from speaking the truth, (well, some people do). It pays to be truthful. People always want to take me for granted because they erroneously believe that I don’t know anything about Nigeria. They often call me oyibo, and try to hike prices of goods whenever I go shopping. As an antidote, I often take my girl with me so that she can help with the haggling process. They take advantage of me because I am from the US. That’s not right. Treat me like every other citizen. I also loathe people who steal. On the other hand, I like honesty and people that are kind and have a caring heart. I like people who look out for each other, if you see somebody on the street that needs help, lend a helping hand.
Handicapped people, for instance, have more smiles on their faces than we do. Don’t judge people because people do that a lot. Always remember that God will judge you too. Live your lives and love people for whom they are and let God do the rest. We shouldn’t judge anybody because of their lifestyles.
He: If you listen to my songs, they tell you who I am.
Do you serenade your wife sometimes?
He: I do serenade her in the house (chuckles). I still did that yesterday. The songs that I sing are those that depict themes of morals and love. Back then, I sang Ma fi agba she yeye nitori ati sun e (youths, do not despise your elders for posterity’s sake). In contrast, there is another song titled: Agba ye e rora, e ma she re omode je (meaning – adults should in turn, not take advantage of the young ones).The lesson here is that while teaching the young ones on the one hand, I also let the adults know what they need to do. There are some sort of checks and balances because I do not want to be seen as tilting towards just one side. Other songs include E mura si ise (Be hardworking) and Jagua Nana. We went to Colombia and I saw a lot of people who loved my music and other African music. They love our delicacies too.
What is your best food?
He: My best meal is Pounded yam with egusi soup, because I am an Ijesha man.
Over the years, have you learnt how to cook Nigerian delicacies?
She: Yes, I can prepare Nigerian delicacies.
He: My wife is a very good cook and I can attest to that.
She: Every woman must be able to feed her husband because the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
He: I cook for her too. It’s a symbiotic thing. We both cook for each other.
Many marriages crumble like a pack of cards these days. What do you think is responsible for this?
She: I think the most important thing is that couples should first and foremost, learn to pray together because a family that prays together; stays together. In my previous relationship, my man didn’t want to pray, he didn’t want to go to church. You couldn’t even tell if he was a Christian, Muslim or even a Buddhist.
Consequently, we didn’t pray together and do those things couples were supposed to do together in a marriage. Without prayer, patience and understanding, you cannot make a success of your marriage. If you don’t have these things, you don’t have a marriage.
More importantly, you must marry your friend, don’t marry somebody because he is handsome or has a car. I didn’t marry O.J. because of money and worldly possessions. I married him because I love him. For most women out there who have high expectations from the men, the question is what do they have, what do you have to give? It’s not like the olden days when you will just go into a marriage, have babies, strap them on your back and go to the farm. A woman must be able to contribute her quota to her marriage. Don’t rely solely on what your spouse has. You should be able to complement each other.
I didn’t marry him because of money. I know the hard times that we’ve been through, even from back then till now. There is always a trying period in every marriage. Things may not always go the way we want them to, but we’ve got to be patient, set goals and be prayerful.
Couples shouldn’t go to sleep angry. Do not go to bed with bitterness in your heart. Talk issues over. Sometimes, I mumble so many things when I am angry and my husband will just keep looking at me. Later in the night, when we are about to sleep, he will repeat every word that I said earlier to me and I will be really amazed.
He: In addition to what she has said, it pays to marry a spouse who understands you. Marry that person, not because of money. Once you have made up your mind to go into marriage, do not have second thoughts that someday, you want to leave the marriage. My wife and I are together and it’s forever because we have vowed to remain together. Marriage is an institution that people need to think about very well before taking that life time plunge into it. Couples must understand each other and don’t do things that would make you have a rethink later on and probably, say’ I wish I had known’. You should already know so many things before the marriage and that’s the truth. It’s not as if my wife and I don’t have our fair share of misunderstandings, we do, but strive to settle them almost immediately. I am far older than she is.
Which makes you wiser?
You see, when you talk about age, it’s a thing of the mind.
She: Most people keep looking to the west when it comes to their marriage. If you keep looking to the west, you will certainly get lost because there are so many broken marriages over there due to cultural and societal influences so you need to be careful.
Are there things you are working on now?
He: I am always working on something, so my fans should expect something from the pipeline soon. Writing songs is a continuous process for me. My wife always encourages me to write new songs. At the moment, I am very disappointed with the quality of music in Nigeria, because some of the thrash on our airwaves could be very discouraging. Sometimes, it bothers me, but I just keep writing my songs nonetheless. The system can discourage you and that’s the reason why it’s good for us to always go out of the country sometimes. We just came back from Paris in France. We went to perform at a festival and the people loved it. I was pleasantly surprised that they know my music while there are some who don’t know or don’t even want to hear it here. We didn’t even rehearse, but gave a good account of ourselves. They played all my songs and could even sing in my local dialect.
She: We also have in the pipeline, a television show where people can play live music on air. It is geared towards promoting live music in Nigeria. My own album is also in the works too.