Nigerians bonded with her even before they met her; learning every line and adlib that she had rendered so effortlessly on P-Square’s resounding 2007 rave- ‘Do Me’.
It has been 1 decade since ‘Do Me’ – 1 whole decade since the Nigerian sound has stayed evolving at light’s speed and yet, no list of premium female vocalists in Nigeria is regarded as complete without the name Waje on it. She hit the industry fully armed with very high musical standards and as far as standards go, her Wiki-profile documents that her tough vocal range covers three octaves. In simpler terms, she is capable of singing some really really really high notes, comfortably.
Her appearance as judge and mentor on The Voice Nigeria may have come as a huge surprise to her but not to anyone else in the music community who understands her gift. Years before the show started in Nigeria, she had bragged to Omawunmi while they were binge-watching an international season.
‘I said “Omawunmi, you know say if na me sing that song, I for flog the person.” I even tried to get in until I found out it was only open to qualified candidates in the U.S.
Next thing, a few years later, I am called to be a judge. It really validated my faith in my talent and the hard work… People are quick to tell you that hard work trumps talent but without substance, it is easy to fizzle out. Trust me, since I have been here, people have come and people have gone.’
The validation became even more concrete after her mentee, Arese, won the first ever season of the show.
‘And I’m winning again this year. Have I told you?’ She bragged.
‘Without substance, it is easy to fizzle out.’
As far as it concerns superstars and arriving late to anything, Waje is the leader of the disciplined 1%. She arrived with her entourage at the agreed location, Tiannah’s Place, 25 minutes before the 10a.m call time. As we waited for her late breakfast of Akara and a popular chocolate beverage to arrive, she mentioned that rice and chicken only appeal to her if she’s starving to death. She really dislikes Eba and Ewedu too but she lit up like a disco bulb when she started professing her love for Okro, seafood, Couscous and pounded yam.
In the same dreamy mood, she explained the current phase in her music.
‘I’m in a very “loved” space right now. I’m loving love and it is not just the love between a man and a woman. I’ve grown to love myself and my work and my environment so that will be reflected a lot more in my music.’
Her recent cover of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of you’ was case in point. Currently her best song, she jokingly beat herself up for not thinking of the song before Ed did.
Waje Musik Entertainment is the body under which her music is currently released but she would rather refer to it as her indie artiste brand outfit instead of a label.
‘I’m still open to different partnerships because it’s a business at the end of the day. But, I started my career signed to a record label and, for so long, I didn’t do that much. After that contract expired I was a bit scared of committing to another label. I felt like a lot of people just were not prepared or informed. So, even though it’s tough, there are indie artists that have made it and are doing their thing. So, if you can do it yourself then why not?’
As her songs played while she made up, Waje’s gorgeous 18-year old daughter, Emerald (who I later found out was not in the least way mixed race) walked up to me to say:
“She must be hoping for the ground to open right now. She really doesn’t like to hear herself.”
Speaking on how Emerald has managed her inherited fame, Waje commends that she has handled it quite well.
‘She’s doing a great job. We tone it down so my household is very regular and my job is just like any other job. In reality, I teach her that life is about what you bring to the table. She’s very understanding, partly because the rest of my family doesn’t send (laughs). Whether you’re Waje or you’re not Waje, they can still send you message and don’t treat you any differently.’
Born to an Enugu father, Waje had Emerald in her early youth which made them look so much more like sisters than anything else- except for the many times Emerald said “mommy”. Waje is quite relieved that Emerald’s strengths are not focused on music.
‘Thank goodness!’ she exclaimed.
‘She’s very creative and she understands social media very well. She actually manages my Instagram page and runs an outfit called The Curative that helps other people organize their pages. I can be a bit disorganized and she’s very prim and proper so she gets me together (laughs). One thing that I know that she can do is dance. She’s a great dancer but, as far as music, that’s not her forte.’
Emerald really did seem organized and highly fashionable too. She gave suggestions on the outfits or on which earrings would better match what and the reasons she supported her choices with, were impressively profound.
‘I don’t care if it is called Afrobeat or Afrobeats. Is the whole world listening to it? Do they recognize that it comes from here? Are they identifying with the people that birthed this music? That is what is important.’
One of Waje’s earliest sounds, is the smooth feel good r&B soul vibe she called “Somewhere” and if you were quick to trap her in a ‘genre box”, her urban pop gem “Kolo” would have proved you wrong. As if to brag about what her vocals can do and undo, Waje reigns supreme when it comes to darting across extreme genres. Whether it is chopping up a ragga and blues jam with Patoranking (Left me for good) or featuring in The Wedding Party with a pure afropop jam as an OST (Oko Mi), you can leave it to Waje. And she never does a shabby job. Her discography can bear witness to this.
To her, the current argument of what genre the international audience should call our music, is pointless.
‘I honestly don’t think this argument is necessary. No vex, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Jazz music was born out of other genres, Highlife came from Latin music and African music, Rock was born from other types of music. For every generation, the more you teach about types of music, they come up with their own. How many people in this generation make Fuji music? It’s because it did not get passed down as effectively. So, I don’t care if it is called Afrobeat or Afrobeats. Is the whole world listening to it? Do they recognize that it comes from here? Are they identifying with the people that birthed this music? That is what is important.’
Waje is currently struggling to play the guitar. If she regrets anything, it would be not learning to play an instrument at an earlier age. She mentions that if her daughter ever considers music, learning an additional music skill would be the first step she’d guide her through.
‘You can’t tell your child that you didn’t pay school fees because market isn’t selling.‘
Role playing and journaling are her substitute means of expression.
‘I like acting though because I love to play somebody who is quarreling with someone… or a rich man’s wife’ She laughs.
Her other pastimes mentioned, told a little of her adventurous and fearless side.
‘I love to travel to places I’ve never been. Plus I would really love bungee jumping.’
For someone who did not mind bungee jumping, what she shared as her biggest scare must have really scared her at some point.
‘Make market no fall press me! It’s so bad because you’re trying to keep your head above water and you feel like you’re drowning. My biggest fear is failure and I want nothing more than to be relatable and make quality content. Because if market fall press you, you don go be dat!’
One of the ways she tackles this fear is by making steady moves and taking advantage of every good opportunity. She thoroughly understands that the quickest way for artistes to land in financial troubles after their prime is living above their means.
“It’s tempting to believe that you will always be on top. I think it’s almost inevitable that, financial issues will come so it is important to assess your reality. I would love to live in a mansion with a swimming pool but, I know I can’t afford it comfortably. So, I live in a place that is within my means. This is so that, if I should ever stop selling, I can still have a reasonable standard of living…because I stayed within my means. You can’t tell your child that you didn’t pay school fees because market isn’t selling. Also, we have to surround ourselves with people who will steer us in the right direction, not superficial people.’
Her last line had us talking about her special friendship bond with Omawunmi.
‘It’s special because we’ve grown so much together. It’s a sisterhood more than a friendship. We found a way to admonish and sharpen each other and grow together as artists and as friends. I’m also so happy that we’ve moved past the era where women were always tearing each other down. People may not notice but a lot more women are supporting women and that’s how things should be. As women, it’s so important to have friends that uplift you.’
We get into the issue of emotions and she deeply describes 2 mind states that she makes a conscious effort to block out.
‘Sadness and loneliness. As humans, we go through things and we want to talk to people and express ourselves. I try not to find myself in those situations so I don’t have to pull myself out of it. There are a lot of young people who are depressed and cannot express it properly. Especially because our society is so religious, you are seen as ungrateful if you talk about the negative things that you are going through. I went through that period because I was constantly fat-shamed and I felt that I did not fit into the physical appearance of what an artiste should be. But now, once I sight an appearance of negativity or anything that will put me in that space, I run from it. I just begin bump to some of my unreleased music or I will just start to hail myself to feel better.’
Waje’s predominant message of self-love, strength independence and empowerment through music, has given room for her involvement in many community development initiatives. She launched Safe House years back (a foundation dedicated to raising awareness and funds to meet various social needs) and has since handled a number of related ambassadorial duties for One Africa, Purple NG and others. She believes the biggest social responsibility of every entertainer, is education.
‘No matter how talented you are, your character and your knowledge defines you. There are a lot of young people whose minds are being formed and as entertainers, we must teach them the right things. As we emphasize the importance of being school smart, we also need to teach how to recognize and seize practical life opportunities. My daughter is at the verge of starting a sleepwear line and I tell her, instead of just coming to ask me for money, why don’t you gather a few friends and small clients and grow from there.’
‘We need to teach young girls that every shade is beautiful’
The quickest way to make her laugh is to leave her at the mercy of her daughter and her brother’s kids who crack her up effortlessly. The quickest way to make her cry is to talk about losing a loved one but if there is one thing she has learnt not to leave in anyone’s control, it is definitely her self-esteem.
‘Nobody can be having superiority complex around me o! My melanin is popping. I feel that we owe it to ourselves to teach women that being comfortable in your own skin is the sexiest thing. It took a while but I am supremely confident. I am the royal highness of my own body. Imagine if I had known I was beautiful and been comfortable in myself for all these years. We need to teach young girls that every shade is beautiful. You can admire and appreciate someone else’s beauty but you will always be you.’
She was 100-percent confident in her new confidence and in these 9 tenets that now guide her lifestyle.
- Be true to self.
- Family first.
- Be grateful.
- Hard work pays off.
- Patience is key.
- Live healthy and exercise, not to be cute but for your own well-being.
- Never be afraid or shy to talk about your faith. My faith is so important because I can’t do anything without God.
- And finally, not conforming. I want to live a life where I can define my legacy.’
Akara was 2 minutes away and we were already 40 minutes into her interview but she spared a few more minutes to preach, and to address music for World Music Day.
‘Ladies and mentlegen, according to the gospel of Waje, these are the 5 types of men you should run very far away from.
- A man who does not fear God
- All those ones that will be playing game all the time
- A man with a dirty car! That means his boxers are also dirty
- A man that goes out Monday to Monday with the boys and without you. May you not be in labour and he will be with the boys.
- Aradites. The ones that will wait till you’re in traffic to buy you gala when you say you’re hungry but have never offered to take you out for fine dining.’
By the time she was done with her hilarious dramatization, we were all in shreds and the long awaited akara had also touched down.
Waje’s note to Music for World Music Day (June 21st)
Dear Music, thank you for my freedom, thank you for the ability to live in my space and in my skin. Thank you for the ability to dream and thank you for creating a world where only I, can be queen.
Aituaje Waje Iruobe.
Cover Story: Cynthia Atagbuzia
Photography: ShutterWave Photography
Styling: Elizabeth Agwe
Make-Up: Artistry By Tolani
Hair: Ceezy Styling
Location: Tiannah’s Place Empire