It takes a different type of breed to waltz into a subcontinental music competition, with the breezy intentions of just “gaining experience and meeting people”, only to strut out through an aisle of shiny confetti as the winner. This was the case of Chidinma Ekile in 2010, when she took a leap from being random to ruling fandoms; resulting from finishing first in the 3rd season of MTN’s popular reality music game show, Project Fame West Africa.
With no prior ambition of pursuing music professionally, this magnanimous feat meant one thing for the then 19-year-old Imo state native -diving into the murky waters of the music industry and learning to float, right on the job.
Though the goth eye makeup from the photo session was still on fleek, her eyes tattled on her tiredness. She had come in directly from a dental appointment and by the time the shoot was done (barely 4 hours from midnight), her day was still far from over. Rest was, unfortunately, far too as she was due to be on a plane to an undisclosed location, right the next day, for a performance. 7 years down the line and she seemed to have eased into this unplanned course of her life. It didn’t matter whether or not she had plans for music before the show that launched her into fame… Music, long had plans for her.
“…Music was never part of the big picture until Project Fame. I’d always seen myself as a broadcaster. I wanted to be on radio” she explained, as she warded off insects that probably mistook her skin’s glow for a light source.
“I just wanted to gain some experience. I wanted to meet people because prior to that time, I was always home. I just wanted to go out and talk to new people. That was the motive behind it.”
It isn’t unusual for reality show winners to be hot for a minute and spend decades bubbling under. Matter of fact, it is indeed a worldwide problem. Out of all the 9 winners of Project Fame since the show commenced in 2008, Iyanya and Chidinma have obviously experienced the most limelight.
She responds to a question, agreeing that the industry is quite tougher for reality show winners, than for other new musicians.
“In a way, yes it is… Most especially, because these winners do not get enough support. I think that’s the major problem. Also, a lot of pressure is being put on these people.” She changes her voice tone as if to imitate someone.
–You have to make it! You have to do this! –
“It can be tough. The pressure begins to tell on the winners so much that people begin to expect lots from you and if you make any mistake that is usual, it’s like you’ve done the worst thing.”
Even Iyanya had some downtime before he revenged with Kukere but Chidinma was on a roll right after she stepped out. First it was Jankoliko with a god feature from Sound Sultan, then she dropped Kedike; the song that further branded her and turned many into believers. The following year being 2013, Chidinma made a lasting statement with Emi Ni Baller featuring her now ex-label associates, Suspekt and Illbliss.
The banger did not only earn her bragging rights as the first female to top the Nigerian chart on MTV Base; it also brought massive street cred in addition to her already recognized diva status. From the outside looking in and from what had been achieved in the first 3 years, Capital Hill struck many as the perfect home for Chidinma.
Dashing hopes of hearing a summary of her stay at Capital and maybe another side of the story that flooded the media upon her exit, she states in a selectively subtle manner.
“I’m not with the label anymore. My 5-year contract ended.”
She ends the sentence with a short intense smile, as if to show receipt of her meet-up with celebrity dentist Dr Timi, earlier in the day…
Her stormy days and how she weathers them…
November 2013 was not necessarily the best of months for Chidinma. An explicit sextape of an unknown guy and a girl who shared a striking resemblance with Ms Kedike, had hit the internet hard. Tongues wagged and opposing groups formed on social media; arguing and analyzing if she was the one or not. Although she never esperred it, she didn’t let it faze her too much.
“I wasn’t expecting it, I mean, I knew something was going to come up sometime but not that early and definitely not something that huge but yeah, I saw it as one of those things.
I was sad. I was like -who did this to me? Who did I offend that has refused to forgive me?
I remember talking to Sound Sultan and he was like welcome to the industry.” She mimics his voice while chuckling in between her sentence.
Following when she spoke up about the incident, news that made rounds in the media claimed she said she was still a virgin. In curiosity, I ask if that sexual status has changed. She replies in comic confusion.
“I don’t even know where that came from. I never told anyone if I was a virgin or not.”
When asked how she handles her rough patches, she reveals the only being she takes her situations to.
“I just pray. I focus on God because in him lies my safety. I’m guaranteed that in him, lies my sanity. So whatever it is that I am going through that looks like it might be taking too long, or is never going to end, or is too big, I just go to him.”
Men and how she likes them…not
If you have intentions of trying to kick it with Chidinma, here’s a cheat code for you. She cannot stand men with bad breath and if you’re a talkative, you are very likely to tick her off.
Quite an alarming number of men are romantically attracted to her. The other day, it was Lil Kesh telling us why she would make a perfect wife for him.
Confirming that she is in the know of her widely perceived girl-next-door vibe, she hints her unavailability.
“It’s a good thing that everybody wants to be with Chidinma but I don’t think Chidinma wants to be with anybody right now”
She adds that she has been proposed to a gazillion times but she is just not ready yet.
Switching the focus to her much talked about affiliation with the baby boy of indigenous Afro-highlife –Flavour, she jumps at the question like she’s been waiting for it.
Vibe: …People think both of you are an item becau…
Chidinma: (Interrupts with vehement passion) and people will think that for a very long time. Trust me, we have such a beautiful chemistry. Our working relationship is awesome. I can tell you that for a fact. It’s so beautiful and it is very stress-less. When we are in the studio, a lot of things happen. A lot of magic happens. We make magic. It’s just natural. I don’t even know where it came from.
From her reply to our #WhatsYourTake question, you could tell she was a deep lover. Her discography of love tunes then seemed explained.
Vibe: Can you give bae the password/pin to your phone, social media platforms and ATM?
Chidinma: She asks in her best let’s-get-to-business tone. What kind of bae? Are we serious or not? If we are, then yes. I can give him.
Vibe: You’ll let him slide into your dms and see all your messages?
Chidinma: Yes! Why not?
On her effortless charm
Through the most part of the photo shoot, she seemed to wear a cosmetic frown but the opposite was quite the case during the interview. She later gave an exposé on what the facade was about, when she was asked to tell us bad habits she felt she needed to change.
“Hmm, bad habits? I am not sure they are up to 3. I want to smile less. YES. Because I smile a lot and people sometimes tend to see that as a weakness.” She demonstrates a typical scenario of her smiley self being taken for granted.
“What else do I want to stop?”
She thinks aloud and now, back to her default smiling self… Her sister replies “Talk less”.
Chidinma lets out a hysterical defensive laugh. “Oh My God, I don’t even talk too much. Most times, you have to force stuff out of me so I don’t think that’s an answer.”
In the most angelic braggadocio way, she admits to having exhausted anything about herself that she can refer to as a bad habit.
Now under pressure from her sister for the interview to come to a close as they had to leave for further engagements, we swiftly talk about her signature hairstyle.
“First of all, only my sister touches and makes my hair and at some point, she had to travel and then I tried to make my hair somewhere else with other people but my hair began to fall off. So I thought to myself. I need to cut this hair. I also wanted a different look.
I remember the first time I cut my hair. The moment I did and I had a shoot, I was almost crying like -oh my God, I’m bald- but immediately I took the pictures, I just fell in love and ever since, I’ve been rocking it.”
On Bubu’s new improved economy and domestic violence
Chidinma transformed into quite a hilarious scripture quoting preacher when asked if she was in anyway affected by the economic instability.
“We are children of God. When people say there is a casting down, I say there is a lifting up. So yeah, that’s what it is ?.”
Touching on the domestic violence trend, she calmly dropped her thoughts.
“It’s a terrible thing. I don’t wish that for any of my friends or even an enemy. I just hope that some men will be more responsible and learn when to walk away when being tempted to do these things. And also for women… I mean, it’s both sides. I can’t say that men are the cause or women are the cause. We do not know what happens in these families. We’re not there. We do not live with them. Only those involved understand what goes on but we shouldn’t let it get to the point where you need to hit someone. You can never justify that. I’ve seen that happen over and over again. I pray it stops. I just want to urge women to also pray more. We get to avoid these things when we are closer to God.”
On future music, lessons learned and going forward
Unwilling to share in-depth information on her next body of work, she assured that we would be the first to know.
“Right now, I’m just going to keep doing good music. Definitely there’s going to be an album soon.
When it’s close, I’ll definitely let you know.”
She listed some of the lessons she had come to learn and would hence forth work with.
“I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve learnt a lot about people and how to relate with them. I’ve learnt a lot about how to accommodate people. I’m not such an open person but I’ve met very nice people, I have met very terrible people, I have met people who always like to take advantage but above all, I’ve learnt to love people the more even with their shortcomings.”
Her mantra doubled as advice for any ear available.
“You have to love music enough to make sacrifices. We’ve heard stories of people selling their cars to shoot music videos, you know, doing stuff to make things happen. If you do not love something, I don’t think you’ll go the extra mile. You need to be persistent. Like, really really persistent. You need to know you want to actually do music. Music is not like other businesses that you put in money and then in the next 1 year or 2, you get your profit. Music doesn’t work like that. You don’t get your profit like instantly. But most of all, trust God. A lot of people have done a lot of things to get there and be there but ultimately, you need to trust God to follow your every move and follow you through the journey…”
You need to trust that journey…
Looking in her eyes, it was easy to tell she had calculated the exact cost of this dream and was now fully ready to pay any outstanding dues. After all, she was equipped with all she needed. Full of youth and parceled in a beautifully petite body, If Chidinma stood on her confidence, determination and the rare quality of her vocal cords, she’d be a thousand feet tall.
Story: Cyclone Artemis
Photography: Kunmi Owopetu Studios
Stylist: The Style Infidel
Make Up: Faari by Sisi Ope