In an exclusive interview, Wazobia FM’s (and now Nigeria) Matse Uwatse traces her journey to radio superstardom
“I can speak three languages, French, English and pidgin so if I can move from one language to another, I don’t see why you can’t speak or learn pidgin.”
“People thought I was an old woman, maybe tying two wrappers and dishing out wise-coated advices but I’m only in my early 30’s.”
by Ifeanyi Dike Jnr.
WITH A name that means “do it”, it’s no wonder this super woman has conquered the radio waves. When Matse Uwatse first came through our radio sets four years ago, she stole the hearts of many with her authenticity and delivery.
Then, recently she announced she was leaving Wazobia FM via twitter. “It’s for the better,” she explains.
She was not searching for a job when the Wazobia opportunity came knocking. In fact, she already had a job as an administrative executive at Bang&Olufsen. The job simply came by chance. “A friend told me about Wazobia FM, and being a Warri chic, I thought I could try out my stuff. I knew it was a pidgin-speaking radio station from the start and I was excited about the concept. It was fresh. When I auditioned, I made them laugh and as I was leaving, I knew I had the job, a 6th sense sort off of feeling,” she recalls.
There was no fear she wouldn’t be cool. “Err, no! I never thought of it that way,” she says. “It was a challenge and that was all that concerned me at the time. We had been listening to the idea of what we knew as cool radio and suddenly there was Wazobia. It came with a bang and I wanted to be a part of it. People had previously never associated me with pidgin, so this was a challenge I was willing to take. I’m very adventurous and it did pay off eventually. That was my concern.”
And it’s been a fun ride. “It’s been joy really,” she says. “It was at the beginning of my transition not only from English to pidgin but from my job as an admin executive into media. At Bang&Olufsen, I was dealing with well-to-do people, the crème de la crème from all works of life so my attitude and language had to be prim and proper. I was coming to a place where I had to communicate speaking only pidgin. So it’s been a learning experience more than anything.”
As a Warri chic, sure pidgin came naturally but not necessarily easily. There were more things to focus on than speaking the perfect pidgin.
“The real challenge was creating pidgin programmes that were sellable and relatable to every single listening individual,” she reveals. “Also, at the beginning, I knew there was going to be some form of back talk. There were tendencies for certain people to say, ‘Oh, they only speak pidgin because that’s all they know.’ However, I never heard that and if I did, it would not have bothered me. You know why? Naturally, I’m a person with so much charisma, when I walk into a place I don’t have to speak before you know the sort of person I am. When you see me, you don’t expect pidgin. When I meet people, they go ‘It can’t be you,’ they are perplexed then they ask me to speak pidgin for verification sake. I laugh at first, then I go into pidgin at once and immediately they hear the lingo, they recognise me. I have a look that does not immediately insinuate pidgin but I am pidgin, I am Deltan. It’s part of my psyche, my makeup, my DNA.”
In the matter of goals and aspirations, the feisty lady has accomplished even more than she had predicted. “I have done a lot. Many O.A.Ps (English and Pidgin alike) would wish to be where I am now. I have won many awards, locally and internationally and I’m aspiring for more by the grace of God,” she says.
She is passionate about the language.
“Are you English?” she asks. “You should ask yourself. It’s not about making anybody feel bad. Find yourself, understand who you are and speak what is best for you. Nevertheless, when I hear some people say they can’t speak pidgin; it’s rather funny. I’m perplexed and perturbed at once. Is this an attempt at “forming”? I can speak three languages, French, English and pidgin so if I can move from one language to another, I don’t see why you can’t speak or learn pidgin. However, if you really want to be a master of your craft, it’s not a bad idea to be able to communicate in your local dialect and be able to come down to a level even the layman will understand because when you can interchange languages at will, it gives you an edge especially in the new world.”
Matse has quickly become one of the famous radio presenters in Nigeria. However, she doesn’t think of herself as famous. “I don’t see myself as anything other than me, Matse,” she says quickly. Maybe this is because of my upbringing. When people scream when they see me, I’m still not used to the feeling. I’m a very down to earth person so I think that’s the reason.”
Following the ABSU rape controversy, Matse was among one of the women at the forefront fighting the issue in the public. This is not the first time she has been at the frontline of issues; position her as something of a feminist. “Feminism as a word is rather derogatory in my opinion,” she says quickly. “People connote it to negativity and I wouldn’t use such a word to characterise myself but I would say I’m pro-women. If I don’t fight for women, who will I fight for? Sometimes we are marginalised because of our gender but it shouldn’t be so. We have brains that we are willing to utilise. So if a lady is being ostracised or victimised, why wouldn’t I fight for her?
“I support a number of causes, usually pertaining women and vulnerable children. I’m an ambassador for the Pink Pearl Foundation; we travelled round and created awareness on radio for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m an ambassador for Vitiligo as well and I’d join a few more soon.”
It wasn’t always rosy from the beginning. Knowing that thousands of people were listening in was frightening.
“I stuttered on the first day, I was nervous,” she reveals. “The MD even told them to take me off the radio; he did not want to hear my voice so I went home and recorded my voice then I played it over again until I got it right. I cried when this happened and of course I was demoralised but when someone tells me I cannot do something, I put more effort into it so that I get it right next time and prove them wrong. Now, I’m his favourite.”
Not to say she was intimidated though. “Never, not even once!” she exclaimed at the suggestion that perhaps she was intimidated. “I have never felt inferior to anyone. If you know what you have in your arsenal, you are not scared. I know when we get talking; you might be shocked at the amount of things you don’t know and I do. And if I really intend to make a fool of you, I would launch into pidgin, then English, use some French phrases and at the end, you’d know not to tick me off.”
When I first met her for the interview, I was quite surprised at how young she appeared. Apparently, I wasn’t the first person to react thus. “Usually, people assume I’m older because of the way I think and my level of maturity, my confidence, and composure,” she offers. “People thought I was an old woman, maybe tying two wrappers and dishing out wise-coated advices but I’m only in my early 30s. People are still surprised when they meet me. My voice is bigger than I am. I noticed when I was studying French. During audio-visual lectures, when I would speak, people listened. I knew I had what it took to make people listen. I can turn words into pictures so you would understand clearly what I’m talking about. Back then, when I read my essays in Professor Lawson Body’s class, I got a standing ovation and people were always wowed by my studio sessions. At some point, some people would say to me, ‘Matse, you have a very sonorous voice.’ – meaning it is calm and sweet. So, I always knew I had what it takes.”
Her supposed maturity – enough to have listeners of all ages calling her ‘Aunty Matse’ – is certainly one of her strengths. “I read!” she says emphatically when I ask where this comes from. “Some things I experience, but mostly from books I’ve read. I read novels while I was growing up but now I’m more into inspirational books, biographies, and managerial books. I like to read stuff that is mentally challenging.
About leaving Wazobia, “It was a conscious decision to leave; you just know when it’s time,” she said. “I knew that my work there was done. Everything might be time related and we pray for long life to accomplish all these things. I have mapped out where I want to be and what I want to do. I know where I’m headed eventually. And when you know where you are going, you know when it’s time to quit and move on to the next level.”
“Where is this place you are going?” I asked.
“It’s a very tall place, but I’m still on the radio. The radio station I’m moving to is called 99.3, Nigerian Info. It’s like CNN or BBC but in radio format. There is going to be very high profiled activity as well as mentally stimulating activity. I feel like it is time for me to exercise my brainpower and this is going to polish me for my next step.”
She would not say whether this was a sister radio station to Wazobia or not. However, she did say she’d be speaking strictly English at the new station. “Sure people would miss me on Wazobia but when they hear me on the new station, they’d be surprised and quite pleased.”
On the brighter side, what she’d miss the most about working at Wazobia are her fans.
“All the encouragement they’ve shown me on online blogs and even on Twitter. People’s comments suggesting that they understand and support my decision. ‘Matse, you have to move on, you have to grow, we understand.’ I thought people would be more upset than understanding but more than 90% are very understanding and I feel blessed. I am amazed even,’ she says, wistfully. People can at times take the Wazobia for granted, but we really can do great things. Lolo, for example is a brilliant lawyer and Cordy a one-time teacher. It’s nice to know that the fans understand that we have to do more. This is an opportunity for Matse to do so much more.”
She pauses, the moment rich with fond memories as much as I could send. But Matse snaps out of it quickly, as if remembering something. “I believe in intensity,” she tells me, her voice steady. “When I put my mind to something, I give it my all. And that time is now. It’s time for people to experience a brand new Matse.” Y!