by Wilfred Okiche
Ego Ogbaro found fame as the wind beneath Lagbaja’s wings. Her sonorous voice and playful nature endeared her to many and soon she struck out on her own. It took some time but her debut album ‘Firsteps’ has placed her ahead of her peers in terms of musical achievement.
We sat down with her and spoke extensively about her music and career.
Enjoy excerpts from the conversation.
It took a long time to come out with your debut album, ‘Firsteps’ was this deliberate?
It wasn’t. I would have wanted it to come out a lot earlier than it did but circumstances I just could not control at that time. I wanted to work with some people and schedules couldn’t match. Eventually we did and here we are
You found commercial success with Lagbaja but on the album you seem to have taken a different route, why is this so?
I am stubborn like that. This is not a sound people expect from me. I mean I am still doing my kind of music but I must remain true to myself. Once I accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to sell as many records as I would have if I went straight to radio, it was kind of easy to do me.
Don’t you think you would alienate a large percentage of your intended audience?
I don’t want to believe that because I know what I want to present. Artistes sit down, paint and do exhibitions and people come and purchase their work. You don’t tell them what to paint. This is me I am offering, I am not going to give you something fake just because I want to sell. If I sing all those radio friendly songs for you, you’ll probably hate me.
But there is this problem of availability. It isn’t available on the streets
Yes, I don’t want to go the Alaba route. I am trying hard not to do it because a lot went into producing the album both intellectually and financially so I am not going to spend all that money and sell my sweat for 150 Naira. So I’ll put it in stores where I can sell it for 1,000 Naira and be content with that because for me I cannot even afford to depend solely on album sales. I want the shows, the festivals. Bez is an example. How many people on the streets know him? But he gets his quality shows home and abroad and I am okay with that.
Even Bez eventually put his ‘Supersun’ album out there on the streets
It is not there. Alaba? I will check again but I am doing my research. I just want to give it a particular mystique. It is probably never going to happen I don’t know but for now, hell no.
Isn’t it elitist of you? I mean we keep hearing that there is no good music out there but the little we get is beyond the reach of the average Joe. Shouldn’t good music be readily available?
I agree that it should be available but you see this thing has eaten too deep that I don’t know how to explain it. See if I start talking you will not leave this place oh. It is very complicated. Now for this kind of music, there is a particular set of people that would appreciate it and would want to pay premium price for it. Now you cannot put it on the street and say you want to sell it for 1,000 Naira, of course people will just ignore you. Thing is I don’t want to compromise on the quality of my music, ever. I just don’t want to. I’d like the album to be in more places and I am working on that but too much has gone into it; time, finances, I did it all myself without a record label, working with someone like Cobhams isnt small money,stuff like that, a lot of sweat, tears, sometimes I will just say I am not even doing album again is it by force? I just did 9 songs on the album plus 1 remix because I wanted people to concentrate on the music and listen over and over again.
So you are proud of the effort?
I am very proud. When people see the album cover, the first thing that strikes them is the quality even before listening to it. You would want to purchase it immediately. Then when you play it, the quality of the recording strikes you, I travelled out to mix and master it.
In those stores where they are selling, what is the response like?
They are selling out and I have to keep restocking, then letting people know it is out there. The other day on Twitter someone was at the Ikeja mall and was asking; what is hot and out of this world and I replied my album #OkBye and he went there and got it and tweeted the picture. So obviously I should do more publicity and it is going to be in more places but remember we are doing all these things on our own.
So distribution is a challenge for you
Yes and we are working hard on that.
How does new music come to you, what is the process?
Somretimes it just comes as an idea, sometimes as a tune or melody and then you work from that, sometimes it is just words. For me most times, it is just random lines that I come back to over and ovrer and try to put words to. It comes when it wants to. Experience is important, knowing the particular emotion you want to convey in a song. I could do all the vocal acrobatics every time but I want you to understand and relate, even with the lyrics I try to keep it simple so I don’t lose my audience. The best songs are the simplest songs. Some times you do only one take and when you hear it you know that is it. No need for too much adlibs or extra extra.
I see a lot of music books and material around, do you study music?
I read a lot. Anything and everything about music, you cannot come and chance me. I read the business of music, song writing, the ones that teach you how to play, I don’t feel that I know it all but when you are talking to me, better come prepared. There is a time somebody approached me about signing on their label and was telling me about how I will drive a jeep at the end of the year with a house somewhere and I am like that is not the reason I am doing this. If I want to buy a jeep, I’ll buy a jeep. So for them it wasn’t even about taking my music international. I just asked him 2 or 3 questions and he wasn’t comfortable. You don’t talk about publishing, royalty, just a house in Lekki. A lot of people don’t know and I don’t blame them, it is not their fault. I an thinking of summer courses to apply for and learn because the industry is changing. You have to keep up so one person cannot come and do abracadabra and you are carried away.
What is it really like working with Cobhams Asuquo?
Before I answer, let me ask you what your favourite track on the album is?
I think it is between ‘Bia nulu’ and ‘Got a problem’
Awww so sweet. You see yes Cobhams may not come cheap but once you recognize that you are getting something good at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. It was a very interesting time, you pay like 30,000 per session minus the production fee which was in six figures at that time for each song. Now sometimes I would come for the sessions and nothing is flowing, you are not hitting the right key. We start at 10am and maybe at 12noon nothing is working, we’ll take a break, buy peppered rice from a nearby seller and gist till 6pm. End of work. I will then carry my kaya and go back home and come back the next day on fire and maybe we’ll record like 3 songs. If you insist that because you paid this amount, you must get it today, you will not like what will come out. Because even that eating rice and gisting and watching a concert helps you at the end of the day. One day Cobhams just came in, didn’t talk to anyone and just started playing, that was how ‘Fall in love’ came about. After recording he just gave me and said take go and write your song. For weeks I couldn’t write anything because it just wasn’t my style. But one day, I just sat down, wrote the words and we recorded the song. I enjoyed it and I’d work with him again in a heartbeat.
You have plans on making any new videos or putting out any new singles?
Yes that is what I am working on right now. I like to space things so maybe like 2 more videos. ‘Bia nulu’ for sure because there are people that will kill me if I don’t do it and maybe ‘Follow you go’ because it is not as popular as the other songs.
You play with your band…
My band is the Indigo band and most of them have been with me from the beginning. When I left Lagbaja, we were doing shows, weddings, covers while I was also working on my album. They back me up while I perform my own songs. We do any kind of events, pretty cool band and we have been together since 2007.
What is it like being a female artiste with a band, is it double the work?
It is easier for me because I was in a band and I was surrounded by guys. Ordinarily I am very tough, you cannot chance me. I had to prove myself initially, I fought with every one of them then but now I am their little mummy and they come to me for help and advice. They know I am the boss but I tend not to do the oga thing all the time. We have a relationship where we joke and play. If you are late, be real with me and I might not punish you. It is a creative process and tension is bad for business. 80 percent of the time, it is good though.
Are there times you perform without your band?
Only when there is another band. I don’t like doing the cd thing so I avoid that and I don’t even like performing with another band, not because they aren’t good, but because of the synergy I have with my guys plus my songs are not the easiest to learn.
I notice your husband doubles as your manager, is it weird working together all the time?
He has always been interested in music, he used to deejay in school and has a head for music so it was a natural thing for him to do. We don’t over think it, we just do it and it helps because at the end of the day when I come home tired, he knows the reason.