LET THY KWEENDOM COME!
IT’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in a little upscale bar in Lagos, a city that’ll easy pass as the commercial capital of Africa. For, everything is on sale in Lagos: from fifty year-old cars to garbage, used mobile phones, pirated music and video CDs; and- as many believe- assorted human parts. Many have called the cosmopolitan city the NY of Africa- having a complete brew of the good, the bad and the ugly, but often having the ugly played up by mischief-makers.
Beneath all these activities, humming in the background, are different textures of music- from the motor parks to commercial buses, itinerant marketers and mighty speakers blaring from cars holed up in the city’s omnipresent traffic. The concoction of these dominant sounds on any Lagos street is as ever present as the incessant black-out the nation’s Power holding company constantly subject residents to. The sun gets intensely scorching, and the clouds begin to coalesce, preparing to sublime and cause a downpour, but occupants of the Bar Lagous were lost in a passionate discourse: why was it that female artistes in Lagos, and indeed the rest of Nigeria are nowhere to be found, compared to their male counterparts? The year was 2001. And thousands of kilometers away from Lagos, Kween Onokala, totally unaware of the Lagos meeting, was busy putting finishing touches to the first materials that would establish her as a frontline female performer in an industry whose future would intimately be tied to hers. Several months later, when she touched down at the Muritala Mohammed airport in Lagos, determined to pursue a career in music and make a success of it, pundits who heard of her coming sought her out, heard her materials, and heaved a sigh of relief. Her first single oluronbi (which featured Fuji star Pasuma Wonder) immediately established her as a singer-diva to watch out for, just as the song’s video topped charts and impressed her faces on fans’ hearts and souls. The success was a final validation for a venture she embarked on in 1996 – when she decided to plunge into the unstable music industry by signing to perform with Zuma Band (the then resident band at Abuja Sheraton Hotel and Towers). Not that she needed much validation; for, Kween – born Queen Chinyere Onokala in Enugu State, Nigeria- has been singing almost forever.
It all started when, at age 10, she grabbed the microphone and displayed amazing vocal skills in her mom’s church. The place was Abeokuta, a south-western Nigerian city where her family stayed for a long time. The city is quiet and surrounded by rocks, providing a befitting atmosphere for the aspiring singer to nurture her talent and derive inspiration from nature around her. But it was while at Sheraton, that she got tremendous exposure to the works of India Arie, Erykah Badou, Whitney Houston, and Toni Braxton. Little wonder her music, just like her remote mentors’ aims for the soul, providing a soothing effect and warming up your being – a much needed deviation, in a generation where deep, soulful music is becoming unfashionable.
‘Somebody has to make the change; tell people that we can still make good music; have a lot of fun and be very successful. It may be hard, and it may require a lot of sacrifice. But somebody has to do it. I don’t mind being that person’, she says looking calm but determined, to a journalist in Lagos. But the sacrifice might no be very much. For her singles, Come wiv me and Jebele; preceding her much-awaited debut album have attained fair acceptance across Nigeria, with her videos topping the Nigerian Chart show for several weeks. ‘I don’t like to join the bandwagon. And I believe the fans can recognize good music when they see it’, she says, while confessing her quest is to make music that’ll match international standards and make foreigners wonder, ‘are you sure she’s from Nigeria?’ Not an easy task. But no longer as daunting as it was when she decided, as an 18 year-old uninitiated crooner, to toe the unusual path. ‘Working with a fantastic crew has made the job easier for me’ she says to a group of visiting journalists from Nigeria, strolling down a street in London’s west end (she stayed here for over three years in a period she says was ‘tough and fun’ at the same time). ‘From Carl Thomas, Blast&Lummie and DJ T, who direct my videos, to my managers at Ruffsounds productions, my stylist and my publicist, everyone sees the dream, and we’re pursuing it together. Her first full-length album is expected in 2008