You won’t be too far from the truth if you say she’s blessed and lucky. Barely two years on the Nigerian music scene, the brand Lami, is fast penetrating into the hearts of music lovers. Popular among her works are Know featuring MI, and Ori Mi Wu featuring Ice Prince. With an impressive debut album, Intuition, the neo-soul singer and song writer is already planning to release her sophomore come 2013. In this interview with MERCY MICHAEL, the UN and Oxfam Ambassador recalls her experience in the journey of creating the brand Lami. She also talks about love and Christmas.
OBVIOUSLY, you are a very busy person. How do you manage to combine work with music?
Right now I’m helping my family out with some stuff. I guess I just have a good team. I have a good team of people around me, so it makes my life a lot easier. And then we try to prioritise, and we pray. We pray a lot. God is the centre of everything we are doing. So it helps and eases the stress.
It seems you prefer live performances to commercial music. Is it deliberate and why?
It is deliberate. And the way I feel about it is that, with the type of music that I do, I feel like I will be cheating my fans or my audience doing what they have already heard on the CD. And maybe because I didn’t grow up in Nigeria, all the shows and concerts I paid for were live. Even if they did contemporary music or they did pop music or rap, it was always live.
Maybe not with a live band, but they tried as much as possible to make it a different experience. So I feel like, if you are coming to watch Lami, it should be an experience for you and not just, ‘yeah, nice song.’ I try as much as possible to flip the script on a lot of the songs, re-arrange it and make it interesting for myself. A lot of times, when you’re pushing a single, you are performing the same song in different places, you get bored. So you need to make it interesting for yourself. So you need to ginger yourself up just a little.
But how do you become popular if you don’t do commercial songs?
I think that’s with every country. And that’s why it’s called pop music, which is just a short term for popular. Things like that, if you look at Rihana, and you compare Rihana to Adele, you’ll see that they are two different plans and that’s why people are really pushing Adele. They are very excited that there is something different that you can hear. And that’s why Nigerians were so excited when Asa appeared on the scene. So you will find that nine out of ten, it is popular music that tends to be popular. But I’m the odd person in that ten. I’m number ten.
People like me; I’m just blessed to have people support what I do. And back to the live music, truth of the matter is when I’m on stage and I hear live instrument, it just makes me excited. It makes me want to push harder. It’s just how I am. It’s not a deterrent or criticism on other people or how they perform.
What were you doing before you came into music? And how did music start for you?
I was studying. I think if we say professional music, it probably started eight years ago. But I started singing in front of people when I was eight. I started writing when I was ten. And I thought it was a joke. But my siblings always remind me about stuffs I did when I was younger, and how I said I was going to send music to Walt Disney himself, and how I was going to write for Disney.
So somewhere in me, I think it was always there. And obviously when I started college, a lot of people, my music teacher, my chapel teacher, everybody kept saying, Lami you are going to be on MTV one day. You are going to be on MTV you know. And somehow, we just moved from there. And when I decided that this is something I actually love, I started taking vocal lessons, adlibbing lessons, learning how to do back-in-vocals, on my own track, working with different producers from different backgrounds. So for all my tracks, I’m doing my back-in-vocals. So all those little things, little steps have helped me to be where I am.
For your debut album Intuition, I think Nigerians didn’t get to feel the brand. However, for your sophomore, billed to drop in 2013, I hope you will give us one or two danceable tracks?
Yes. Let me say this for the debut album, Intuition, I was blessed to be surrounded by people who were already established. People like elDee, MI, Sound Sultan and Banky W. They were people who were around me and helping me to find my feet in Nigeria. So, in a sense that I keep saying that album was skeptofriendic because there are different personalities on that album. There were some danceable tracks, but clearly, we pushed the ones that were more clearly Lami-kind of music. But for this one, you are going to have danceable tracks, I promise. However, the thrust of the music and the lyrics will still be very me. So you are not going to hear- take your clothes off all my sexy ladies in the building.
Luckily for me, the second song, Titilailai, is a very funk-soul. It’s danceable and very groovy. It’s not Azonto, but it is funk-soul. A lot of people have said it’s danceable. It’s quite interesting to grove to. At the end of the day, what I keep telling people is that you cannot sell what you don’t have. And I am not a pop artiste. I don’t want to be a pop artiste. I love the people who are doing what they do.
If I go out with my friends and we are listening to pop music, fantastic! Right now, I’m feeling K9′s Kokoma. That’s the song that I’m feeling. It’s easy for me to get into that. Just like Omawunmi doesn’t do pop music, but does stuff that you still want to dance to. You just have to identify who you are and make that work for you.
What does Christmas mean to you, and what are your plans for the yuletide?
Christmas for me is family. It’s my parents wedding anniversary on Christmas Day. It has always been the tradition for us to be together, eat and eat and laugh. So I look forward to taking time off, even though Christmas is like the busiest month for us artistes. At the same time, Christmas Day and the Christmas season is about family and love.
You are an Oxfam Ambassador, alongside Tuface and Sound Sultan. What does it mean to be an Oxfam Ambassador and what are the challenges?
Okay, I would say this. I am a UN Envoy and Ambassador. And what the UN Envoy position basically means is that you have almost an official role. They entrust certain projects or initiatives with you. And one of the initiatives that I came across in the process last year was the Art for Africa Project, a project under the Oxfam Charity.
Now Oxfam is an international body. They are big. So when they said they wanted to work with Lami, I was like hey! With Tuface and Sound Sultan, I was like little me? First and foremost, I was totally humbled by the UN Ambassadorship and the Oxfam Ambassadorship, as well as working with Tuface and Sound Sultan. It’s really funny because they are two totally different people and they are crazy. But we’ve been working on a project for ending famine in Africa. There was a famine in East Africa that killed too many children and women. And what we are trying to do is enlighten other African countries, or even Nigeria, about the need to re-strategise agriculture in different countries.
We need to move away from processed foods and make sure that people are growing tomatoes, carrots and things like that in their homes, to make sure the people are not hungry. If we do not do that, if the government doesn’t pay attention to that, in the next five years, God forbid, we are going to have the same situation as we have in East Africa. So that is basically what we are doing. We are drawing awareness to that issue. So that is it. Anytime you see anybody becoming a UN Ambassador, people tend to wonder how. I’m privileged to be a UN Envoy, not just an Ambassador. It’s really a pretty big deal for me. It’s a big accolade and I’m quite humbled.
Being a female artiste in Nigeria, what are some of the challenges you face?
That’s like a completely different story. You need to talk to me for like a whole day. We have to cross so many more hurdles than the men do. We have to spend much more money because, guess what, I gat to do my hair, I gat to do make-up, what else do I have to do? And a guy can just wear his pair of jeans and T-shirt, and go for high-class event. But for us, it’s a tall order in terms of your branding.
And in terms of just finding your space in the industry, you will find that most of the time, when you are listening to the radio, they say, ‘it’s so, so, and so show. Billed to perform are MI, elDee, Banky W’. It’s the same people and it’s always guys. But you know, I’m quite proud that we have some pop female artistes coming up. Tiwa is doing a fantastic job; Storm Records is doing a good job with Sasha. She’s a great person also. We have Omawunmi, Waje.
Right now, I think the women are kind of gaining ground. I think we are gaining ground. The other day, Omawunmi updated her BB on how she was in Durban and how she sang in front of a lot of people. I can’t remember what was happening, but I was proud. You know what I mean; it’s really nice for me to see females doing big things. Tiwa Savage is on the cover. She’s on the trailers with Pepsi. And that’s so cool! We are moving. We are getting there.
As you said, Storm Records is doing well with Sasha. What record label are you signed onto?
I’m on Jesus Record label (laughs). The truth is we’ve been talking to different labels, and I’m not an up-and-coming artiste by the grace of God. So if I’m going to sign with any label, it is more of me making sure that I’m still in control of my content. I’m still in control of my brand, and in a sense, my sound.
So we are still talking to some labels. We’ve been talking for like four, five months back and forth. But while that is happening, I’m busy. I’m doing different things. There are talks. Let me just leave it that way. Let me not say what I’m not permitted to.
When you came on the music scene, your clique were the big acts in the industry. How did it happen?
Luck! God! I think, first thing first, I didn’t wait to meet big people to start working. I was in the studio with OJB for about three months, just working, trying to get a feel of what was happening in Nigeria. And a friend of mine, Cecile Amond, who is the CEO of Flytime Entertainment, just said, ‘Lami you know what? There is a guy I want you to work with, his name is MI’. He’s actually very good. And things kind of snowballed into each other. You know once you start hanging around; you meet the other person and the other person. Luckily, they liked what I was doing. Till now, elDee is like my brother. I just saw him like 30minutes ago.
People, like Sound Sultan; they are like my mentor, because they’ve been around for years. To be honest with you, the answer to that question is that, I was blessed. I never had a ground scheme. I think God just kind of made sure things worked out for me. And this will sound really wishy-washy.
But if you are good at what you do and God is involved, you will be okay! I don’t think you will come across Sound Sultan, Tuface, and they will tell you they don’t pray. They pray. This thing is not easy. There is a great price to pay for what we do on a daily basis; God, hard work and talent. Put those three things together, and you should be fine.
There is the challenge of being a female artiste and there is also the challenge of being a married female artiste. Can you tell us about both?
(Laughs) Wow! again, the credit, I think, goes to God, because my husband was one of the first people to tell me that I needed to do this professionally. He was the first person to tell me I needed to stand in front of the crowd. He was the first person to tell me to look into writing. He said, ‘your writing is really good’. So I am thoroughly blessed in that regard, because I don’t have to explain why I am doing what I’m doing.
And having somebody like that around me, it’s like somebody saying, ‘you are a bird, fly’. As opposed to somebody saying, ‘you are bird, be a fish’. And in Nigeria, I realise that women are not as celebrated by their husbands as they should be. So I appreciate my husband, because he’s spectacularly awesome. He has called me like three times today, ‘how was that interview, did it go well?’ And you know that also keeps me in check.
The good thing about it is, most of my male friends in the industry know him. In the end, he becomes closer to them even than I am. They see him and say Oga Chief. And they hail themselves and whatever. And if he’s worried about something, he can call them and say, ‘you know what? I’m not sure this decision is right, what do you think? So I’m just lucky. And I have a good team. I have a really good team. My family is superb. My mum is my fan.
When I’m out in a newspaper or in a magazine, she buys like 50 copies and gives them out to all her friends. And my dad has taught us to be professional about anything we do. If you are a musician, be a professional. Don’t just treat it like a hubby. Do it and do it properly. Me, I’m just blessed. I can’t even say ‘oh this what Lami did that makes it work’.
Your new single, But You, like most of your songs, centers on love. Tell us about this thing called love
I love love! (Laughs) I’ve known my husband for about fifteen years. We’ve been friends for a long time. And we’ve gone through different phases. I find that these days a lot of women and men are just interested in getting married. When you get married, outside the wedding, there is a marriage. And these days, we don’t pay attention to that. And that marriage is like a PhD course. It is tough. It is hard. It takes being with the right person. It takes you being humble and wise. And I realise that around me, there are so many problematic issues. People do not believe that love exists. So for me, selfishly, I sometimes sing these songs for myself, to remind me of how I feel about love and how it should be, and to also remind people about how it should be.
The kind of love that you sing about appears to be like a fairytale kind of love…
There is no fairytale love. But there is meeting the person that you want to walk with for the rest of your life. And that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be easy. But it makes sense when it’s with the right person. Marriage is a life-long friendship. It’s gangster. Two of you just have to figure it out.
In But You, I’m saying, I don’t need jara, you are enough for me. Like my dad would say, people who leave one marriage to go to another, how do you know the person you are going to meet is better than the person you left? Until of course he’s hitting you or something like that, you shouldn’t be involved in that. Let me just put that disclaimer out there, I do not support that. But if you’re friends, I think you can work it out.
What do you do if hitting you is the only flaw?
No man should ever hit a woman, never! I do not support that. Ain’t nobody gonna be hitting me, no way! My father didn’t kill me. So why should you go to somebody’s house and they would be battering you, no way. That is just wrong. To me it’s a sickness. I don’t think any man should hit on a woman and vice versa. Instead, break something, hit the wall. But to beat each other, that is just hard abuse.
What’s your regular day like, from dawn to dusk?
I don’t have regular days. I don’t even think there is anything regular about my days. My days are just colourful. Funny enough, the days I think are calm, are the ones…like today, we’ve been busy, but it’s not stressful. Some days are supposed to be calm, but then random things happen.
The other day, we couldn’t find petrol. Another day my ATM card wasn’t working, random things that just change the direction of your day. But I do a lot of talking to my friends, talking to my family. I love watching cartoons. I do not like clubbing much, because in Nigeria, it’s the same songs back-to-back. If I’m in a club, I already know the ten songs they are going to be rotating. So that is not fun for me. But most of the time, I’m on my sofa, gisting with my sisters and we are just yarning about anything.