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I want to empower women through music, says Ashionye

Michelle Ugbo aka Ashionye
Michelle Ugbo aka Ashionye

By JEMI EKUNKUNBOR & ONOME ORIDO
She is the voice we once heard on radio. Then she hit the music scene in the all girl group Emete. The group split in 2005 with the three members going their separate ways. She thereafter cut out to do her thing. With her new album, Michelle Ugbo Christened herself Ashionye.

She has been a brand in the Nigerian music scene since then.  In 2007, she gave birth to the Girlpower concert. An initiative aimed at empowering female musicians. Yesterday, at Onikan Stadium, the second edition of Girl Power kicked off with two more shows to follow in Ibadan and Benin. In this interview, Ashionye opened up to Sunday Entertainment on why an all female concert became necessary. Enjoy it.

WHY are you doing an all girl thing? Won’t it be better to compete with the men?
If you look around very closely, you’d see that the male musicians have dominated the music scene. I’ve taken proposals to a lot of people and companies concerning female shows and no one wants to sponsor.

What I hear is, “it’s a female thing, will people come and watch? I don’t want my product to be associated with women only.” It’s funny because it’s the woman who says, “my husband lets go and see this show or there is this product in the market lets buy it”. Women are the ones who sell ideas to their partners.

But female musicians are not really getting the needed support to grow. Girl power is my idea. I call it a movement. I’m passionate about women empowerment and I want to do it through the kind of work that I do-music. That is the way I feel I can reach people.

We hope we can keep this going. because it is an amazing concept and we also hope that after Nigeria, we would take over Africa and then the world.

Don’t musicians already have the female wing where some of your thoughts can be articulated?

I’m looking at starting up a forum. I’ve discussed with some other female musicians in the industry and women outside the music industry but who are interested in music and entertainment.

I’m looking at starting a forum in September when we have a break in between. I want to get women to talk about the issues that we have, how to move ourselves forward, the problems that we have amongst ourselves, how to support one another, get every one to come and air their views. I’m working on that and I have people who are already interested.

Are there fundamental issues that hinder women in the entertainment industry?

Its that same thing. They say she’s a woman now. Let’s push a man. We don’t want our product to be associated with women only. Things like that. Honestly, if you sit down and listen to songs done by musicians both men and women, you’d find that women sing better than men world over.

But I guess it’s a typical Nigerian or African thing that women come after the men even if she is better. I’ve been in the industry nine years and counting and it’s been like that all the way. Whether I do something good or not.

It’s nice that you are trying to get the female musicians together but it isn’t it ironic that your all girl group, Emete couldn’t stay together? What is your relationship with other members of the group now?

We are still trying to work on that, meanwhile, everyone is doing different things at the moment. I would say Emete had issues because we were young and naive and everything was given to us on a platter of gold.

We didn’t have to pay for everything because we were signed to a record label that took care of all the expenses. We were not like some others who struggled, spending their own money to get things done. We had everything given to us so we took that for granted.

But over the years, I have learnt from that experience and we are still working on getting back to being friends. I won’t say it’s a shame but it’s a gradual process. We each had issues with each other that we are coming to terms with now and we are understanding that we did a lot of childish stuff. Now we are older, now we are women, let’s get back to being friends. So we are working on that.

Nigerians like to see known faces when they go to shows. Some of the artists for this year are relatively unknown why is that so?

I got the honour of picking the girls on this tour as well as the previous one. These girls are hot at the moment and they are strong women and its our own way of saying lets empower the Nigerian female musician.

What message exactly do you want to pass on to these women, something that would probably inform a theme for the concert?

Last year after every artist had performed, we came together and we did the theme song, “I’m a woman”. This time around, we are doing “what a feeling”. It was originally done by Irene Cara. It’s a Tetmosol theme song. We are going to be performing that together. And we want to empower women again with that song.

What’s the response like with the first edition of the Girl Power?

It was amazing. If you remember, women paid N1,500 and men came in free as long as they came with a woman. We did a role switch in 2007. We had female body guards and male ushers. Funmi Iyanda was the compere. It was a role switch.

It was our night kind of thing. We had the former first lady, Mrs Remi Tinubu attend and after the show, she went with us to the Remand Home in Idi Araba to make donations from ticket sales. There we had a little concert for the girls. We spent about three hours there We also donated part of the money to Little Saints Orphanage.

Yes, we are women but we don’t want people to push us to the back. We are not saying we don’t respect our men, we love and respect our men but appreciate us not for the fact that we are women and we are made to remain in the house or kitchen as mothers. Of course, those are roles but we are multi task.

What about some of those who turned you back two years ago?

Some of the people who turned me back actually bit their fingers because what we had was actually overwhelming. I had a lot of people coming up to me, a lot of upcoming musicians and even established ones asking me when the next one is coming. Some told me I inspired them and they would like to be part of the next one.

Even people who were not in entertainment came up to me and started humming the ‘girl power’ theme song. Depending on Tetmosol, we are hoping that the concert will be sustained. Already, this year, it has expanded to three cities.

What has life been like?

Life has been amazing. I’ve been busy. My second album is about ready. I have two singles playing on the radio. The second album will feature MI, Nomolose, Banky W, Mo Cheddah, Pipe and BB. I must not fail to mention too that I’ve done two movies. One is titled Jungle Ride and the other one is a comedy, “Mumu” which I did with Kofi.

Image is something that is very difficult for a lot of celebrities to manage. How have you coped?

Well, this is me. What you see on stage or red carpet is actually who I am. I’m not forcing it contrary to what a lot of people say or what has been written by the press. I’ve always been the kind of person who wants to go on an adventure with image. I want to experience things.

I want to do things that people are afraid of taking a step forward to do. The whole entertainment thing, the whole music thing, I didn’t grow up in the face of a camera, I didn’t have a famous dad who was always in the limelight and dragging me along. It was different but I had people from the record label and my management who were able to bring me back to earth.

I’ve learnt from these experienced hands that you still have to remain the same person to make it. Don’t let the fame or the name or the money change you and that’s who I am right now.


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