By OGBONNA AMADI, Entertainment Editor
The elegant stallion, Onyeka Onwenu, during the week turned 60. But the red carpet was not rolled out. In this interview with Showtime Celebrity, the Imo State born daughter of the late politician D.K. Onwenu opens up on why people think she is controversial and more.
Congratulations on your 60th birthday!
I thought stallion is used to describe a male horse. How come you subscribe to being called a stallion?
First of all, I didn’t give myself the name, hence it would have been something else if I objected to it.
It’s not my name. But for some reasons, it was the press that gave me the name.
But you seem to be at home with it.
What am I going to do? And who am I going to fight (laughs). It doesn’t bother me and I take it as a compliment because a stallion is strong and walks majestically which describes the way I walk with my head up, walking into a room and you can’t ignore me. It’s a God given gift and you don’t apologise for things like that.
At 60, do you feel fulfilled?
I’m on my way to being fulfilled. The day you think you’ve gotten there, then, it’s time for you to go home. Life is an on-going experience, a University. So, I look forward to each year for what I can learn and do better than what I’ve done in the past.
There’s still so much to be done and I’m involved in so much. My children need my motherly care. So also my community and my Church. I get up in the morning and feel like I can still contribute so much to my society.
Do you have any regrets in life?
Definitely, I have plenty of them and I think we all do if we must be honest to ourselves. Of course, you have regrets because there are mistakes you’ve made in the past that you wouldn’t want to repeat again. If they were good, you would go back and repeat them.
Because they are regrets, I’ll never repeat them. But they were lessons to be learnt. One of my favourite verses in the Bible is, “all things work out for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose”. I’m a lover of my God and I’m called, according to His purpose. But anything that I do in good faith which may turn out to be mistakes, He uses it to bless me because it worked out in the end. But knowing what I know now, would I go back and repeat them? No.
Are there things still undone, like your political dream?
Oh yes. The fact that I offered myself for a political office may have been the destination. The interest that I brought into the local government-the fact that I made it an issue that more people are interested in and are talking about which may lead to changes in the way the people are being governed.
That could have been the destination. So in regards to that, I have no regret because I think God used me to raise that awareness. Particularly, where I come from, I think the awareness is greater and God used it to position me as somebody who’s not interested in a political office because of fame and money.
And that served as an example for people to realise that politics isn’t a game for thieves. So, people should go into politics with a mindset of service to the masses. Politics must not be left in the hands of notorious people or the mediocre. We must bring our best into it and no one has a right to complain if one refuses to get into politics, and some other people ventured into it and make laws that will affect your generation yet unborn. I can beat my chest anywhere to say that I contested even though I didn’t win the election. I debated and contributed to the debate.
You are sounding like someone who is giving up hope.
Not really. If it’s not the local government, it’s something else and that will be made clearer as we move on. I don’t like to do something on my own. I like to listen to the Holy Spirit’s direction. And I was directed and I think I understood at the end of the day to contest at the local government. It took people time before they understood because they kept asking why the local government. And I responded that the local government is the most important tier of government because it’s closer to the people, where if things are done well at that level, we would have solved the problems in this country.
So you’re still interested in the race?
I don’t know that there is a race to be run there. I’m still into politics and it’s not a full time job because I don’t earn anything from it. I even spend my own money and I have to be doing other things in order to fund my political career. When I ran for political offices on two occasions, I didn’t get much help. I financed it so that I could remain independent and not be held responsible to anyone. And that’s the way I want to do it because I don’t want to be forced to steal public funds to pay back debt.
Was it music you planned to do from the beginning?
Yes, it was music that I wanted to do. Going to school runs in the blood of my family and I was born by well known educationist, Honourable D. K. Onwenu. So, I dare not refuse to go to school because my mother would kill me. So that was the prerequisite. So I went to school, had my masters degree and had work experience before getting into music, before it was acceptable.
You got into music through Sunny Okosuns?
Yes, I did. Sunny was related to me by marriage. His first wife Nkechi was a sister to Mrs. Danchima who is my first cousins and we’re very close. So I was visiting my cousin, Danchima in Chicago when Sunny Okosuns called about a family issue. He asked me to send him a demo and when I came back from America, I told him I was ready for the studio and he produced five songs for me.
But some of the songs were his?
Most of the songs were his, in fact, all of the songs were his. It was just the way he fashioned it but it was okay for our first outing. But right after that, from the second album, I began writing my songs.
Where do you get inspirations for your songs?
I get it from God. I didn’t write “One Love”. It was written by Sean Paul Monique who is a renowned songwriter and producer. They were producing my album at that time and having listened to the songs I wrote, he now wrote something patterned exclusively for me and I added mine to it. We all wrote it together. Even “Dancing In The Sun”, I made a contribution to it. But I wrote 90% of the songs in the Legendalbum.
Songs like Iyogogo, Hallelujah– some of them were taken from folk songs, but they were my songs. I also recorded my mother’s songs Ochie Dike and Sodom And Gomorrah with my contributions. She wrote Ochiedike for her mother. Although she didn’t record it, she went to the Churches, singing and teaching the song during the yearly mother’s Day. And then one day, I said to her that I would record the song and that she should name her price. So we sat and negotiated.
Oh, she asked for money?
You better believe it. And I preferred to pay her because I didn’t want to cheat on her. She was my mother. So I paid her royalty and her name was on it as the writer of the song. I even paid her for coming into the studio to sing. She even did some rap even when rap wasn’t known as rap. This was how we related, like professionals and not like mother and daughter.
Whose idea was that?
It was my idea. She didn’t want to but I insisted that I pay her. I wanted her to know her value as a song writer. No Mother’s Day is complete without that song. The fact that I came in with a refrain which we sang together, made it great.
How much has music changed you as a person?
Music has always been an integral part of me,so I can’t divorce the two. I grew up with it and my mother taught me some songs and most often encouraged me to sing for charity. We sang in Churches. She wrote songs and we’d sing together. In those days, I was so small, they used to put me up on a table and she would stand beside me, and we would sing. We did beautiful jobs together and it was part of me. Anyone who knew me growing up wouldn’t be surprised that I am who I am and doing what I am doing. It was taken for granted that this is what I’d end up doing.
What has fame done to you?
I’ve never really taken fame seriously. I’ve never allowed fame to sink into me that I wouldn’t be able to function in any other role. In fact, once I come down from the stage, I put fame aside. Whenever you see me on stage, I am a complete diva. But outside the stage, I am an ordinary, normal and reserved person. I don’t like crowds. I don’t like public things. I’m quiet and I go home whenever I finish my work.
Whenever you find me at a party, it must be that of a good friend. But you’ll find me in Church and you’ll see me in the market. I cook and garden a lot. Those are the things that make me happy because that’s my life. I don’t need all the paraphernalia of fame. I don’t need an entourage following me around. I get security whenever I need them. But if I don’t need them, I go to places alone.
When you walk the streets alone, how do people react to you and how do you react to them?
If I go into the market, it doesn’t move them because they’re used to seeing me there. I love to go buy things myself because I like to taste the ogiri (locust beans) myself and they don’t dare cheat me. They know me and know I’m going to haggle the price. So they start by giving me good prices and the best.
On the streets…?
People shout because I carry myself in such a way that I don’t want to be recognized but they do know me. So when they see me, they shout out my songs. I wave and go my way. Sometimes, they want to take pictures, I take pictures with them and go my way.
But why do people think you’re very controversial?
I don’t know but I think I’ll have to ask someone like you. One of the things that people have a hard time with is that I’m principled and I stand on what I believe, a virtue I gained from my parents. They taught me to stand on what I believe in and in the truth no matter what. I never want to let myself down.
I want to, at the end of the day, be able to say that I did what was right. And that’s why it’s easy for me to sleep at night. It’s easy for me to have low blood pressure. I don’t worry about a thing because at any situation, once I can assure myself that I’m doing the right thing, I don’t worry myself.
Once I ask the Holy Spirit and he tells me that I’m doing the right thing then, you can go wherever and do whatever you like, I’ll still be standing. So people have a hard time dealing with that part of me because they think that as a woman and musician, they don’t want to take you seriously.
They also think there are things they’re supposed to get you to do but when you don’t do them, they’ll tag you a snob. I am a unique individual and I am specially made for a purpose. I have always felt I was special and I thank God for my father who treated me like I was very special.
My father loved me to death and I also grew up appreciating that every other individual is special and as such, you must respect everybody-whether it’s a child, driver or a cleaner. My father had a driver called Simeon. When my father died, he came and lived with the family because he didn’t want to leave. If my father went out and he wanted to be served food, he wouldn’t accept it unless they fed his driver first.
That was what I learnt. My father had respect for everybody and his friends were the ordinary people on the streets.So to have all these quality inside one person, you can imagine how difficult it is for people to appreciate it. I have a sense of self worth and as much as I won’t be rude to you or insult you, you can’t do the same to me.
I like to let people know that I don’t give people nonsense and I don’t take nonsense. Life is too short for me to fool around with the truth and there’s so much I need to get done that I don’t want to fool around. I just want to spend my time doing things that are edifying. I may make mistakes along the way because I’m human, because I don’t know everything. But I’m usually one of the first persons to recognize my mistakes and apologise and I don’t care how young that person is. My children know this because I apologise to them whenever I wrong them.
I wonder why you don’t talk about the man in your life…
Because it was our decision from day one not to talk about it. Some people are publicity shy and you can’t go talking about them if they don’t want to be talked about. The preservation of my privacy is essential and it’s one thing I have in this business- not talking about marriage. Occasionally I talk about my children but I don’t go into details about them because it is up to them to make their own name. And they know this because they don’t ride on my name. Deal with them as individuals. But deal with them for who they are. They are very proud young men who like to make their own name, and they are doing so and very well too.
Because people wonder how possible is it for the great Onyeka to bow to a man and even get married.
I’m not even going to address that issue because you’re twisting the question. I’m a typical Nigerian woman and nothing stops me from getting married and nothing makes it compulsory that I get married anyway because I don’t want to be defined by marriage. It’s not being married that should make me successful. It’s who God has created me to be and how I’m using those talents and opportunities to the glory of His name. I don’t want to be bogged down with marriage issue. Ask me about my achievements and those things I want to do.
Now that you’re 60, what are they planning to do?
Well, they’re both planning to give me a joint gift- a gift of a song they’ve never given to me before. This birthday was special and they gave me a special gift…
That was the first time and were they good?
For where? But it was a special although they aren’t real singers. They’re both studying things that have to do with communication and entertainment. My first son is rounding up his masters in Graphic Design and it’s tremendous. He’s designing my website and he’ll soon be done with it because I get excited about his work.
He designed the cover of The Legend CD and he wants to manage all my music, he’s putting them all together. His younger brother, Ibraham is a business man. He has ideas and he’s busy impressing his teachers. I get testimonies that he’s on different committees in school. The guy is incredible because he can put a brilliant business together and you’ll marvel. He gives me ideas. He’ll be starting his MBA this year.
So how did you celebrate your 60th birthday?
I didn’t celebrate it because I just buried my mother in January and it was awesome. I really thank God for his grace because we gave her a grand farewell. She made me promise to give her a grand send-off because she’d always wanted it.
So, I was exhausted in every way and to start another preparation for my birthday wasn’t a good idea. If you haven’t buried someone, you wouldn’t understand what I’m saying and being what I am in the society, the burial attracted a lot of attention and it meant spending more than necessary and I just had to take a break and organize myself for the year.