By Pamela Echemunor
Yemi Eberechi Alade, popularly known as Yemi Alade, is an afro-pop musical artiste who made her rise to stardom after winning the ‘Peak Talent Show’ in 2009. The afro-pop princess, who is a graduate of the University of Lagos with a degree in Geography, always had a flair for music. After winning the ‘Peak Talent Show’ competition, she went on to release her first single titled “Fimisile”, She didn’t make her big break in the industry until late 2013, when she released her hit Song “Johnny” which was leaked on the internet. By 2014, with the YouTube video of the song raking in over 32 million views, Yemi Alade took centre stage.
She has since released several hits and is currently working on promoting her “Mama Africa” album. In this interview, she talks about the good, the bad and the truly remarkable.
It has been 7 years since you won the ‘Peak Talent Show’. How would you say your rise to fame has influenced you?
There are many ways my rise to fame has influenced me; being famous means that more people know you. Definitely, becoming a household name has helped the circulation of my music round the world. I release music now and it gets the appeal of a large audience almost immediately compared to the way it was in the beginning when the days were slower and it took a longer process for people to get my music.
What was the inspiration behind your hit song “Johnny”?
I really can’t tell what the inspiration was but after the song came out, I realized that I was writing based on personal experience.
You have a remarkable sense of style. Who would you say inspires your fashion?
There are a lot of people that I love but when I look at my fashion sense and my fashion choices, I realize that I basically inspire myself; but my biggest inspiration is Africa.
You have performed on international platforms. What does it feel like compared to when you perform at home in Nigeria?
Hmmm! Well, it’s two ways for me. It’s always unbelievable because you’re in a new environment with people that, sometimes, don’t even speak your language but they are in love with your music. There are many instances where people are screaming, people faint, people can’t catch their breath, people are crying etc. You see these things when Michael Jackson was performing (laughs).
It’s overwhelming but there is something about Lagos. It’s unlike any other place. Sometimes, on stage, they can dull your spirit. It’s not all the time that the audience is upbeat. Outside Lagos, it is as turned up as the entire world. They are always lively. Although in New York, they cheer well for the big artistes but everywhere else is ever more so.
What was growing up like for you?
Growing up was more about the academics for me. As a child, I lived directly opposite my primary school so, basically, there was no way out for me. My parents never allowed me attend any birthday party etc. but I was an energy bunny. I had a lot of energy locked up and I used it to partake successfully in a lot of social activities in school. Also, being a child from mixed marriage, I enjoyed a lot of perks from both cultural practices – from the food, the love etc. It was fun growing up.
Being a woman in the music industry, have you ever encountered any sort of harassment?
Oh! There is always harassment especially at the point when you’re a “nobody”. That’s when the biggest harassment happens because a lot of people rather want to help themselves with your body than help your career, which is quite disheartening. But even as I am right now, it’s still the same thing but just a higher class of people whose names I can’t mention so as to avoid trouble. I guess, it comes with the package.
What difficulties did you face on your rise to the top?
They were numerous. First, music is a very finance-intensive industry and, at the moment, we don’t exactly have people like Sony Music Group that would just come on the scene and drop a huge sum. So, basically everybody is ‘self employed’. Financing was a big problem. At a point, I would beg producers to produce songs for me and, because I didn’t have any money or whatever, I’ll have to beg them with fuel to record for me. I am really grateful for that opportunity.
Other situations were when people who you need don’t know you or don’t respect your music yet. You have to go the extra mile to impress. There were a lot of shows I was booked for that I ended up not performing because they just thought I was going to arrive and waste their time.
The biggest issue was even getting paid. I think, I actually really started getting paid about 2 – 3 years ago. My first pay was like twenty thousand naira and before I got that, my manager had to hold the person by the shorts! I’ve encountered a lot of obstacles and challenges but we thank God.
As one of the leading female artistes in the industry, what would you attribute your success to?
Definitely God is the master planner in my career and will always be. I tried to be innovative and staying blind to challenges and just overcoming them. I also give it up to Him that sees your dreams and works tirelessly to ensure that it comes to pass. That would be the core of everything for me.
Tell us about your “King of Queens” album.
The “King of Queens” album is my debut album. It’s an album that was recorded over years and it’s an album that shows me at different levels and stages as an artiste growing in music, talent and in dimension. It’s a work of art that I will forever hold dear to my heart.
Congratulations on grabbing multiple nominations and winning two awards at the MAMAs last year. How did that make you feel?
Hmmm! The words that can best describe that moment is: “Wow! At last!” I had been nominated for different awards and hadn’t bagged anyone until when I won that MTV Base; then, all the others just started trickling in. I started winning others.
You lost your father not long ago. How did you cope and how are you coping with that?
It’s a huge loss! It is a space in my heart that can never be filled by anybody. The memories, the good times, his work and his legacy are what keep me going in all I do in life.
Tell us about your song with Phyno – “Taking Over Me”. What inspired that?
Most times, I write based on fiction. I can’t remember the mind frame I was in then but I just went with the flow. I guess, it was just how I felt at the time.
Do you write all your lyrics?
Oh yes, I do. But, for my “Mama Africa” album, I actually let someone write two songs for me.
You escaped, thankfully, from a fire outbreak in London and wrote about three items you couldn’t leave behind – the phone and the Bible were understandable. Why was the iconic Invanity outfit so important?
It was 100% important for two reasons. One, it’s a luxury item if you’ve ever shopped from her; in the sense that her pieces don’t cost 5 naira. You know that you are paying for your money’s worth.
Secondly, I flew all the way from Nigeria to London for one reason only and that was to perform at the Wembley Arena. I will not miss that for anything, anything at all. The entire building was razed to ashes and all I could think was I must perform in that grand outfit and then go home feeling like a Don! So, that dress, at the end of the day, was important. To tell you the truth, I carried that dress first (laughs).
How would you describe your style?
In a few words, I would say original and easy going because I like to be very comfortable in my clothes; African with a little bit of edge and sometimes make it sassy. It’s very confident. I like comfortable fashion.
Did you always want to be a performer?
Oh yes, I’ve always wanted to be a performer.
If you weren’t doing music, what career line would you have ventured into?
I would probably use my degree in Geography for something else other than a job. I would have gone into acting or I think I would have been a presenter.
Tell us about your “Mama Africa” album.
My “Mama Africa” album, in one short sentence, is “The diary of an African woman.” It features songs that describe me as strong but a bit light headed; some things I said came out exactly as I felt it. It’s a story about every African woman.
Your song “Nagode” had a lot of appeal. What is the inspiration behind it?
“Nagode” is a song written by Selebobo. It even took me a while to tap into the song and own it mentally but the message is one that cannot hide. The message encourages everyone to thank God in abundance and even when there is nothing. It is an evergreen song and I believe it will echo on.
There were speculations about bad treatment African artistes got at the BET Awards last year. What’s your take on that?
Well, my take on that is clear. I put up a long post online and to coin it, I basically accused BET of treating Africans badly by giving the awards backstage. After flying 12-17 hours, all the way from all parts of Africa, just to be presented with awards backstage! But then, I was upset and hadn’t done my homework. Then, it occurred to me that if we haven’t been able to circulate our music properly to other parts of the world, we don’t have a right to be angry at them yet.
We need to build a following and then, definitely, a category will be put up for us and presented on stage, live on the show. (As you know) not all the categories, at the end of the day, got presented that night. Like I said earlier, I was upset then but realized I have to do my own home work.
Is there any “Johnny” in your life, at the moment, or is there a Mr. Right?
I refuse to have a ‘Johnny’ in Jesus name (laughs).
There have been speculations of you wanting to date Phyno. Should we expect any fireworks soon?
You guys should leave Phyno alone. I’m begging you.
What do you think the music industry needs?
A structure for starters and, probably, a messiah because someone has to sacrifice while some other person wins. But you know, we also need to learn to look out for each other, not just because of now, but so that our children and so on can enjoy the benefit of our struggles.
You are one of the most successful female artistes in Nigeria. What would you say needs to be done to promote more females in the industry?
I think, we should continue to do the right music. Most especially, we should try and be united. There is strength in unity compared to just single handed movements. I think, there’s too much work we have to do amongst ourselves, first of all. Then, the world will give us the exposure that we really deserve. Other than that, I know females have to do a lot of work like make-up, fashion etc. That takes hours compared to guys.
I think all we need to do is throw in extra hours to make it work so that people don’t put guys over us because we are evenly talented.
What is your take on excessive sexual displays in music videos recently?
Wow. I won’t say I support it but, sometimes, nudity is art. Although when it is in excess, these days, it actually doesn’t make sense and is no longer appealing. Maybe, at a point, it was but now it’s grouse. These ladies portraying nudity in videos are grown ups. They have chosen to do that with their lives and if that is the value of their bodies to them, then so be it. It’s grouse to me.
Are you involved in any philanthropic work at the moment?
Yes, I am involved with the ‘One Oak Life Foundation’.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
Right now, it’s “Mama Africa” for me and you can get that on my website. For now, promoting the album is priority, releasing videos and eventually going on all the tours – from Africa to Europe. Hopefully, at some point, (we will go) to Asia because we have a lot of fans there.