‘Hallelujah’ Song Shoots A’rese to Stardom


Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha capture the defining moments of transformation as another talented Nigerian youth is rewarded for staying true to her passion

Quite a few persons may be credited with the soaring success of A’rese (Agharese) Emokpae, who has pushed her whole body through the doorway of Nigerian entertainment industry to stand in a place of honour. One of those who are readily acknowledged is Bolanle Austen-Peters, owner of Lagos-based culture hub, Terra Kulture, whose BAP Productions may be credited with honing A’rese’s skill as a performer.

BAP is increasingly known for its production of musicals as exemplified by its flagship creation, ‘Wakaa’ in which A’rese shone like a million stars. Certainly, Bolanle deserves some praise for recognising the talent in A’rese and casting her in the extravagant and charming role as Kike in ‘Wakaa’ the Musical.

Of course, A’rese won the hearts of many with her rendition of songs like Adele’s ‘Hello’ and the peerless interpretation of her part as an overly pampered daughter of a wealthy man whose ambitions tilted towards luxury and opulence. All that is in the past now. A new A’rese has evolved. For now and probably in the timeless book of history, the 28-year-old stage actress’ fame would be rooted in The Voice Nigeria. Perhaps, ‘Wakaa’ will just be an appendage.

In a keenly contested show, filled with tension and elation, A’rese emerged winner of the first edition of The Voice Nigeria last Sunday.

Her victory came as a surprise to many. It would appear as if the odds were stacked against her, in many instances. A critical look at her journey in the reality TV show hardly favoured her in finding a place in the top four.
With the likes of Brenda, who apparently had the unflinching support of her coach, 2Baba to wear the crown and Chike’s name being chanted in the echoing hall, A’rese’s chance of winning was very slim.

Interestingly, during these tension-soaked moments, the only thing on the songstress’ mind was the song ‘Hallelujah’. She kept hoping that she would get a chance to sing her second choice for the night. The rest she left in the hands of the Almighty God.

Little did she know that the song, irrespective of the public votes would be her hat-trick. Even those who expressed mixed feelings towards her emergence as the winner couldn’t help but admire the power of emotion she infused into the song made popular by the American singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley. The song was originally performed by Leonard Cohen. With A’rese’s delivery, there is no doubt that her cover of the song will be much admired.

Unknown to many, she rendered the song as a mark of respect to her father. She knew it would resonate certain emotions in him. “I sang that song because of my father. I knew, without looking at him in the audience that he was crying. The emotion of the moment, getting that far made me so grateful, appreciative, so happy to be there, it all came out on stage and I just let it flow.”

Arese...poses beside her SUV prize‘Hallelujah’ was just one of the few songs that A’rese thrilled her audience with. Having the privilege to choose her own songs for the ‘live show’ gave A’rese the opportunity to showcase her kind of music, which she described as eclectic.

“I am attracted to the kind of songs that most people would not expect me to listen to because of my age. I’m influenced by a lot of things. People go through my playlist and the reactions sometimes are like ‘Who is this artiste?’, ‘What kind of weird song are you listening to?’ There are times they are like ‘I haven’t heard such songs before, tell me or show me more’. I think I influence people that way and that makes me different.”

One of her explosive performances that expressed her versatility in the show was ‘Hide and Seek’. A very technical song which her coach Waje feared would be misinterpreted by the audience. Surprisingly, it earned her great applause.
In a way, A’rese shared a special bond with Waje. Throughout the competition, Waje would always save her at precarious moments. A’rese would rather see Waje’s actions towards her as mentorship than favouritism.

“I think Waje believes in uniqueness. She understands that just because you don’t sound like everybody else doesn’t mean you are not good at what you do. I think she sees something in me that was worth coaching and rooting for. And that save at the end was the biggest vote of confidence I could ever ask for, because all through the season I had been fighting to stay in the competition. You can understand my appreciation when she saved me in that critical moment.”

Apart from her unique ability to sing, A’rese also leveraged on her skills as a stage actress; interpreting the songs to evoke emotions from her audience.
To be sure, A’rese entered the competition with an open mind. A friend notified her on Whatsapp about the competition and by the time she went for the audition, she knew she would want to be part of the amazing experience the show offered. She was also buoyed by the prominence of the franchise, which is an adaptation of ‘The Voice of Holland’.

On April 10, 2016, thousands of eyes glued to Africa Magic Showcase for the premiere of the Voice Nigeria Reality Show which began with 48 contestants. Expectations were very high. Media hype and buzz lent credence to the heightened anticipation.
Having been adjudged the best music reality TV show since its debut in 2011 in USA, Nigerians were eager to see the outcome of the local adaptation.

Not a few wondered if the selected judges: 2Baba, Timi Dakolo, Waje and Patoranking, would meet up to par with the American version. It is a known fact that the NBC show is famous for its emotional rollercoaster intensified by the twists and turns caused by both the contestants and judges. The creators clearly rewrote the script of music competitions by making its judges a major part of the show. But its beauty lies in the selection process and format that made previous popular reality shows look like child’s play. Little wonder that it knocked off ‘American Idol’ in its first year.

As indicated in the name, the show is simply about the voice. Judges are made to listen to the contestants with their ears only. With backs turned, they go through the rigorous process of identifying with the contestant through their voice. If they found the sound pleasing to their ears, they press a button on their seat which automatically spins to face the stage where the contestant is belting her song with all her being and hope. If the contestant is lucky enough to have at least two seats turned, he/she will be put in a difficult position to choose a judge.

At this juncture, the judges will have to employ their marketing skills to make the contestant choose them. This process of selection is called the ‘blind auditions’. The selected contestants for each judge form a team and proceed to the next stage called the ‘battle rounds’ where the judge pair contestants in her team in duets for further pruning. However, the judges have the opportunity to save a contestant who they feel is good enough to remain in the competition.

The competition follows a pattern of saves by the judges and the voting process to the grand finale where the winner goes home with a record deal with Universal Music Group, $100,000 cash prize and other additional gifts.
With all these in view, not a few had lingering doubts that the Nigerian version would live up to the bill.

So on this special Sunday evening, families, music lovers and fans, art and entertainment critics and other silent observers tuned in to Africa Magic on DStv Channel 151 to watch the much-anticipated show. By the end of the first episode, the Voice Nigeria got its first round of applause on social media, particularly on Twitter. Positive commentaries lauded the show; even the judges who didn’t look too promising got a thumbs-up. For instance, Timi was nicknamed Pastor/General Overseer in the show.

Perhaps, the most focused feature of its premiere was its stage. Re-enactment of the popular stage gained nods but not for too long as Nigerians would later express their disappointment in having the show filmed in South Africa.
Although, the organisers relied on the unfriendly business and economic situation in the country as reason to rob Nigeria of the benefits of filming the show in the country, the show nevertheless garnered much viewership. According to the Director, M-Net West Africa, Wangi Mba-Uzoukwu, over two million votes were collated in the grand finale.

One hundred and fifteen days later, the spotlight is on A’rese who smiled home with a recording deal with Universal Music Group and a N7 million SUV, courtesy of Africa Magic; a brand ambassadorship deal with Airtel, and a 4-day all-expense paid trip for two to Abu Dhabi courtesy Etihad Airways, which, by the way, she intends to go with her younger sister.

Looking resplendent in her bright orange dress and green shoes that matched the charming flash of her white teeth, A’rese arrived the Wheatbaker Hotel in Ikoyi, Lagos venue of meeting with journalists and presentation of prizes with a confident smile, perhaps a feature, one of the sponsors of the show, Close-Up toothpaste, should consider.

Her crown of natural hair, styled in afro locks stood her out. She’s been grooming it for six years. Besides that, her quiet mien also added to the mystery of her personality. This, she said, is one of the attributes that makes her different. However, it doesn’t limit her social skills. She revealed that she formed a friendship bond with the other seven contestants who made it to the Top 8. A’rese modestly refused to accept that her current status makes her better than her fellow contestants.

“I think everybody that went past the blind auditions was special and talented in their own way and they have something different they brought to the table. From the beginning, we all knew there is going to be one winner but we know we are worthy in our own way. So we kept that in mind. Just being ourselves.”
Her name, A’rese in Bini means ‘I am born well’ and she believes her new found fame justifies her name. The eldest of four children, A’rese hopes to return to her first love, ‘the stage’, soon.

“I knew eventually that I would start making my own music. That was why I auditioned for The Voice. The Voice came at the right time, when I thought I was ready to share my music with the world. Stage has always been my first love but I’m going to focus on my music for now. I will definitely go back to stage sometime.”
She was unable to join her ‘Wakaa’ cast for the London premiere last month due to the competition. She was replaced by Nengi Adoki.

So far, The Voice is the biggest platform she has ever showcased her talents. “I have been doing stage as long as I can remember. Some musicals, a bit of acting, so it’s a brand new experience for me. One of the biggest values The Voice taught me is to stick to your truth, to be yourself 100 per cent because that is what will resonate with people. I also learned a lot about production and music and how TV works.”

She hopes that Nigerians would be receptive to her kind of music.
A’rese may be the overall winner of the show but Chike, Brenda, Cornel, Dewe, Viveeyan, Nonso and Patrick are not leaving empty-handed. They will become Airtel ambassadors. Mr. Enitan Denloye, the Vice President, Brands and Advertising for Airtel Nigeria, described A’rese as, “A deserving winner who embodies the spirit of youth, passion, skill and perseverance.”

Also speaking at the press conference, Mr. Dozie Okafor, the Media Manager, Coca Cola Nigeria hinted at deeper partnerships between Coca-Cola and The Voice contestants from season one, and for future editions of the show that may witness their participation in the Coca-Cola created Pan-African music platform known as Coke Studio.
pix: Arese i.JPG, Arese Wins 2.JPG and Arese…poses beside her SUV prize.JPG