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Monica Omorodion: Back in the Days, We Did Music for the Love of it
In her teenage days, Monica Omorodion Swaida a.k.a Monicazation was a backing vocalist for top artistes like Majek Fashek, Sunny Okosun, Evi Edna Ogoli and many more. Her tenacity has kept her relevant in the showbiz industry. She is a movie producer, music artiste, actress and a business woman. Monicazation wrote the music sound track ‘My Baby is Gone’ for the award-winning movie ‘Faces of Love’. Since then, she has gone on to produce some award-winning movies. Monica talks to Ibeabuchi Chinedu, about her journey through music and more
• Kimono once asked me to find gigs for him abroad. I spoke to some promoters but many said his time has passed
Looking back, what would you say has changed musically in Nigeria?
Back in the days, in the music scene, we did music for the love of music, not for the money. People think more of the monetary aspect these days instead of the love. I could sing Majek’s music and still have tears in my eyes, and many other musicians. These days, I don’t think I can sing a song and feel it like back in the days. These songs now are just to dance in parties, etc., no soul. Music has changed greatly, but there is still some good music out there; it is the changes in life. I’m still thankful for music.
What’s the reception of Nollywood among Nigerians in Diaspora like?
Africans in the Diaspora are beginning to love our Nollywood movies more now because we are doing such great jobs! Many appreciate the efforts being put into our work compared to 10 or 12 years back. Though many still say that we have a long way to go, but remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Many veteran actors now live in the U.S. Some are alleged to have dumped Nollywood for odd jobs to survive. Do you share same views?
I would say yes and no. Yes because many that came refused to go back. I don’t blame some of them who are in their old age. The quality of life is better abroad. Many Nollywood veterans have nothing to retire to. Many get sick and start begging to survive in Nigeria. It is a tough decision, but to them, it is worth it.
I say no also because I see some of our top actors returning home after their visits. It is their prime and it would be a big mistake to stay back. Those that stay back won’t tell you, but they are forced to work under the table like everyone. I know some that drive Uber or work as car park attendants, etc. No valid documents so they become illegal immigrants. If they over stay, they can no longer go back because they can never enter again. I always advise my friends to bear the storm if they are doing well in Nigeria. Many listen and most don’t. Some end up regretting it because their showbiz life dies. Some do work here though, but most don’t make it. I am not sure what I would do if I am in their shoes though. Nigeria is tough!
Do those actors venture into Hollywood?
Many try. But you have to remember that there are many actors fighting for the same roles. But you never know. Many have their own destiny. Many go to Hollywood to find their dreams end up homeless. The highest homelessness in America is in Hollywood. Many go there with high hopes. They wait and wait and wait and sometimes can’t go back. Dreams get lost etc. It is better to stay in a country where though, you are not too rich, but you are known, happy and doing what you love.
What’s your take on many veteran musicians struggling to survive?
The state of many veteran musicians is not very encouraging at all. There is no true system in place to help these folks. These musicians are the ones that blessed us with so many memories. The problem mostly is because of royalties. There is no way to collect money for their works. Here in America, most musicians live on past glories. They are treated like gods. They are called for honorary gigs and paid well. I was talking to one of my daddy’s in the industry before he died, late Ras Kimono. He cried about this issue also. Nigerians forget the old artistes and go after new artistes. They don’t even know our old musicians. I personally think it is because we don’t have the right infrastructure in place to make them iconic. Most sing for pennies. Kimono asked me to find gigs for him abroad. I spoke to some promoters here to help but many said his time has passed, etc.
Remember what you asked about our actors coming abroad to live? This was the same situation with Kimono. He decided to go back to Nigeria to find gigs. At least, he is known and respected back home even though he didn’t have money. It is an insult for such a big star to come and start working as a car lot attendant. He actually tried it once. When he attended to someone that recognised him, they started hailing him and singing his songs. He couldn’t tell them he worked there. He turned around and went home. This can only happen in Africa! It is pathetic! Thank God Ras Kimono walked with his head raised up. He lived and died as a musician. I know many that had to let go of their dreams to feed families in the Diaspora.
What’s your last moment with Ras kimono like?
My last moment with Ras Kimono was a blessed one. We talked on Facebook and we got on the phone. We talked and talked for a long time. We spoke mostly about Majek Fashek. I needed him to help Majek. Many don’t know but Kimono was a very huge help. He was a silent helper. He was one person I could talk freely to about Majek. He told me that we are only helping Fashek. ‘Monica! What about me nah? Abi una want make we go take drugs or sleep on the roads before una remember us?’ These were Kimono’s words to me. My heart was broken! I didn’t know he was struggling in anyway at all because he never complained. All he always asked for was for us to get them gigs. I was sad. I called a popular promoter here in Boston and he said the same thing many said. These musicians are too old. It won’t sell. Their time is passed. I thought of a great opportunity and told Kimono about a festival in Lowell Massachusetts that I had hosted for over 10 years. He was excited! I told him that I would tell the organisers to help. I broke his heart because they didn’t agree.
Can you believe a Nigerian was part of the committee? Shame on him. Kimono told me he would love to be part of my movie premiere of Esohe that was going on then. He told me that he wanted to help his little sister (me). I was overwhelmed with joy!!! Kimono came and spent three whole days with me in Massachusetts! He was in my home; we danced and shared fond memories. I called upon Kimono during the festival that day and he came on stage with me. He did it for me. The video is currently on Facebook for all to see. I called Kimono five days before his death. We spoke about him helping to bring Majek to America with him. We talked about private things and then I got the cold news that dark morning that Kimono don die! Oh! What a crazy life (sad).
I am thankful for the quality time we spent together. I created a new festival called Showcase Africa and had my first meeting with potential members the same day Kimono died. We must try to sell Africa and our talents to the world. We must! If we don’t, then who will?
What was his lifestyle like?
He was a strict vegetarian and we had to go out and buy him strictly vegetarian foods. Kimono never did drugs. He was also a brain behind helping Majek Fashek.
Do you think the Nigeria Government has done enough to support the creative industry?
No. All we got to look at is National Theatre in Lagos. See what it has become. Government gives to individuals for political gains. That is sad. Government needs to look at the art and creative industry and support it in general. If they do, they will bring so much tourism to our country. Think of Festac 77! They need to help work against piracy and encourage royalties. Help the industry fight the crimes of piracy.
What role are you playing in the area of insurance which is one of your career path?
Nigeria is a great country. But the amenities are not well in place. Many abroad are struggling, but they are surviving via a great association like guilds which help in areas of life insurance, health insurance, etc. They save up for the raining days like old age, sickness or when in need. Nigerian guilds need huge improvement and I can give back by consulting for them for free.
What is your life philosophy?
Be good to all. No one knows tomorrow. Failure is not an option.
Not learning to speak my mom’s language, Igbo or my dad’s language, Benin and Yoruba. I wish I was taught as a child.
What’s your greatest fear about life?
Not to live a fulfilled life.
Tell about your ‘Street Angels TV’ initiative?
Street Angel TV is an initiative that God put in my heart. Going back to Nigeria has opened my eyes a lot to how people are suffering not because they are lazy, but because of the lack of opportunity. Many educated brothers and sisters are going around the streets with no hope for jobs or opportunities. Mothers, fathers paralysed because of lack of funds to help their family. Many need opportunities.
The government has failed so many people. Many that work are not paid; most that are retired have no pension. We must look within ourselves to help fellow man. I look at it this way, instead of me to fly first class or business class for $5000; I can fly economy and give out the money to many that need help.
There are so many people out there looking for help. We all can be able to do plenty one person at a time.