With over 25 years on stage, Muma Gee is no stranger to the craft of making music. In this interview with Mary Nnah, the popular Nigerian contemporary African music singer, songwriter, actress and fashion designer, High Chief Eke Muma Gift, who talked about doubling her hustle revealed the inspiration behind her soon-to-be released song, “Double Your Hustle”, her aspirations and putting the past behind her. She also delved into her life as a female in the entertainment industry, as well as measures to push her brand forward. Excerpts:
Are you really a chief?
Of course I am. In 2006, I was made a chief and January 7 of that year, it was my coronation. And 10 years later, precisely in 2016, I was made a High Chief. My chieftaincy title is the Onyo 1 of Ekpeye Kingdom in Ahoada East LGA of Rivers State.
You were given a chieftaincy title at a very young age, you must have been in your late 20s then, how did you feel then?
I was too young when I was given my first chieftaincy title and then I said to them, I am a very crazy person, I wear crazy stuff and then being an artist, it would be difficult for me to take up such role traditionally. But they said to me, ‘it is honorary. You would not be expected to move to the village to function as chief but nonetheless, we are recognising you for your good deeds and your contributions to the growth of Ekpeye people.’ That was in 2006 and 16 years later it was upgraded to a High Chief. I don’t know why but God knows best.
What has been happening to you lately?
Well, the latest is that I am telling people to please double their hustle with my current song titled, “Double Your Hustle”. “Double Your Hustle” is born out of the inspiration that one needs to upgrade oneself and push oneself. If we don’t do it for ourselves, who will? We need to also see the need to do more than just one job. We need think about the various areas of income flow available to us and then take advantage. Doubling your hustle goes beyond just doing two jobs, it goes as far as trying to upgrade your life so that you can contribute your own quota to building a better society for us all.
How many songs/albums have you produced so far?
I will say honestly that I can’t lay count on it but I have done quite a lot of work. I have been over 25 years on stage and the stage craftsmanship has not reduced in any way but you know we are here today talking about innovation, this brand has gone through some kind of innovation, we are pulling what the brand Muma Gee stands for and blending it with the new wave of the moment in the entertainment industry. That is to say, the way you heard the song that I did today, is quite different from the usual Muma Gee that you used to hear – it’s kind of inspiring and makes you strong willed. So that is what it is and I’m so happy about that because it took a lot of hard work, a lot of recording, condemning the song, and seeing the need to keep upgrading before we arrived at that.
What inspired the song?
Well, I have this very special person in my life that keeps telling me all the time, ‘Double Your Hustle’, forget about the odds and circumstances around you. And then I’m like, maybe it shouldn’t just be me gaining from this personally. I should also sell it to people out there, especially to youths, because due to lack of encouragement, a lot of them are giving up on life these days, they have gone into drugs and cultism and all the wrong things because no one is really encouraging their hustles. That was what inspired the song “Double Your Hustle”. So any time I do that song, it makes me feel good and when I got into the studio, everything that was ringing in my head was: You just have to Double Your Hustle.
Is the song out yet?
No, it hasn’t. Funny enough I performed it for the first time on stage today – it is fresh from the studio. We are working on the video and it is going to be dropping on or before my birthday, which comes up on November 18.
How is it like surviving in the entertainment industry as a female?
Well, not easy at all but you need to stand firm for yourself. First and foremost, consider the fact that you are a woman, self-esteem is extremely vital and holding unto yourself as a woman in respect to womanhood, otherwise, you may end up messing about with your body which I think is highly unnecessary. For you to grow in the industry there would be a lot of temptations here and there, people who would ordinarily do stuff for you would not because you are female and they feel you have to submit your body first. For me it’s cliché to think and reason that way with the level of civilisation now. And I mean, if you are coming to me as a female artist, I think you should foremost have a business mind. It is something we can’t shy away from, it happens in the industry and that is why a lot of the good and talented artists out there are not given opportunities like they should, instead you the mediocres, who are ready to lay down themselves for cheap aggrandisement.
What are the high and low moments of your life as an artist?
My case is very peculiar because when I started music, people were forced to believe that I was way older than my age because my high moment as an artist came like too high at a very young age. I was performing with the likes of Miriam Makeba and Yvonne Chaka Chaka, because of the brand of music that I delved into. I was able to craft a niche for myself and created my brand to be way more matured than it was supposed to be. So my high moments were so remarkable. I would say I was one of those few Nigerian female artists that started earning so high at a time because I was able to build a brand that was maybe unique or maybe it’s just God.
Low moments of my carrier, I would say are those moments that it becomes so hectic and boring to be a popular artist because you want to go into the market sometimes and feel like a real women but at times you can’t do that because you are Muma Gee. And sometimes you want to walk on the street and may be get yourself a boli (roasted plantain) from the roadside seller because you just feel the urge to do so like every other person does, but you can’t do it. Sometimes, you want to walk around freely on the streets like every other common man does but you can’t. So my low moments I would say are those times I can’t do certain things I wish to do just because I am subjected to be in closed doors. These have a devastating feeling on you and sometimes might drive you into depression because you are not mixing up and relating with people as you desire. I am by nature an indoor person but sometimes I want to wangle my way out and do something crazy like going to the market and choosing my kind of fabric myself. I am a fashion freak and also a fashion designer. I design most of what I wear, so sometimes people can’t really get across to me with the sort of fabrics I would want to use for my designs and all of that. Another thing is that part where the opposite sex feels that you are a sex object because you are an artist; they think you are loose, when you are really not. So you are misinterpreted as a female artist most times.
You sometimes appear wild, especially in your kind of dressing. What informs your kind of dressing?
Well as a theatre art person – I studied Theatre Arts at the university and so costuming was part of my trainings. Apart from the fact that I have wild imaginations, I also have the technical know-how of stage management. And so I know that as an artist to move around on stages, you need to feel free. Like the gown I am wearing right now is very elegant. I am supposed to be moving like a princess in it but without the tearing on the both sides, as it is now, I won’t be able to move my legs and so people may think I deliberately did the slits to look sexy or wild, Sometimes, it goes beyond just looking sexy to the fact that I need to push around my legs while on stage. But outside the stage I love to very free so I wear a lot of shorts, maybe because I have bow legs and I am confident of being unique with the bow legs.
For my wild afro hairstyles – you know that in the olden days, we didn’t have chemicals to soften our hairs, they were usually very stiff, so my hair style is the enactment of what we truly are as Africans but people just think oh, she just likes to wear crazy bushy hairs do.
There is this assumption that girls from River States, Port Harcourt especially, are wild. Does this has anything to do with your personality?
I am from Rivers State but grew up in so many places including the North, so I can speak Hausa very well. I grew up a bit in Port Harcourt but in a very strict family background. It may shock you that in spite of how wild I look, I don’t smoke and I have never tried smoking and up until now, I have never taste alcohol. So what’s wild about Rivers State girls? People keep saying that, not just you! Well, we don’t regret it because we look kind of more civilised maybe because of our early contact with civilisation – because of the riverine area we are from. Most of the Whiteman who came to colonise Nigeria came through these rivers and we came in contact with them, so a lot of our culture is exposed to the Western civilisation and so we are taught how to live civilised lives. And if people term that civilised way of living wild, then fine!
You seem to be saying your own wildness is a kind of camouflage?
It is not a camouflage, I am doing me! You need to see me drink water or just eat Fufu with you and then go on stage; you would just see a totally different person and that is because I allow my whole body to be controlled by the passion that I have in my prowess as regards expressing my art as Muma Gee.
Who influenced you while growing up – your mom or your dad?
My mom did. My dad died while I was quite young. My mom is not even as crazy as I am. I took the singing from my mom. She has always been a choir member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church up till date. She is about 73 year but she still sings in the choir because she derives joy from singing and praising God. I also took after her in fashion design because she was a seamstress and she used to double her hustle then. She was and still is a good teacher because she still teaches my children even now. In spite of the fact that she was making cloths, she was still buying and selling, and she used to do contract as well. Now that she is aged, I won’t let my mom do anything.
I never saw my mom drink alcohol. I grew up seeing my mom take malt or any other soft drink and that is what I do too. I grew up being very well caged. By mere eye contact, my mom has passed a message. And each step I make all the way from when I was a child, she tells me go with Jesus. She even told me that this morning because she lives with me now. And so that gives me the confidence that God is always with me. My mom will tell you the dos and don’ts of life and leave you to the options. And because she has given you a great foundation of growing up as a young person, you have no right to deviate.
My mom has never told me ‘you are beautiful’ but rather she will tell me ‘character is beauty.’ And being of good behaviour shapes your future. So if you let men deceive you or sweet talk you into anything, you are doomed. So that alone is scaring and you have no choice but sit tight and live a decent life. So not doing boys then as a child nor doing men now as an adult is in the blood for me. I might shock you a bit that I was circumcised, so sex to me is nothing but just a role I have to play to my husband. So I have never been promiscuous and never intend to be.
Are you saying circumcision curtails sexual urge in a woman?
Honestly it does. And even though I support the fact that government and some international organisations are going against circumcision but trust me, it will not deprive me from telling the truth that circumcision curbs prostitution and promiscuity in women. That is the truth as an African; I will not play down on it. I won’t lie to you.
What is your take on marriage and being a superstar?
To be sincere with you, I have always believed that before you go into marriage, you have to be ready and if you are not ready, don’t get in. So I never believed in separation or divorce but unfortunately the things you believe in sometimes do not work out for you the way you believe them. The reality of life sometimes hit you and forces you into what is different from your ideology. So now that I have fallen into the category of celebrities that were once married and no longer married, I am not regretting because I got three lovely children from a marriage failed like two years back after just six years of the union. And in anyway, I will never regret having been married to the person I got married to, because that was God’s plan for me at that time and when it didn’t work out the way I expected, I didn’t give up on life. It is only painful that I don’t believe in divorce or separation but separation met me.
So my take on marriage is think very well, be sure of yourself and make sure you are ready to settle down in the marriage before you go into it. If you noticed, for the six years I was married, I stayed off my career. I played down on my career not because I couldn’t be married and also be a star, but because I wanted to be sure I gave all to my marriage and truly between God and man, I gave it all. I hung up my career and made sure I built a family and I actually built a good family but if it turned out the way it did, who am I to question God? Now, I don’t want to cast my mind back because I have moved on and life goes on.
Were you ready for the marriage like you advised earlier?
I was fully prepared for it. If you read my previous interviews before I got married, I have always been asked when I was going to get married and I told them in due time I was going to get married and when I get married, I will give it all. And sincerely, when I eventually got married, I gave it all. But you know marriage has to do with two people and not just one person, so if the other person says I am done with it, no matter how much you manage it, it won’t work. That was the situation I found myself.
With your past experience in marriage, do you hope to remarry soon?
(Laughs) That’s funny! I am not even sure of an answer to that question. I am one that likes to leave my life in God’s. And like God to take control. Even when I was to separate from my husband, I said to God I have tried a couple of times to hold this turbulent water but the water keeps dripping off my hands, then God let your will be done. If He says I’m going to be remarried, I will, and if He says no, I will be highly fulfilled with three beautiful kids. Honestly, I am letting God take over my life. Now, if I should decide to remarry, how am I sure this person will be better than the previous one? So let God’s will be done in my life. What is important to me now is telling everybody out there, especially the Nigerian youths to double their hustle.
Is there room for possible reconciliation with your husband since you are only separated?
For now all I am doing is give total attention to my new song, “Double Your Hustle”, my mind hardly travels that lane, while I let God take total control of my life on what to be or not.
What is the future plan for the brand Muma Gee?
You know world music has vacancies. The class of music that the likes of Miriam Makeba, Brenda Fassie, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and some other renowned females artists out there did are all gone. I might turn out to be that person to fill those vacancies and that is the plan I have for my brand and not just me, my team Muma Gee has same plan and so hopefully, we are going to get there soon.
My genre of music is quite unique and I used to call it many other names – it is Samba African music. It is sound from Africa. It is African music, and so I will call it contemporary African music because we have gone a little more urban, it is not as traditional as it used to be, so it is African sound with a difference.
We are hoping to hit the world stage musically, promoting African music through the brand Muma Gee. We intend to sell our cultural value and heritage to the world, through that brand; Muma Gee.