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MAIRE ABIA-BASSEY: Using Music to Advance the Woman’s World
Nigeria’s Newest Female Artiste
With glistening skin, seductive eyes, delicate fingers, and luxuriant fluffy hair, she emerged like a fairytale princess out of a fable book. Then she struck a chord with her delicately-poised, eclectic voice creating an ambient soundtrack for the electrified audience. When the enraptured crowd heard ‘Spend like Alhaji’, next single, ‘Addicted’ got them hooked on and they went gaga with ‘Mkpoyo’. Down-to-earth, the heavenly songstress Maire Abia-Bassey is brain and beauty personified. Exuding ingenuity and camaraderie, Maire has turned a dinghy, distant past into a rose-bed of the enchanting present, writes Bayo Akinloye
Everything looks surreal. Her voice wafts through the air with incredible cadence. The beat roars out of the speakers, waists winding in electric fashion. Like a pristine princess carved out of fairytale storybook, she bursts into dancehall frenzy as throngs of fans gyrate with abandonment. Dressed in fiery red, effervescent attire – dragon-themed – Maire Abia-Bassey takes her audience into a surreal moment of ecstasy. As if speaking a thousand tongues, Maire sings as if her life depends upon it – with golden beads of sweat forming on her brow.
Maire! Maire! Maire! The adrenalin-charged fans want more. Again, they let out a shriek: Maire! Maire! Maire! By now she has disappeared into the silhouette of the dimly-lit corner of the stage. The crowd’s shrieks continue to reverberate forming a sound of music of its own.
Maire appears again. In dazzling blue dress with plunging neckline held delicately by tiny straps, she sets the stage aglow as she meanders with grace and gumption – with the melodrama sparking off another breathtaking moment of stirring melodic bashment. She has always wanted to take the centre stage.
“Music is my passion,” says Maire.
“Nothing is as fulfilling as making a dope record or leaving a very energetic rehearsal session. Literally, even if I have a migraine, once I walk into a rehearsal session it disappears.”
A first-class graduate in Communications and Multimedia Design from the American University of Nigeria, Maire makes a living from what she loves doing. A bundle of talent, she sees herself as a music entrepreneur in the making. Sure-footed, she is not just concerned about making music.
“You will find me coming up with marketing strategies to help me connect better with my fans,” the youngster explains, “writing business plans and proposals with my goals and ambitions for my music. Being in both the corporate and entertainment world gives me a perspective that most musicians don’t have.”
It is not difficult to understand her flight of passage through time and travails.
Less than four years old, at night after her nanny had bathed her while preparing little Maire to go to bed, Maire often grabbed a bottle of lotion, turned it upside down and pretended it was a mike in hand – inspired in the dusk she began to sing, dance – in front of the mirror. With mouth often agape, her household was her spellbound audience.
“They’d laugh and cheer me on,” Maire recalls.
“When I was nine, my cousin put some friends and me in a girl group and taught us to make dance moves. I composed female anthems,” she adds, “because in my head we were TLC. I guess music and entertainment have always been in my blood.”
Music is not just in her blood. Music flows in her unceasingly – not even the grip of the grief of her mom could stop the flow.
“I started dropping music after my mum passed away in 2013. The first song was ‘DJ’ featuring Tekno (it was produced by Tekno). Mkpoyo (celebration) followed,” Maire reveals, “as an ode to my mom who was always the life of the party.”
It was Maire’s own way of encouraging her family to be happy because they were all distraught. In that moment of being gripped by grief, she found solace in using a lot of the Calabar expressions her mom would normally use.
“Honestly,” she admits, “that studio session was very spiritual for me. It felt like her spirit was there with me – singing through me. However, things became professional in 2016 when ‘Alhaji’ was released.”
Though not under any recording label, Maire says she is inspired as an independent artiste to work her way up.
From Oron in Akwa Ibom State, Maire is the granddaughter of a paramount ruler though she grew up in Lagos.
“After my mom passed away, life was unkind to me and that’s a reality,” she confesses. “I saw the real world. It was a rude awakening for a girl like me who grew up having everything at her feet. Nobody goes through what I went through and remains grounded.”
Maire was faced with the option of cracking under pressure, settling for regular life, compromising her values or taking the bull by the horns to making something out of nothing while fighting to the finish.
“I guess you already know which option I chose,” she winks with a wry smile.
“The hustle brought me back here – to Lagos. We die here until we ‘blow’!”
For Maire, music has the power or mandate to influence an entire generation – having a way of connecting the world, making it a global village.
“It’s pop culture,” she lets out.
She believes she is conscious of the kind of messages, she put out in her music which has a tinge of ‘rebellion’ in it.
She explains: “In a society that tries to suppress our truths as women, and objectify us, I am very rebellious to the status quo with my message of female empowerment in my music.”
Like men, women too have certain feelings and characters. But Maire is convinced they are often forced to hide them in order to be perceived as ‘good women’.
“So I approach my music from an unusual perspective,” Maire acknowledges.
“My songs, ‘Bad’ and ‘Kau Kau’ (gunshot) are two of those songs that put the woman in a position of power and I say things women ordinarily won’t say.
“Bad talks about a woman shooting her shot not waiting to get shot at.”
This may not be surprising because Maire grew up in a competitive environment dominated by males. In school, she was often the only girl among the top five ‘A’ students.
This made her know that as much as it is a “man’s world” it is also a woman’s world.
“I want women,” says Maire explaining her mission, “to know they don’t have to compromise to get to the top in life. God has given us equal brains and voices so why not use them to get ahead? You can call me the liberator of women.”
But she is not.
She fears pressure. Maire fears the pressure to conform and the pressure to live a certain lifestyle.
“But,” she argues, “looking at where I’m coming from, it makes perfect sense why I have gone through the things I have gone through. God has a way of preparing you through trauma. I have had people come and go; material things come and go.”
Maire believes she has evolved in her way of thinking and relating with people, admitting that she is never going to give up without a fight.
She has been fighting for acceptance in the music industry and has some personal struggles to deal with despite having a terrific beginning.
“The start was great for me. My style made people pay attention to me,” she thinks.
“What affected me really was the long break after Alhaji was released.”
After that sizzling single there were a lot of internal issues with management and other things. Some people felt her career had become stagnant.
“I had a lot of trouble in my personal life and little or no support from family. It was really a learning curve for me,” she points out.
Not one to give up, Maire has bounced back with a banging single, ‘Addicted’.
“It’s a very different sound and people love it. Still working on making sure everyone hears it,” she says. But Maire adds: “I have learnt not to really worry about people’s opinions but stay true to myself and keep going; the people I’m meant to inspire will eventually come across my music in the very near future.”
The young, eclectic young artiste thinks Burna Boy is the gold standard for the music industry in Nigeria.
“I know what it feels like to be misunderstood and he has risen above it all. He’s a true testimony that talent will always supersede popular opinion no matter how long it takes. I also feel like sound-wise he has a strong fusion of afro-beat/ R’n’B and bashment which I can totally relate to,” she shares. Maire loves performing on stage.
“I really hate performances where I have to sing over my soundtrack because the set-up does not provide an opportunity to sing live. It’s not real. “It doesn’t allow you to connect with the people watching. That’s why I go the extra mile with band rehearsals and stuff,” Maire discloses.
Burna boy, to her, set the bar high last December with his concert: full live band, props and all. But there is more to Maire than is already known.
For one, she feels she an afro-urban artiste, saying her art is versatile, influenced by various genres including R’n’B, afro-beat, bashment, and hip-hop.
At the same time, she sees herself having a very strong background in R’n’B as she grew up in the Aaliyah-TLC-Destiny’s Child-era.
“My first single, Alhaji (Spend like Alhaji), was produced by the prolific A-list producer, Spellz – whom I like to describe as the Timbaland to my Aaliyah. “It has a very strong R’n’B vibe which was the hot sound at the time with the new R’n’B wave Chris brown had going on with chart-topping songs like ‘Loyal’ and ‘Show Me’,” Maire recollects.
However, what made her music different is its afro-twist.
“The way I combined the Nigerian lyrics and pidgin over the beat, I guess, is what caught everyone’s attention. ‘Bad’ was the follow-up single with a similar sound and fun-loving nature,” she says.
“However, we infused bashment (dancehall) vibes which I love so much. I have grown since then and my sound is constantly evolving. With singles like ‘Addicted’ and ‘Mkpoyo’, I borrowed my local Oron language over infectious high life and afro-beats.
“The tongue twisters in Oron/Calabar are really infectious so it’s hilarious when people usually try to imitate my flow because it sounds so foreign but sweet. Half the time, they think it’s just meaningless lambas until I actually sit down to translate them,” Maire tells THISDAY.
The talented artiste has fire in the pit of her belly, pointing out that Africa is the home of rhythm.
“So we have that advantage over other genres from other parts of the world. What’s beautiful is our ability to fuse different genres and still make it original,” Maire thinks.
“It’s no surprise that Africa is in the limelight on the global stage, slowly dominating world music and it feels good to be in this digital era of music.”