In the few months that – A Conversation With… – has been on, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing three very distinct female musicians. The industry is still quite lacking when it comes to established female musicians, yes, but have you looked at the list of up and coming? It’s teeming with gorgeous female talents, that, if given the same chances as their male counterparts (chances they’re not sitting down and waiting for. These women are going out to get theirs!), they could be huge in a matter of a few short years. One of such talents is Maka, the Soul Singer. At only 25, Maka has the voice and outlook of a seasoned veteran. Her alto voice provides the soothing elements that we’ve come to expect and love from soul singers like Jill Scott…I sat down with her to get to know more about her influences and what era she believes she belongs in. (Hint: it’s not this one).
Did you ever feel any fear or doubt coming into this industry with a sound like yours? Questioning whether the audience would get it or appreciate the sound?
To be honest, I always knew that it wasn’t going to be so easy but I knew my sound was going to be accepted. It’s not like I’m the first person to actually try. I have a couple of talented people that I look up to and I knew that if they could do it that i could do it and it was just a matter of time. Asa did it. Timi Dakolo, Dare, all with an alternative sound, so I knew that I would definitely be accepted.
Asa and Nneka found more appreciation from the Nigeria audience when they moved overseas. Do you think that in terms of expanding your market and career, moving away from Nigeria might be an option for you?
I don’t know about moving away. [Nigeria] is always home. I want to travel and perform all over the globe; that’s the plan. Not to stay in a place for too long [but to] travel anywhere my services are needed and perform for the fans. I’ve already started doing that. I performed in Italy last year.
What was that like?
It was a really amazing experience. It was a small crowd, but amazing.
How old were you when you started taking music seriously?
I was an undergraduate at Unilag (University of Lagos). I started as a backup singer. I always knew that music was going to be my thing. I didn’t quite know how to get into it because I was studying Law and it was time-consuming. As a Unilag student, it isn’t that hard to socialise, I started going out and meeting other people. I met Jesse Jagz, Blackmagic and started [performing] backup for them. I went into the studio in my third year and release a song. I started performing in Unilag a lot and that gave me experience and exposure. Any concert that happened at Unilag, they would put my name on the flyer. Back then Wizkid, Lynxxx [and others] used to have all this university tours. I went to Law School, got called to bar, worked for two years, I felt it was time to take music seriously, then I resigned.
What was that transition like for you?
I was very nervous. I actually had the talk with my boss at the time. He understood and he thought that I was really young and so that was the best time to follow the music. He was a really cool guy. We still keep in touch. He just convinced me that it was the best time to follow my passion. He actually used to come and watch me perform from time to time. He knew that there was something there. I was actually really frustrated as I was trying to do music and work at the same time. I would have radio interviews and have to tell them that I had a 9-5. I was missing a lot of opportunities that I felt would help me. So I had to just choose and it couldn’t have been law. As fate would have it, my family understood. That’s really good because a lot of people find that to be quite a task.My mum and I had a big fight when I was still in the university because of the music. I was studying Law and she wanted me to focus on school. So she told me if I could just survive law school, just get called to bar, I could do whatever I wanted. But before I knew it, I left law school and had a job. When I told her that I really wanted to leave my job, she said “What kind of person would I be if I did not keep my word?”
One of the reasons I wanted to interview you for this issue is because I saw a Facebook post where you wrote a letter to yourself. How liberating – cathartic – was it foryou write that letter with a better understanding of yourself?
I’ve never been much of a talker, but once it comes to putting down my feelings into words or music, I’m very open. It wasn’t that hard to be vulnerable that way. It’s almost my second nature to just write. I was feeling a little down and that’s the only way I knew how to express myself. I decided to share this with everyone so that people wouldn’t be so scared to speak their truth, let their feelings out, know that they’re not alone, no one is perfect. It’s all about self-love.
Was it difficult for you to get a point where you appreciated yourself?
Yes. I think every woman has that thing, the beauty standards, career… [All the things] that come with being a woman. Sometimes you have to take a breather and remind yourself that you’re freaking awesome.
I listened to your song “I Just Got a Check” and it made me think of what it means to go from deciding to pursue music fully to getting your first paycheck. That feeling of legitimacy.
For the first few years of my career, I was going everywhere, from Bogobiri, Freedom Park, Ikeja, everywhere. I have performed in Isolo, Iyana Ipaja. I would be broke. My mum is a single parent, my dad died when I was really young. She [wasn’t able to] support me. She would say “Maka, you know you have to go back to work, I have my own problems, I can’t keep supporting you as well.” It was hard. I would talk to myself and say “You’re really great at it.” This is something that I am good at, something that I don’t have to struggle with. Why wouldn’t I be successful at it? Why wouldn’t people want to pay me for it? I kept meeting people, getting my heart broken. This industry has taught me to be strong. I don’t think I can be fazed by anything in life anymore. I feel like I’m one of the strongest people I know because of what I’ve gone through and I’m just 25. Then I got a call from my aunt one day, she asked me to sing for her at her office Christmas party and they would pay me. I did that and I really impressed her office and they called me back the next year. That was the inspiration behind the song. I made the song last year and finally decided to release it.
How often did you have existential crises where your life was going, after the big jump?
I don’t think I can count how many times I doubted myself. I knew I didn’t make a bad decision to quit work and do music. I only felt sad because of my mother, I never felt sad for myself. I would think about the days when I was making a monthly income, I would contribute to the house. But once I left work and exhausted my savings, it was like I want back in time and started depending on my mum again. I don’t mind the falls of the career. Every great person has those stories. Since last year, a lot of things have changed. It’s a little brighter now, I’m definitely not where I was when I started.
A question I seem to ask certain types of musicians a lot is: If you could be you, Maka, the soul singer, in any era from the 1920s to now, what era would you choose?
That’s easy. The fifties. I love the music from that time. The music was amazing. Names like Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday… The way of life was simple and free, organic.
I was having a conversation about how important a female musician’s fashion sense is to their entire “brand.” For lack of a better word. I argued that that’s not necessarily true if the content is of value. How important do you think image is to you as an artiste?
Image is very important. It’s a good way to market your product. Someone doing pop music would have to focus on the fashion side of show business. Butn the flip side, for someone like me, – our eccentricity is what makes us really sell – being myself and focusing on the music still sells. I wouldn’t say I’m into fashion, I just like to express myself when I dress. Somedays I might be feeling groggy, which happens very rarely. Most days I feel somehow, deep down like a hippy, that Erykah Badu vibe and wear a kimono and flared pants. If I had my way, I would always wear a kimono and flared pants. At the end of the day, it’s still all about the music.
Do you feel that there is an existing sense of community that exists where the women are concerned (the performers, backstage crew)?
Social media has helped bridge a lot of gaps. We might not be close in person, but just because you follow me on social media, I can communicate via that medium. I feel that social media is real, especially for people in this industry. In the real world, everyone has a clique. I’ve never really been one to depend on an established act for success or fame. I feel everyone should do their thing, and wish each other well without stepping on toes. If you meet someone, be genuine. I feel that community exists more on social media.
How far do you think we can translate that from social media to real life?
I feel that the whole world is moving with the internet and that might just be the way it is for now.
This interview was first published in Genevieve Magazine March Issue. Click HERE to Purchase