FLORENCE “CUPPY” OTEDOLA is a multifaceted being. Yes, she is as cheery and charming in person, as she appears on social media and in her music, but beyond that, she is an empath. Her desire to save the world is what has led her on this current philanthropic journey, but it’s not just in writing; Cuppy’s on a mission to save the children. Here, in conversation with Sonia Irabor, she talks about her trip to Maiduguri, her gala and picking the battles when it comes to misconceptions of her and her brand.
You recently visited Borno State and spent some time with displaced youth there. Why did you feel that this was the right time to make that visit?
When I first came into the music industry, I was so bent on building a name for myself outside of my dad’s, so I was super-focused on just achieving in the music space. But I noticed, you know, compared to making money, the best thing for me was [being] able to make people happy. I definitely realised that I have what I have because I was given an opportunity and I was given access, and I consider myself definitely privileged, so I feel the need to also give back and provide an opportunity for other people. I decided to start very casually working with different organisations. In terms of the timing of it, this is just a time when I’m maturing, I’m  now. I’ve managed to have a steady income so I have enough support to now support others. I wanted to make sure I had a structure first, essentially like a root and a base, because it would kind of suck if I was supporting people and I couldn’t support myself. I’ve used the music and the brand to pull people in and now it’s time to give them some substance. You know, I’ve been able to create a brand that’s fun and it’s time to use the fun to do fulfillment.
What was your biggest take away from that experience?
Going to Borno was a very exciting and nerve-wracking experience. It was highly confidential at the time and I feel like it was cancelled about ten times, because everyday, as we know, on the news there [were] reports of more violence and we were very worried about aggravating some of the local communities. In the beginning, to be honest, a lot of people didn’t want to meet me because [although] it’s a very violent area, a lot of the people there live in peace and so they felt like I could have been a disruption to them and their wellbeing, so there were a lot of loops. I wanted to really do this because I felt like, how dare I say that I’m a philanthropist and sit comfortably in Lagos, talking about helping children up North when I’ve never engaged with them? So authenticity was very important. I felt like, you don’t really help others until you put your own life at risk. I said this to my parents and they were very unhappy but I said, I’m willing to die to go and help these children, and I’ve never in my life felt that way. Being there was very emotional for me. The biggest takeaway for me was to prioritise. That’s a big thing for me now in my life because I went there [with], kind of, a hero [complex], let’s make sure we educate these children, [but] you can’t educate children that are dying. The last thing you want to do at those camps and those sick beds is give them a book. You want to literally get them a blood transfusion, you want to comfort them, you want to feed them and so it made me [realise] I wasn’t prioritising and I also was being quite blind to a lot of things and I’ve now applied that narrative to my brand, to my life. I’m trying to prioritise a bit more and make sure that I don’t jump steps. If I could, Sonia, I would save the world. But you can’t save the world until you do the basics and I’m learning to be more at pace with everything I do.
There’s a lot to unpack in there. How do you navigate people’s expectations of you inside and outside of the industry, being the daughter of… who you’re the daughter of, without losing yourself, losing the focus that you have…?
I mean, I do feel like I’ve lost myself sometimes. It’s so addictive, this success thing, and we want more. Success for me, like I said, it’s landmarks, it’s achievements, it’s not money, so it can be very addictive, and so what happens is you do lose yourself. I don’t believe any person in the public eye that says, they’ve never struggled with it. I lose myself and I find myself. Recently, it was quite controversial; I was on Instagram Live – I was supposed to promote a beer brand – and I literally had a meltdown. I just burst into tears. I just needed to shut down for a few days and I know my fans were very worried because they’re used me to being a 100% happy [but] I’m a human being at the end of the day and I got overwhelmed. And when you’re creative, we get frustrated sometimes because we’re restricted to what we can do or what we can say and that’s why I love this opportunity from Genevieve Magazine, to express myself because I feel like sometimes I have to be “perfect” and you know, people use that against me. You know, like you said, how have I dealt with being Femi Otedola’s daughter? I haven’t dealt with it in a great way. I’ve done what I’ve had to do, but it’s also been [to] the detriment of my own individualism. I want to express myself. There’s probably crazy things I want to say, certain ways I want to look. I’ve gotten away with pink hair but you know… I wouldn’t say it’s a burden of a shadow but I have this thing over me and it’s becoming lighter and lighter and it’s funny, my father and I talk about how he gets recognised as DJ Cuppy’s dad, which is an achievement. But I also have to understand that I’m representing so much more than me and you know, sometimes just because you wear the crown [it] doesn’t mean it’s not heavy.
So in those moments that you lose yourself or you have lost yourself in the past, how did you bring yourself back to your centre?
Gosh, that’s a great question. My job always pulls me back in; it’s my passion for it. I don’t like to disappoint. I don’t like to miss out on opportunities. So, you know, I shut down for a few days, I cancelled some gigs. Obviously, cancelling gigs, my team are like, Oh my God we’re losing money. I’m like, well lose money or lose Cuppy, which one? And then it becomes, Gosh I really want to heal myself through the music. I do what I do because of passion and when I get in front of the decks, I just drift away, I’m not me anymore. I had the pleasure of performing at the shrine and it was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. I cannot, cannot wait to do again because I was barefooted, back to basics, no glam, literally mic in hand and I just got to perform to the most amazing crowd who judge you based on your skill.
Do you feel that it’s important for you to give more of yourself in terms of letting people know who you are or is there a barrier of protection where you’re like, I can give you this much but I’m okay with you guessing the rest?
Yeah I do feel like there are barriers that my life has created for me. Like having the opportunity to have this chat with you, is an example of me being able to tell my story more. But, you know, we also have to protect ourselves, so I give myself but I don’t give too much because that’s been abused in the past and also, unfortunately, I feel like a lot of us misinterpret things so I’m very careful and reputation is- I don’t know, is reputation everything? It precedes you but I do feel like the Cuppy reputation is wrong. I feel like a lot of people don’t know me and so I don’t know whether the success of my brand is because people have put me on such a pedestal and maybe actually in certain ways, they glorify me beyond what I am. Or maybe because they don’t know who I am, it’s protected me. You know, I have a lot of questions and like I said, I’m 26 years old, I don’t think in any way I’ve fully understood who I am. You know, my mother told me you get to know who you are at 50 (laughs) So…I think we’re going to have to catch up again Sonia, in 30 years.
So let’s talk a bit about the inaugural Gold Gala-
[It was] inspired by my trip to Maiduguri. I wanted to make sure I infused it into my brand so that it was something that I could carry out. You know, so it’s become a part of my Cuppy DNA. So The Cuppy Foundation is using the gala to essentially raise awareness and also raise money for organisations such as Save the Children. It was also an opportunity for me to express myself. You know, it was my first headline show, my time on the stage, my time to shine and my time to express myself. People [got to] see the very soft side of me, my love for children. [We had] over 30 children involved in production [which was] really exciting. We had His Excellency, The Vice President Osibanjo and his wife – who [are both] very passionate about philanthropy and children – in attendance. We [also had] the CEO of Save the Children [in attendance] as well and so it was an amazing night, where I think a lot of people learned about some of these issues in a very creative way. And, excitedly, it was my birthday as well that day so you know, I decided to celebrate my birthday and everyone that asked [and continues to ask] me, “what do [you] want for [your] birthday?” I just want support for the Cuppy Foundation, that is literally it. I’m really excited about the impact we can make for specifically Nigerian children.
Interview: Sonia Irabor
Photography: Seye Kehinde
Styled By: Zed Eye
Wardrobe: Sylvia Dress from Zii Studio and grey Blazer both available at The Republic Hub, New 3, Old 6 Ogbunike Street, Lekki. Lagos, Nigeria.