One highly talented female artist sweeping Africa and beyond, with her strong and dynamic vibes and vocals, can be no other than Yemi Alade. Popularly nicknamed ‘Johnny’, her hit track “Johnny”, she came into the music industry with a sensational force that music lovers cannot resist. In this interview with Cosmic Ray’s Sandra, she takes you into her world and her future plans.
Can you recall how music actually started for you?
Music started for me professionally in 2009 when I won the talent show. But before then I used to be part of a girl group; I was also at some point in my life a chorister, and since I won the talent hunt in 2009, music became a career.
Of all careers in the world, why did you choose music?
I didn’t choose music. I never wanted to be an artist. It just happened, when I was in the university I participated in this talent show and I just realized it was time to make my hobby a career. I never wanted to be an artist.
How does it feel to be a female musician in Nigerian?
How does it feel? It’s a mixed feeling for me. But most especially, it gives me a lot of joy and hope, knowing that females can actually survive in the industry and be regarded, respected, and acknowledged for their craft. Definitely, I’m proud to be a Nigerian, and all over the world we are respected. I’m very happy to be one of the few.
Do you think the change mantra in Nigeria now should extend to the music industry?
Oh yeah, of course! Music industry is changing at a steady pace. We are still hoping for certain things that actually make it an industry, because right now it’s just a business. For me, when it comes to the change… the thing I’ll regard as change when it eventually happens is when royalties are being acknowledged and given to artists, and when piracy isn’t exactly the biggest issue; then I’ll say the wind of change has come to the music industry.
Ever felt intimidated by the male artists?
No! Not at all. We do different things. Not like we do different things really, but I respect the male artists. They are very good at what they do, together, even separately. Intimidation isn’t there. We are very equal.
How is the ‘King of Queens’ album doing?
Amazingly well. We get sales every day, every week, online in Nigeria and outside the country. It’s steady blooming and still on the roads in Nigeria; so I’m really excited about the album.
Would you say you were able to outsmart the piracy experts?
(Laughs) Those guys! You can’t dodge them now. We tried, you know? We try to do what we hadn’t done before, but it’s not easy because you’re not there in Alaba with them 24/7. You don’t know who is lying to you and who is telling you the truth. They tell you after the first month, “oh you sold ten thousand copies”, where as you probably sold a hundred thousand. And after like two months they stop even giving you money and they say, “ah sales is bad oh, sales is bad” where as they are cashing out money. So I can’t say we dealt with them. I was happy to know the album was selling, even though I knew they were lying. (But God dey sha. There is God)
Considering when you started music, a host of people think your first album came rather late. What would you say to that?
Oh that’s the first I’m hearing that my album came late; most times I hear that album came too early. But what do I think? I think it’s their opinion.
Should we expect another album from you soon?
Of course! I’m working on a new album already. Straight up; no time.
Of all songs you’ve done, which would you pick to be your best three?
‘Kissing’, ‘If I Catch You’ and ‘Why’. These are songs off my album.
How about Johnny?
(Laughs) I love ‘Johnny’, but it’s not a favorite.
Your videos are often a delight to watch. How do you come up with those concepts?
Most times, my songs have messages in them and so what we do is just to bring it to life. But other than that it takes a lot of work, taking it from a mind thought process, from an idea to a physical thing. And definitely we have people on the team from styling to make-up, to story board and so many things anyway. So put director and my manager, they play a very huge role in that.
Where is the ‘Right Johnny’ most likely to come from? The music industry?
The right Johnny? I’m not looking for any Johnny O. (I beg o) No right Johnny in the music industry.
Apart from the music industry, any ‘Right Johnny’ in your life?
I have seen Johnny and he has ran away. What am I looking for another Johnny for?
You were quoted to have said that Flavour was your celebrity crush. What’s your relation with him?
That was a while ago; a few years ago (maybe two or three years ago) my crush has changed now. I don’t have anyone again.
How would you honestly describe yourself?
The girl next door.
What is your relationship with other female artists in the music industry like?
It’s more than an inspirational one. It’s a relationship where we encourage each other, and we admire each other both from a distance and when we are with each other. It’s a cool relationship. Not so intimate, but it’s cool.
Which of them is closest to you?
A lot of people believe that today’s music artists are churning out songs without content. How would you compare this generation’s music to that of the old in terms of content and good lyrics?
There is no music without content. It’s either you get it or you don’t get it. Every song out there has a message. You either don’t get it or you get it.
The song ‘Johnny’ is said to be from your personal experience. How does it feel to be a victim of Johnny?
(laughs) Victim to conqueror, and victim to victor, is how I would describe the relationship and how it is now.
So how would you advise single ladies to avoid heartbreaks from ‘Johnny’?
*sighs* I don’t know oh! (laughs) Johnny comes in different forms oh. They come in different forms. Na you open your eye; shine your eye well (dariz it).
What’s that craziest thing that you have done recently?
I’m not a crazy person. Nothing crazy that I’ve done.
What is that thing you used to love that your fame has denied you?
I used to love to take a walk. But now I can’t walk on the street without getting a lot of attention. Also, being famous doesn’t allow you to really express yourself 100 percent to an extent. You must have to put it in a way that is balanced; so you must be very matured to be a very good role model.
If you were not a musician, what would you have been doing?
I would have used my BSc in Geography to get a job in the linguistic sector or something.
You won the MAMA award. How does it feel to be one of the few winners among many artists?
I’m very thankful to everyone that voted. Even just getting nominated alone is a huge thing for me, and that definitely is a huge plus for me. It makes me feel very encouraged.
The hotel you lodged in, during a show in the UK, was reported to have caught fire. How did it happen? And how did you manage to escape?
(Laughs) Yes. Very early in the morning (like 6:30/7), the alarm went off in every room, telling everyone to evacuate the building that there was a fire, and we all ran out. People ran out with their children, some having just only towel on their bodies, (white, black, yellow, and all the colours in the world) everybody was downstairs just looking and looking. Thank god it didn’t go out of hand. The firemen got there on time; you know how they do over there now (dem no dey waste time for firemen to come).
What was it you could remember to pick?
I was so scared. I had to pick my bible. Of course I knew where my phones were, I could call. It actually started from phone, to my dress because I knew somehow in my mind I’ll perform, and then my bible because I was very scared. Very, very scared. It was like a dream.
There were reports making the rounds about your instagram being hacked
Yeah, that was a long time ago.
How did you stop the hackers?
Well, we tried tackling it here in Nigeria, but it didn’t work. It didn’t get through to them at all. But when my PR in London took it up, they finally listened and they helped to retrieve our handle.
A word of advice for your fans, especially those who wish to be Yemi Alade?
If music is really what you want to do, you should follow it with your heart and passion because it’s not going to happen immediately. The returns of music won’t come immediately especially in Nigeria. You just have to continue hustling, continue believing in God, continue being true to yourself, and when the light at the end of the tunnel shows up, you’ll recognize it.
When should we be expecting your new music?
I recently released music that is not on that album; a fresh song called ‘Nagode’. It’s out right now. The video will soon be out as well, and my album is fixed up for next year.
Talking of ‘Nagode’, we understand you also do music in French, Ibo, and other languages, how do you know all these languages?
My mum is Ibo, and my dad is Yoruba, so that first of all is easy for me. I love French, it’s a language that I had interest in right from when I was really young, and I’m thankful that now it’s coming to play in my music. I stayed in Jos for four years or so at some point in my life as a kid, so that’s it.