Being a prominent Nigerian vocalist whose artistic potential has severally spoken for itself in the studio albums and collaborative projects she has put out, Aituaje Iruobe, better known as Waje, had undoubtedly given fans the shocker when she broke news she was quitting music.
In the wake of public outcry from fans who had taken to social media to share in her pains, Waje resorted to staging her first-ever owned concert named after her last studio album in a night of serial stage performances that rejuvenated her brand.
Following the sold-out concert, the 39-year-old R&B songstress talks with TheCable Lifestyle on how events of the past few months caused a change in perspective and birthed her renewed vision of changing the unpleasant narratives in Nigeria’s music industry for emerging talents.
How was the experience of organizing a concert as grandiose as ‘Red Velvet’?
Amazing! From the initial pressure to seeing everything come together piece by piece, it was intense. Trying to get sponsors, getting the word out there, connecting with fans, and making sure that the media stays abreast of what we’re up to involved lots of effort.
There were days my manager and I would get home at 1 am and still wake first thing in the morning because I’ll have band rehearsals and then dance rehearsals in the evening. We underwent the grueling routine of knocking on the doors of our sponsors and granting a series of interviews. It was hectic, yet, I loved the pressure.
What impression did you set out to make with ‘Red Velvet’?
Music has been a part of me, something I knew I’ve always wanted doing. After I stated I was quitting music, I thought to leverage on a platform where I can artistically express myself without attention being taken away. I’ve always been appreciative of other gigs but I wasn’t going to rely on them to achieve that feat. I needed to reconnect with my fans and remind them of the Waje they love. That’s why staged the Red Velvet.
You stated that Red Velvet marks a pivotal point that would see you transition your brand and bring alternative music to the mainstream. Can you speak on that?
I feel we’re all under the umbrella of Afrobeats but there are other genres that are also deserving of prominence. There’s also a deluge of other indigenous artistes aside from those of Afrobeats that need the spotlight to showcase their potentials. Having a concert that would grow to attain international recognition and have Nigerian artiste showcase themselves is ideal.
This is because I do see lots of young artistes making the same mistake I made at the onset. Too much emphasis on being popular than making intentional efforts to build a bankable brand. Since I don’t have a record label to sign all of them, I can have a show that speaks for them. That’s what that is about.
What were your early days in the music industry like?
It was tough because I was still trying to discover myself and had no knowledge of the business side of music-making. I knew the stage and studio were two places I enjoyed spending more time but made the mistake of prioritizing popularity over being bankable as a brand. I also didn’t quite understand what sound I should go with. That’s why I can now do reggae, R&B, Highlife, name it. With this, you start wondering what genre I’m up for unlike what obtains with record labels where it’s dictated to you.
When you said you were quitting music, you had registered your frustrations about investing much and not getting the perks befitting of your efforts. What followed after that?
The bottom line was that I was disconnected from my fans. They didn’t know what I was doing. In the music industry, there are procedural chains. There’s the video making; the PR; the marketing. From the production of the song to the point where it gets to the listeners, there are different people in position to make things happen.
But sometimes, in the struggle to stay relevant and keep your name afloat, you just release without proper planning. There’s pressure in the industry and all these were the things I was going through at the time and thought that, perhaps, I should leave the industry while the applause is still loud. It was a scary time and I didn’t want to be known as a failed artiste. Fans simply didn’t know what I was doing and that is what we’re trying to repair.
The response I got from that video (‘Udue‘) showed how people really cared. Quite a number were unhappy, especially the media. Like ‘how can Waje say this? We write about her!’ I sincerely apologize that creatives like us can be trapped in our feelings. I now realize—thanks to my new management—that more effort is needed to stay consistent. It’s not just about content but also making sure that the music gets to listeners.
What do you say to the cliché that female artistes in the Nigerian music space are not doing enough to help each other grow?
I try to understand what it means to help every time I hear that. The truth about this is that, if females in the industry are successful, that’s enough help because there’s power in numbers. I don’t think that anyone is obligated to post when another releases an album or appear in their shows especially if they’re busy. When you do so, it’s out of your own volition.
People unfairly put too much pressure on the females just because we’re females. I see the male artistes and there’s nothing they’re doing any different. In my own opinion, when you have more people excel in an industry, it’s enough help because you open doors for upcoming talents.
Take for example everything that has been going on with Afrobeats over the past few years. The only reason why Nigerian musicians are being recognized is that D’Banj took the step he took. That alone is enough help because, tomorrow, I can travel with my EPK, drop it in an office and tell somebody I’m an artiste from Nigeria. And, next you hear is that I’ve gotten international management. That’s enough.
We’ve seen cases where indigenous artistes are undervalued back home only for their big break to come after gaining recognition in the international scene. How do you intend handling this challenge?
To be honest, I’m hoping that I also dominate the global scene. Not just for myself but to aid younger artistes with the platform. I believe I’ve been blessed with a gift that could live longer than some people because my voice and personality is what makes me. Things like that never fizzle out. The goal for me is to tour, introduce myself to new markets, and do a lot more festivals.
Launching Hermanes Media alongside Omawumi in March, how does this play into the narrative?
Where we intend carving a niche for ourselves is in bringing our music experience into the creation of movies that tell our stories since music is a huge part of movie-making. We’ve had people who have won Grammys based on film scores. We’re looking into that in relation to our niche. Also, I want the same for the company as I do for myself: to give young talents a platform to leverage on.
Are there major project of yours fans should look out for?
Definitely! I’m working on a festival for December and we’re going to commence promotion for it in the coming weeks. I have an EP with a great producer called Leriq. It’s titled ‘Replay’. I have merchandise. I have a perfume line that would be coming out as well and lots of other things I’m working on.
What else would you like to say to fans?
A big thank you to each and every one of them. Truth is that I’ve lasted this long because of people that love my brand and music; those that support me, including the media. Red Velvet was a success because people came out to watch it. You could plan all you want but, if there’s nobody there, you’re going nowhere.
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