singer and talking drummer, Ara, speaks on her career, romance and other issues
What are some of those memorable experiences you still recall from your childhood?
I grew up in Warri, Delta State. I had a very beautiful childhood. I grew up in a house that was full of love. I have five brothers, and there were also cousins and uncles who usually came around. My father listened to a wide collection of music. It was from there that I developed interest in music. He used to make me dance and he’d spray money on me. My father was a banker and he usually got transferred to different places; so, we moved quite a lot.
Can you share with us your educational history?
For my elementary education, I attended Eternal Nursery School and Methodist Primary School, both in Lagos. I also attended Nana Primary School in Warri. For my post-elementary education, I went to Our Lady’s High School, also in Warri. When we moved to Akure, I continued my secondary school education at Fiwasaiye Girls Grammar School in Akure, Ondo State. For my tertiary education, I attended the University of Ilorin, where I studied Law for a year. Then, I switched to the Performing Arts Department because that was what I really wanted to do. It was my father who insisted that I should study Law. In the long run, I gave up everything, and decided to focus on my music career. After some time, I returned to school, and I enrolled to study English at the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State. I was in my third year there when the record label that signed me on asked me to withdraw, and attend the school’s satellite campus in Ikeja, Lagos. Due to constant travelling, I was unable to complete my studies there. However, I have no regrets because I followed my passion.
How would you situate the influence your father had in your life?
My dad had a huge impact on my life. As a child, he gave me the opportunity of defending myself whenever I was accused of any wrongdoing in the house by my mother or siblings. My father exposed me to different things. He made me read newspapers and I gained a lot from them. At a time, I felt like being a newscaster. In terms of music, I loved King Sunny Ade, Fela, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder and few others.
At what point did you know you wanted to do music?
Right from when I was five years old, I knew I wanted to become an entertainer. Professionally, I recorded my first song, Freedom to Mandela, in 1987. It was the first time I appeared on TV. After my secondary school in 1992, I moved to Lagos, and that was when I met Chris Nwangbo, Lagbaja and many others. I was also a backup singer for Alariwo at some point. I shot my first music video in 1999, and it was titled, Which One You Dey? The first big stage I performed on was at Eko Hotel, Lagos, in 2001.
How did the ‘Ara’ brand come about?
My relationship with the talking drum started when I was in elementary school. I was the head drummer, and head of the school’s cultural troupe. I used to be known by the name Lolaola and the Ara brand started in the year 2000. I believe this is my destiny; this is what I was born to do. In a picture taken when I was just three days old in the world, my hands were positioned as if I was beating a talking drum. As I grew older, I saw some spiritual things that gave me the conviction to go ahead. The talking drum is a spiritual instrument, and it takes a spiritual mindset to play it.
You had a rough time with your former record label. What were some of your experiences while there?
At the time I signed a record deal with Atunda Entertainment, I was very passionate but naïve about what I was doing. I just wanted to be able to do music without thinking of the business side of it. I signed the contract without a lawyer; and they were getting 70 per cent of the income I made, while I got 30 per cent. While with the label, I was abused physically, emotionally, spiritually, and in any other way you can think of. I was kept away from my parents, friends and the rest of the world. Everything I had was taken away from me but I left with my dignity. Even as I’m recalling the experience, I feel like crying right now. No talent deserves to have that kind of experience.
As a promoter of cultural tourism, what exactly do you do?
I am a promoter of cultural tourism. I believe it can open a lot of doors, provide employment, and turn the lives of the people around, especially those in the rural areas, and even the cities. It is a huge money-spinner and the earlier we paid attention to it the better. There are a lot of beautiful places across the country that foreigners would love to visit if we portray them in the right way.
What are the highlights of your career?
I have had a lot of highlights in my career. One of them was the day international singer, Wyclef Jean, jumped on my stage as I performed. We danced together and it was so good that it seemed like we rehearsed our dance moves. Another was when I performed with Stevie Wonder in Ghana. He invited me to Los Angeles, and I had an awesome time. I also remember meeting Brenda Fassie in a hotel in Abuja. Immediately she saw me, she was so excited and she said she had heard a lot about me. We exchanged room numbers, and she came to my room later in the day. Immediately I opened the door, Brenda kissed me fully on the lips, and I was shocked. She looked at me and said, “Don’t you know I swing both ways?” I had never spoken about this incident with any journalist before now; this is the first time I’m saying it.
What are the current projects you’re working on?
I am promoting cultural tourism, and there are a lot of potential in that sector. What I have decided to do is to showcase the country’s beauty through movies. I have a drummer girl foundation and my book will soon be released. However, I don’t like talking much about what I’m yet to do. I prefer to let my works speak for themselves.
What lessons have you learnt over the years?
If you have God and you are focused on where you are going, you would surely get there. I’ve learnt that failure is part of success; it is a time to learn lessons. It has been tough, but it has also been beautiful. I thank God for my life, my family and my fans.
In terms of romance, what rings your bell?
I am in a relationship at the moment. I don’t like insecure men because I am a woman of great destiny. I like confident men, but I dislike arrogant people. He should be able to mix freely with all. I love a man who is romantic and who knows how to put himself together. I like a man who knows God and would treat me like a baby. I am very happy that my man has all these qualities. He has been a blessing to me.
How do you like to dress?
I love to wear what I’m comfortable in. The colour that keeps me calm and peaceful is white. I wear a lot of native attire and I’m happy that I’m promoting my culture. I really don’t have any favourite fashion item because I don’t place too much importance on material things.