It was the night the NFL team, The Patriots had just lost to the New York Jets in the Playoff game, and I was extra eager to get on the call with Chidynma, so I could do a little trash talking since I knew she held those dear Patriots so close to her heart, and I personally despise them. I’m not an NFL fan actually, but I watch it enough to hate the Patriots and Tom Brady… ok, I digress.
It’s a little past midnite, and I got the sense that Chidynma “Da Voice”, had a long night, and was winding down. It was her last night in Boston before she heads back to Nigeria to get back on the grind. It seems like just yesterday when a friend of mine was trying to convince to listen to “Obimmo” and in my ever inquisitive mind, I gave it a shot, and immediately fell in love with it, and became a fan.
Chidynma over the last quarter of 2010 has gone from damn near unnoticed to being a major recognizable voice in Nigeria. Her single, Obimmo has been described as a timeless love song, and has been a major fan favorite. Her second single, Woozy Woozy produced by Hakym has received massive airplay on the radio and on a lot of online media outlets.
So far she has performed at numerous high profile events around the country, ranging from performing at Bella Adenuga and Jameel Disu’s wedding, to the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria Pageant 2010 and Bashorun Dele Momodu’s 50th Birthday Party, and has worked with the likes of Don Jazzy, Sam Klef, Hakym ‘The Dream’ and Duncan Daniels.
We exchanged pleasantries and of course I had to throw in there that the Patriots lost *jab jab*, and we set off on a journey to find out what Chidynma is all about.
Aribaba: For the people that don’t know who you are (I’m sure not many), tell us a bit about yourself… A little introduction if you will.
Chidynma: Well, My name is Chidinma Elenor Okebalama; take note of my initials “CEO.” *laughs*. I am an igbo girl, from Abia state, in Nigeria. A singer, and a writer as well. Boring Boring yea?
Aribaba: Well it’s not really boring. But when you say a song-writer, do you write for yourself or for others also?
Chidynma:I havent really written for other people but there’ve been times when I in the studio with other people, and I help them write their stuff for them, but it’s not like I write full songs for people. I do write my own songs, and I contribute to other artists songs.
Aribaba: I’ve seen a couple of places where you have been referred to as “Da Voice”… I see online, twitter, BB etc. Where did that come from? Did you make it up? Or was it a name that was given?
Chidynma: It’s actually a nickname. It was given to me by one of my closer friends. She heard some stuff that I had recorded, and she was always shouting in (igbo accent) “Heuuu… Chidynma, Da Voice, Da Voice.” From there, she started calling me the voice, and then people at home started calling me “da voice.” Then I used the name as part of my twitter profile, and people started calling me “da voice.” When I knew it was kinda serious was when Banky saw me and was like “Hey, D’voice how far?” *laughs*. It’s a cool name, I think.
Aribaba: How did you get into music? Or when did you start taking it seriously, since I’m sure you’ve been singing since you were younger.
Chidynma: Well when I was about 5, I started singing in the children’s choir in my church in Port-Harcourt, Assembles of God, and my choir director actually noticed that I learned things the fastest. So she would tell me to sing so everyone else could learn from me. From there I was in little singing groups in church, and we would sing all the time. In college all my friends would tell me that I sang all time, even though I dont remember singing all the time, and my high school friends would tell me to be quiet, even though I don’t remember that.
Then I came here (Boston) to study at the university and I joined the choir as well. In 2004 I recorded by first song, and after that I didn’t do much recording but I was performing a lot in Boston…. Mostly the Nigerian and Igbo events around. In 2004 at the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria pageant, I sang the national anthem. In 2008, I sang at the reunion with Banky, and that’s when I was like, maybe I need to start taking this singing seriously. So started recording that fall, and I guess the rest is history…or future history.
Aribaba: So your first song that you recorded in 2004, is this on youtube or somewhere we can listen?
Chidynma: Oh Heck No… *laughs*. I was just experimenting, and I remember that was the first time I did background vocals for myself. I remember I left the studio that day and was feeling on top of the world, and my Dad heard the song and thought I already had back up singers. *laughs*
Aribaba: So you moved from the states back to Nigeria to pursue music seriously. How hard was that decision? Or was it a “no brainer” for you?
Chidynma: Well the day I made up my mind to move back, I had made up my mind that it’s either i’m going or I’m not. I kinda changed my mind set, because in 2008 I really didn’t think I would be in Nigeria at this time. But then I started recording more, and a lot of people, including my mom were like “dont let this your voice waste o.” So I started taking it more serious, and I didn’t want to be one of the nigerian artists that come to sing during christmas and get some buzz, and then you wont hear from them again till next december. I didn’t want to be popular in december, and then go back to my 9-5 during the year, and so I decided to move and pursue music fulltime. Take the bull by horn if you will.
Aribaba: This is probably the most common question for musicians, but i’ll go ahead and ask anyways, who are/were your biggest influences currently and while growing up artistically?
Chidynma: Growing up, when I was much much younger I had listened to a lot of Whitney Houston, and Mariah, mostly because that was what was readily available to us at the time. We didn’t have the internet to youtube and google or whatever for other songs. Most of the cds we had in my house were Celine Dion, Mariah, Whitney and every other cd was pretty much Christian music; Panam Percy Paul, Acapella, etc.
However when I got older, somewhere in my late teens, I listened to this lady named Deidra Crawford. She is a gospel singer from the group called Anointed. I believe she’s a worship leader in Joel Osteen’s church also. She is ammaaaazing, and I think what I liked about her was that vocally she just had a lot of the qualities I envy and wanted.
Aribaba: There’s no denying that it’s bit tougher for the women in the industry in terms of making it big time, how have you been able to navigate your way to where you are now?
Chidynma:You’re right in saying that the industry as far as Nigeria is concerned has been mostly male dominated, and it’s not really anyone’s fault. Nigeria is still very young, and it’s only recently that females are doing a lot of other things besides the traditional/stereotypical “be a wife, stay at home, and cook.” So I think as a whole our culture is still getting used to that and as expected we have some challenges. But with the way the industry is going right now, there are a lot of females coming up, and I believe that with true talent, perseverance, and a bit of business savvy, anything is possible. Oh and with the right connections… Let’s not forget we are in Nigeria.
Personally for me it’s been challenging, because sometimes some people don’t take you seriously at first. Or some people look at me and say “ahh… just another pretty face. What does she have to offer?” So sometimes I find myself having to prove myself immediately to people who have never heard of you, or you have never crossed paths with because they might not give you another shot after that time. Some of them might even end up saying, “oh you’re marketable. That’s all you need.” And that statement is kinda hurtful because I’m like ‘Dude I can actually sing… at least people tell me I can sing’, so when I hear stuff like “your pretty face will get you anywhere” I don’t really like it.
But I do feel like more people are getting used to the fact that female musicians are coming up in Nigeria, and as more people welcome that idea, it’ll be slightly easier for us to break through into the industry and not just make music that girls love, but music that guys will love also.
Aribaba: A lot of people found out about you after you performed at Bella Adenuga’s wedding. How did you land that gig? Cos after all the beyonce speculations, everyone was curious as to who would perform at the wedding?
Chidynma: Well I’ve known Bella for a long time. We went to college together in Boston, and she knew that I was planning to move back to Nigeria. She knew that I wanted to go into music seriously, and she’d always been a very supportive friend. She’s a very harsh critic also, but it’s good. So she heard Obimmo when I initially recorded the song, and was like “I’m gonna use this at my wedding.” It’s funny because at the time we recorded the song we didn’t even know when she was getting married, but she said whenever she gets married, she would use the song. Luckily for me, her husband now, also liked the song, so it wasn’t necessarily a matter of “oh she’s your friend” because if I didn’t have the talent she would’ve told me to find something else to do. *laughs*
Aribaba: So it was the right combination of talent and connections abi?
Chidynma: Well more like talent and friendship. *laughs*
Aribaba: So you have 3 official singles out now, Obimmo, Woozy Woozy & All I Want For Christmas, and they are getting massive love all over the place. What’s next for Chidynma? Videos? Albums?
Chidynma: Well I’m in Boston right now. I’ll be heading back to Nigeria tomorrow, and once I get back I’ll begin shooting the video for Obimmo. I’m still recording for the album. There’s no set date, but by God’s grace we should be coming out with the album this year, 2011. I’m like a studio rat, so I just love to record a lot of songs and give myself an opportunity to listen to them. I’m not the one to record 5 songs and say my album is done. So until I get to the point where I’m very comfortable with the different sounds I have on my album, then I’ll do the compilation. For now though, I’m focusing on my video, but I’ll probably drop a few singles by the end of the first quarter, and continue with my gigs and shows.
Aribaba: Now let’s step away from music small, and enter some correct gist. So tell us… Is there any bobo on the scene? Anybody dey do you woozy woozy? LOL.
Chidynma:*laughs*… actually no. There’s no bobo that I’m seeing right now. There’s nobody doing me woozy woozy *laughs*. Maybe it’s because I haven’t really given myself the opportunity because I don’t go out that much in Lagos, so I haven’t been in situations where I make myself available for people to “step a lil closer to me.” I mean if a person doesn’t mind staying with me in the studio all the time, then yeah… we can do it. But right now I’ll just do my studio work, and then we can handle that one later.
Aribaba: Now tell us, what is the most attractive feature to you in a man (physical or not)
Chidynma: You might think I’m just weird but I like a man that knows how to pray. Because sometimes I get weak, and I would like someone else to pray. And since I love singing, whenever I see a guy singing praise songs, I think that’s very very attractive. A different kind of attractive I guess, but attractive.
I mean there are other things that make me go woozy woozy *laughs* but I like a man that can pray.
Aribaba: If you weren’t into music, what else do you think you would be doing career-wise?
Chidynma: Well I used to be an engineer. Or I guess I’m still an engineer… not like I sold my degree after I quit. I’m actually an electrical engineer. I used to work as a Systems Engineer for Rhytheon before I left and moved back to Nigeria.
What I actually really really wanted to do was to be an NFL Analyst for National Football(American) League. I’ve been watching the NFL network like my life depended on it *laughs*. I actually applied to be an intern for the patriots, but it didn’t work out.
Aribaba: So random question… what are 5 favorite songs from Nigeria in the past year?
Chidynma: DJ Neptune’s – Kill me with this gbedu that has Shank, Ruffman & YQ is definitely on my top 5.
I love MI’s“Africa’s rapper #1 oooo,” **sings along**
I really like “Feeling It” by Banky & MI.
“Now is the time” by Ikechukwu
“Jonzing World” by D’Prince
“Jago” – Jesse Jagz
“It No Easy” – Psquare
Aribaba: Ok, last question; What will you say is your goal in music? Like when it’s all said and done, what would you like to have accomplished or be remembered for?
Chidynma: At the end of my career or when I’m done with music, I’d want everyone specifically in africa to know who I am once you mention “Chidynma.” Not just because I was a good singer, but more so because of the impact of my music on people. I love music and I love to share music with people, and thankfully God gave me a voice that I can sing with. I just pray that at the end of it all, someone will be touched by my voice or whatever I’ve said in my songs. Even though most times we joke around with music, or make lyrics that are very random, but there’s still some stuff that you hear in poeple’s songs that encourages you to push forward, and to continue with life. Also I want my life to be a success story where someone can look at it, and say I had a dream, and I chased it, and because of me, they feel like they can chase their dreams too.
I definitely don’t want to be remembered as someone that just came and sang and left without making any major impact.
I also love children so I know at some point I know i’m going to do something that’ll help children. More especially in Nigeria.
Final words[audio: Chidynma_Interview_finalwords.mp3]
Check out Chidynma’s singles Obimmo & Woozy Woozy