Friday, 11 March 2016

Why I took a holiday from Limelight — Chichi of Africa + Things that changed me in 10 years


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The GDA of Asabeafrika & Chichi of Africa after the encounter
Chibuzor Onwuama
aka Chichi of Africa is a music icon that can not be forgotten in a hurry when the story of Nigeria’s entertainment industry of the last 5 decades is to be written. Her creativity and stardom hit the four corners of Africa in her hey days as a kid star in the late 80s and early 90s, no wonder, she was famously tagged Chichi of Africa. There was never a show in Nigeria of those old good days that will be counted successful if the banner does not carry the name Chichi of Africa.

She was the darling of many music lovers and her Father, the late music promoter cum artiste manager; Roland Iheanacho Onwuama did an excellent job for his star-daughter as he took her through a robust two decades of entertainment success from age 10 when she started singing. Years later, Chibuzor Onwuama who attended Lara Day Nursery & Primary School for her early school and Air-Force Secondary School for her HSC took a career voyage in media administration as she served as Personal Assistant to Ovation International Magazine Publisher, Chief Dele Momodu and as well, Chief Operating Officer of the media organization for some years.
The graduate of History and International Diplomacy from University of Lagos later took another career voyage and this time it was to the events management sector of Nigeria where she had a stint with Tequila Events Company, Towncriers Events Company and Lampost Events Company Ltd before she later travelled out of Nigeria to the USA to study Make Up and Bridal Fashion. Today, Chichi is the Founder & CEO of FAB Zone, a fashion, accessories and beauty company situated in the heart of Oko-Oba area of Lagos South West Nigeria. The former Music star turned make up artiste equally runs a Make-Up School and a Movie effects academy under her new venture. Chichi is also a major distributor of Avon Cosmetic Products in Nigeria.
After series of trials, your Africa’s number 1 Celebrity Encounter blog, Asabeafrika pinned Chichi down early in the week after a special visit to her mum, Madam Edit Onwuama’s office in Ikeja, Lagos. The elderly woman helped this blog to reach out to some of her daughter’s aides who helped us secure a one hour appointment with her early in the week and the encounter revealed much of a renewed and reformed Chichi the CEO. Enjoy the excerpts 
Chichi of Africa to Asabeafrika...'I am a huge fan of indigenous music'
You suddenly left the limelight in the last ten years. At a time you were said to be in the United States of America studying while some said you were raising a family in the United Kingdom. Really, where have you been?
 I have been here in Nigeria, of course I travelled a lot, yes, but I am here in Nigeria, I have been here all of the time, everybody taught I was away. Yes, I started a family; I am married now with two daughters. The industry does not appeal to me anymore; a lot of things have changed. Dynamics have changed, and I just decided to settle down with my family to face the marriage business because I worked for 14 years with various event companies in Nigeria and I just decided it was time to be on my own.
Chichi of Africa to Asabeafrika...'Dad's institutional discipline really helped me to stand alone after his demise'
At what time did it appear to you that music/entertainment was not it any longer?
I wouldn’t say it was a painstaking decision, I know the last album I released came with lot of prospects, I worked with Don-Jazzy, D-Banj, and Jeremiah Gyang and then I was under Kwame’s record label, Next Level with artistes like Boqui and the rest. But the album didn’t get the push it deserves and from that point, things just went the other way round. I was weighed down for quite a while, I tried to push it on my own and I guessed that was where my father’s role started to matter to me, if my father was there I would probably would have had the backbone which I needed to stay in the industry but he wasn’t there anymore and I wasn’t getting the push I needed and I just lost it at that point. And not long after that, I got married and started having kids. And for some reasons, I think I enjoy the quite side of life. I always tell people when they ask me, I say ‘well, now I can go into an Amala joint and buy my Amala without any one recognizing me (Laughter)
(Cuts in) Of course, except people like us?
But I won’t feel uncomfortable with you; Gbenga, you and I have come a long way. So, the quite side of life just did it for me and that is the way it has been.
Chichi of Africa to Asabeafrika...'I think my dad died of heart-attack as a result of great betrayal in PMAN'
How Dad’s Death affected me…                                                          
I think your dad’s tenth year anniversary is this year, am I right?
Yes, this past month of February, we had a commemoration service in honor of his memory.
How did dad’s demise affect you considering the fact that he was equally your career manager in his lifetime?
One thing I will say is that my father laid in me the morals and the inner strength to go on in his absence. My father (Mr. Roland Iheanacho Onwuama) taught me to be dogged. I don’t give up on things, I go head on. And I think I am also too blunt, my friends have complained. I say things as they are I don’t know how to butter them up, that is how my dad brought me up. My dad was an honest man till his death; a lot of people who know him will testify to that and that is the way I have also fashioned my life. There are lots of things I see now that has been predicted by him. I remember then, my dad will say to me ‘look, all of these your aunts, your uncles and my friends you see around, the day I am not there, you will not see them again. And immediately he died it happened the exact way he predicted. A lot of things he told me in the past I am seeing it now but because he has prepared me, mentally, I take them in. So, when I see things now, I just smile and I say ‘I wish you were here to see the woman I have become’ because he left those values in me; my father had never tried to put any silver spoon in any of his children’s mouth. We work hard to earn our worth, my brother and I, there is just two of us; my brother is very successful in his IT sector and I am here doing my own thing. I can tell you that my dad gave me a value worth a billion dollars.

“He gave me an enabling environment even within the atmosphere of hostility and he supported me because I remember once, my office locker was broken into and money was stolen from my locker and I was devastated because I am like ‘this guy just employed me not less than a month and he would think it is me’ and I have never stolen anybody’s money in my life, my father didn’t bring me up like that”

The GDA of Asabeafrika with CEO, FAB Zone, Mrs. Chibuzor Idowu aka Chichi of Africa
Dad’s last battle & how he died…
I remember the last battle your dad had in his life was his ambition to become the PMAN (Performing Musician Employer Association of Nigeria) President because he was one of the leading contestants at the 2006 Kaduna convention. He died on his way from Kaduna after it was alleged that some delegates sold out to his opponent (Charly Boy). How would you recall that last episode of his life? 
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I remember that when my dad decided that he was going to contest again, because I think that was his second or third time contesting for same position, and I said to him ‘you have had enough, they don’t respect you, they don’t like the fact that you are honest’. Family members spoke with him but he insisted he was going to contest. When my father travelled to Kaduna for that election we weren’t talking because I was upset. But he left. And I remember he called me a day to the day he died from Kaduna to say ‘Oh, we are here, we are preparing, everybody says ‘hi’ bla-bla-bla and we talked. That was the last time I heard from my dad and I am forever grateful that I had that opportunity to at least speak with him because I would have felt terrible for the rest of my life knowing that I didn’t talk with my dad before he died. And the next day I remembered I was at work with Kwame and my mum called me and she said ‘oh, she got a call from the police that we should come to the station concerning my dad’ and I was like ‘my dad is not a troublesome man, number one, number two, he knows a lot of important people; therefore, if he gets into any trouble for any reason, he knew who to call.  I said ‘fine, let’s go’ but on the way I knew it was going to be a different story.I knew he was gone because my dad would have called me and his phone numbers were not going, we eventually got to Denton Police station (Yaba) and after the usual drama, they broke the news and my mum broke down but because of the way dad brought me up, the first thing I did was to call family members, I called my brother first of all. I started telling everybody what has happened, that we need to start making plans for the next action. So, basically I hit the road running immediately and immediately I called Kwame (Boss of her Record Label at the time) he sent his brother to come and pick us and I said ‘No, I will drive my car by myself’ but he insisted that his brother join us at Denton Police Station, Yaba. So, I drove from Yaba to Maryland (Ikeja) and his brother took over the wheel and that was the first moment I broke down and started crying. However, we went into work mode, I and my brother organized the funeral. One thing I was also happy I did was going to the morgue to see his body before he was buried, everybody tried to shield me from that, they taught it could be worst for me, mentally. I am also glad that I saw him; he looked like he was sleeping. He looked as handsome as ever; so, that is the picture I have of my dad.
The GDA in a chat with Chichi Onwuama
Mr. Femi Aderibigbe aka Kwame
Dad’s death & The Kaduna theory
But did you suspect any foul play to his sudden death after the election between him and Charles Oputa for PMAN Presidency? Was he ill before he travelled?
He wasn’t sick but he was also a very stubborn man. I know he pulled down his tooth a day or two before he travelled. So, that would have been lingering. Anyway, the autopsy said he had a heart condition which we didn’t know about and I am sure the heart condition and how he died would have arisen from betrayal, basically. Because when we picked my father’s things he had more than enough money to take a flight from Kaduna to Lagos but he took an evening bus. He left Kaduna immediately things got wrong; he just got on a night bus and headed back to Lagos. So, it was on the bus that he died. We don’t know where it happened exactly but he died on the bus and when we checked his things and saw that there was money enough for him to take a flight I was upset but at the same time, I knew who my dad was. So, most likely he would have been on the bus thinking about the betrayal he has gone through and probably suffered a heart attack or something and nobody knew what to do.
Chichi's Pillar of support and mother, Madam Edit Onwuama
Mum as Pillar of Support…
Since his demise ten years ago, I discovered that your mum has embraced the spirit of hard work, facing her fashion designing business squarely without interruption. How has life been for her without your dad?
My mum (Edit Onwuama) is the pillar that has been there to keep us together, me and my brother. We both have our families now. My mum lives with me; immediately my dad died, she started living with me, she has been there. When I have to travel (Out of the Country) my mum is taking care of the kids. So, my mum is that pillar, she is that solid rock. She is that sense of reasoning. She is more like my conscience because I am also as stubborn as my dad was. If I go in one direction I am following it all the way; she is the one that does the stop gap to say ‘you know what, sit down and think about it first. My mum is a strong woman. She has seen my brother and I through a lot since my dad died; because when my dad was alive, it was more of my dad and I but now my mum is the soft side who says ‘Ok, your daddy has taught you everything you need to go through in life, I will be your support system’. That is what my mum has been doing and yes, she has refused to stop working. She won’t stop. She just would not stop.
Dele Momodu
Life as Dele Momodu’s Personal Assistant
At a time you worked as the Personal Assistant to Chief Dele Momodu, the Ovation Magazine Publisher and the experience was quite unique because I remember I personally travelled with you to Accra, Lome and several other interesting cities in those days. How would you describe that experience?
It was funny because Ayo Animasaun and I have come a long way. Ayo has been a big brother when I was very active in the industry; now we see and still talk and reminiscent. So, at the time, I think it was after my NYSC, I have done the one year National Youth Service and I was retained. So, Ayo called me up and said ‘Look, someone is going to give you a call’ he didn’t say who. He needs a trusted hand and that the only person he knows he can suggest to him is me. So, one day I was at work and my phone rings and it was an international call and I was like ‘Who can this be?’, I heard the voice and he said ‘I am Dele Momodu’ and I was like ‘ok, where is this coming from?’. Anyway, we talked and he said ‘This is what I want you to do and that was it, I started working for him. I had a lot of…I don’t know how I can put it now?
Chichi of Africa to Asabeafrika...'I have 14 years cognate experience in Events Management'
Day someone broke my locker and stole money…
(Cuts in) Opposition
Yeah, people didn’t like the fact that I was young and he brought me into the system because I met a lot of older people there (Ovation). And he placed me at a position where I was running the business for him and the others did not like that at all; so, I met a lot of opposition at the beginning. It was a hostile environment but because of my dad and the values he inculcated in me I was like ‘this has to work. It must be a success’ and so, I started working with him. He gave me an enabling environment even within the atmosphere of hostility and he supported me because I remember once, my office locker was broken into and money was stolen from my locker and I was devastated because I am like ‘this guy just employed me not less than a month and he would think it is me’ and I have never stolen anybody’s money in my life, my father didn’t bring me up like that. But somehow the news got to him, he heard that I cried and he called me up from the UK and he said ‘Is something wrong with you? Before I chose you I have profiled you and I know you wouldn’t do such a thing’ and that he has a fair idea of who could have done it. So, from then on, I was like ‘if this man has put so much trust in me I must not disappoint him at any point in time. So, I ran the account, everything smoothly and when it was time for me to move on, he didn’t like the idea because it was like ‘I am missing a trusted hand’ but it was time for me to go and I left. We bump into each other from time to time, he met my husband and they both talked. Yeah, it was interesting working with him; there were lots of traveling involved. It was also time engaging because there were times he was returning into the country about 12 midnight and you have to be at the airport with other staff to receive him. But it was fun and it was also a challenge because it was new, and it wasn’t anything I have done before but I had fun working with him.
Chichi of Africa to Asabeafrika...'The New arstiste of today need to do away with vulgar music and sing morals'
Me and my Chichi of Africa moment…
 Can you actually recollect some of your great moments as a musician. Can you say you miss those Chichi of Africa moment?
Like they say nowadays, any album from Chichi of Africa was a hit back-to-back (Laughter). I had a lot of beautiful moments because I met people who I never taught I could meet. I met the late Maryam Babangida (First Lady of Nigeria) I met the (Former) President of Angola. One of the top government officials from Sierra Leone actually came to the house; I think it was the Sierra Leone Ambassador to Nigeria then. So, I came in contact with people I didn’t think I could meet. I met artistes from other parts of the world and how old was I then? I was in Primary School. So, for me, every moment was a hit. I performed at all the rallies that held for the freedom of (Nelson Mandela) at the time; though, I never met him till he passed away; it was fun, fun all the way.
dbanj
My pact with D-Banj…
I equally remember couple of years back when the hip-hop star D-Banj just returned to Nigeria, you were the first person who introduced him to me. Now, D-Banj is a household name in Africa, what is your relationship with him like?
(Laughs) I haven’t seen Dapo in ages. I think the last time we bump into each other, was at the US embassy when I went to renew my visa and he was equally there for something. I haven’t seen him in ages. Don Jazzy, we spoke for a while on the phone and we lost contact. For me, it is not about keeping in touch, it is about sitting down and smiling to myself and saying ‘weather it is recognized or not, I am happy I was a part of this man’s success’, to me, that is my joy, that at the time I could, I helped in my own little way and I moved on. I don’t have to sit down and say ‘ok, I helped him, he owes me’ no, it was the same thing even with Ayo Animasuan, I remember in the beginning before he became this big I worked with him for a while and he is where he is and it is my joy. I do call him Egbon, he is still my Egbon any time, any day, we see each other, we yab each other. So, when I see people that I have worked with in the past who are doing well I am happy, it is enough for me.
Omawumi
My 5 best Nigerian female songbirds
Do you have a role model?
Do you mean an inspiration?
Yeah someone that inspires you home or abroad?
There is no one person. I will come home to Nigeria and I will only talk about people I feel fulfilled for. Waje and I haven’t met one on one even though we have been at couple of events together because as a person I am sort of shy, so, I do not want to get in your face. But I look at her story, I look at her strength, Waje has a powerful voice, you can’t deny that fact. There are four Nigerian female artistes that are rare, there is Waje, there is Omawunmi, there is Seysha and there is Chidinma and when I look at this people, their voices are wonderful. When I listen to them, I am like I thank God for where they are, they will do exploits. Tiwa Savage for me, I always tell people, Tiwa Savage is my Celine Dion; she has a sultry voice and it works for her. But the others I have mentioned, their voices are probably that of Beyonces in Nigeria, they are popular and they are using it to the maximum. I remember when Omawunmi released her album, in fact, my children will sing Omawunmi’s album for you. When she released ‘Bottom Belle’ it was their favorite song at the time, but now they know the entire album, they know Waje’s whole album. So, I am a huge supporter of Nigerian acts. I love Phyno, I love Olamide and his crew. I am happy they are people who are doing their things and Tuface is one person I will always respect. Tuface grew from the days of Plantashun Boyz. I started before they started and I remember there was an album launch I had then and Willie Walkman was handling them and they came for my event. You know, when I look at Tuface now, he is still humble. You can’t take that away from him, no matter what anybody says about him, he is an extremely humble man. If Tuface bumps into me now, he will say ‘hi’ and greet me with humility. There are couples of them I can mention who will still say ‘hi’ and of course there are ones who will raise their nose like ‘did I ever know you?’ but it doesn’t matter. P-Square too has remained loyal to their art.  MI is another person I respect.  And I hope and pray that those coming along can actually sit and look at these guys and follow in their footstep, especially when it comes to moral songs. I think Tuface is the one who has lasted the longest; Sound Sultan has also maintained his creativity. 
Chichi of Africa to Asabeafrika...'Working in Ovation as PA to the puvlisher was a huge responsibility'
What do you mean by Moral Songs? 
Yes, vulgarity sells, sex sells but hey, how about the other aspect of it? How about morals? Asa had to go to France and came back. Why did it have to be like that? Because she wanted to be accepted in her own country and she wasn’t selling vulgarity at the time but the likes of Waje and Omawunmi has broken that jinx without the need to run away. So, when you look at their success, you will agree with me that yeah, I can actually deal with society without selling sex or vulgarity. We also need to come back to our Christianity, I won’t say religion now. I am not talking to our Christian brothers and sisters alone, even our Muslim brothers are included. What are the guidelines of these religions? Once I had an elderly man who comes here for his manicure and pedicure and he is a Muslim but I was marveled at his intelligence of the Bible. He knows the Bible in a way most Christians don’t even know. I asked him ‘sir, how many wives do you have?’ and he said ‘I am married to just a wife, yes, my religion permits me to marry more than a wife but I don’t want to die young’. He is married to one woman and he is alert to basic principles that guide his religion.
Chichi of Africa to Asabeafrika...'Dad's death really affected my career to an extent'
The way I saw him then, I just saw in him my dad because my dad is someone who will elevate a discussion with you and tell you how things should be done. And the man said ‘look, I have been to Saudi Arabia for lesser Hajj several times and the rate of corruption and stealing is low in Saudi Arabia because they are true to their religion, they are true to their worship. Recently I attended a program where Ibukun Awosika spoke, and she said she came from a Muslim background and while growing up the rules were set; do not lie, do not steal and it stuck in their head. Unfortunately we have the level of corruption that we have now despite the so many churches and so many mosques around. We are religiously inclined yet our morality is shut down. Do you want to follow the dictates of your religion and live peacefully or you just want to live on the extreme because really, a lot of people are dying in very funny circumstances these days. Young people die just anyhow, I lost a relation last week, a young lady, and she was fine but died suddenly. So, I appeal, let’s go back to the dictates of our doctrines. If you are a Muslim read your Quran, what does it say to you? If you are a Christian, read your Bible, what does it say to you? Because the level of decay in our society has gotten to that point and that has really reflected in our brand of Music as well, we do not need to sing vulgar to sell.
The GDA meets Chichi inside her cosy office in Lagos
You didn’t sing vulgar in your own day?
Never! I never did. It was not part of our generation. Morals were very strong in our own days and it came with the songs we composed.
So, who would you describe as the Best Young Musician of all times in Nigeria? I mean a musician who has kept the beats alongside the morals?
The only name that comes to my head now is ASA. That is the only person who has had clean videos, who has had clean songs and lyrics that preaches morals. A couple of the other artistes have but along the line they drove in one or two vulgar editions probably to boost their popularity or swell sales but yet I think ASA, I might be wrong but I have listened to her music so far, and even if they have dirty undertones they don’t come to the surface, so that the child who is listening to it doesn’t even know what is been said. Yes, she is the only person that comes to my mind now and she is good for that definition.

(Watch out for Part 2 of the Chichi of Africa Exclusive on this blog tomorrow as Asabeafrika Unveils Chichi’s heartthrob, Captain Ajibola Idowu & two lovely daughters)
Chichi of Africa to Asabeafrika...'I took a holiday off limelight to re-organize my life'


Gbenga Dan Asabe

Africa's Number One Celebrity Encounter Blog

1 comments:

  1. Gbenga, where did you run into ChiChi my homegal? I have been looking for her. Nice chat though...it took me down memory lane

    ReplyDelete