It is difficult to remember Oma Wonder was once a contestant who won our hearts with her rendition of Onyeka Owenu’s Ekwe on Idols West Africa. Today she is a household name known for her big hair and even bigger voice, a songstress who is lending her voice on societal issues and creating a brand worth beyond the music industry.
Award-winning musician, brand ambassador, mother of two and diva it is clear that she has worked zealously to get to this point where she has categorised herself as without competition. Getting to know Omawumi is indeed a wonder. We feel her positive energy as she enters the studio where the GL team is waiting to make this photoshoot and interview happen. She apologises for keeping us late – only three hours, but even after two fitting and two hairstyles changes we are carried away by her sense of humour. We get to know the real Omawumni, not just the person we see on social media. Observing her in action as she indulges in light-hearted conversation with the team as we set up, ever ready with words of wisdom at the tip of her tongue. She is clearly a perfectionist. You may have witnessed her in this element with clips from behind the scene (BTS) videos on social media of her rehearsing with the likes of renowned producer Cobhams.
Appearance is truly reality with Omawumi, what you see is what you get. She moves swiftly between proper English and Pidgin English as she answers questions. She is passionate about empowering women and this translates to the passion of her songwriting and singing as everything about Omawumi is synonymous to her lifestyle. Is this a reason why her fans love her? Just maybe. Regardless, she has become a brand to reckon with and rightfully so. She has made music with Grammy winner Angelique Kidjo as well as Salif Keita, best known as “the golden voice of Africa”. She is also using the platform she has to encourage people with building what we might just begin to call the Nigerian Dream.
Growing the Oma Wonder Brand
The Oma Wonder brand is an industry success story. How has the journey been?
Well! It has been good, I can’t complain, I can’t lie. I think life and circumstances are nudging me in the direction that I should go.
Has everything that happened after Idols West Africa gone as expected?
To be honest I didn’t even expect to get this far, I am not trying to be modest but it’s just that sometimes you just have to be grateful for every opportunity that you get. I didn’t think that I was going to be able to make it this far because even if I was a product of a reality show that was very big, there were also people who are also products of these reality shows that haven’t done so well so time and chance happens to us all. I just take what I can in gratefulness.
You went on a hiatus, right after the single that featured Angelique Kidjo. What prompted that?
Technically, I didn’t go silent, most times I release a song a year, I am not the sort of artist that can throw out three songs every year. The times are changing and it is ideal that one should change with it but na small small, them no dey learn left hand for old age. You have to do it as small small as you sabi. I feel like if I go and overdo it, it will go and coba me in front. In 2014, I released Megbele. In 2015 November, I released Play na Play and in 2016 November, I was working on releasing Butterflies but time did not allow me to do what I was supposed to do with the song, so I brought it now. It is part of the album Timeless and it is going to be out before the end of March, ideally.
Being a Mother In Music
Do you think becoming a mother and building a family has made you look at your career differently?
Yes! I won’t lie. It is a very difficult choice to make but you have to make that choice. Most people find a beautiful balance, especially when money dey many and I pray that God gives me the room to get that kind of balance. As a mother, it changed my reasoning, there are some people that will disagree with what I am saying and say “No, because you are a mother doesn’t mean that you should cool down, you should go twice as hard”. See someone like Beyoncé, it doesn’t stop her from being a great mum but I am of the opinion that at some point music is as I feel it. I put it out, so technically I have not really changed my sound. I have one or two upbeat songs that will put you in that place but Omawumi will always bring out songs that will make you ask, what was she thinking? Where was she going with this? It is always songs that will make you question yourself and definitely good music that can stand the test of time. So yeah! It did change me with sense of my honesty with regards to my music, I decided that I can go into the studio and churn out hits all the time but the ideal thing to do is to make sure that your fans know the truth about your style, about your music, what you feel inside and then you put it out there so that the honesty of your sound will shine through.
There is a ton of backlash for mothers in music here, do you think that motherhood changed the perception of your brand?
Do what you feel, bottom line. Like me now I used to wear questionable outfits before, sometimes once I bend like this bum-bum don show. To be fair, I still wear these things and I still climb on stage with them but I have to look at my body shape and make sure it is beautiful and flattering because there is a thin line between sexy and trashy. So, that is what I am trying not to be, I am trying to be sexy, I’m trying not to be trashy. It’s not like because I am a mother and I am a married woman I will now cover my whole body, it doesn’t have to be that, but at least you go do with self-respect. Not because of what people are going to say about you because no matter what you do they will always talk, but because of how you feel about yourself so even if you want to be trashy and you feel good about your trashy omo carry on! No hating, do what you want to do.
Omawumi Has No Competition
People are used to wider societal issues being addressed in your music. How would you say your focus has changed?
That is also societal. In all fairness, I have always done that, like Play na Play I did that. Sometimes like in my previous album Lasso of Truth I talk about these things, like in Megbele I was talking about how I wasn’t going to confirm, I was going to do it the way I wanted to do it. I Go Go is a reggae song in which I was talking about I don tire, e don dey do me, I don dey go. The only thing I can tell you that is synonymous with my music is that it is relatable. Everybody can sit down and listen and hear one thing that they can say this thing don happen to me before. Butterflies is telling the story from the point of the person who is the third party in a relationship because sometimes you have a guy or girl that will be committed in a relationship and will have somebody on the side. Everybody is quick to cast the stone, but the thing to ask yourself is what did they tell that person? How does the person feel in that relationship? So, Butterflies is talking from that person’s point of view, saying, you know what? It’s not easy to let you go but what we have is a lie.
There is a lot of competition in the music industry, who do you see as your competition?
There is competition in the sense of popularity, what some people regard as “success”, that zeal and the desire to be called number one. Been there done that, I have the T-shirt ironed in my house and I am looking at it. I have come to find out that it is not as fantastic as it is made out to be. I would love to be number one if there is any such thing but at the same time no be because of say I wan chop meat I go come call cow egbon. Sometimes it just boils down to what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and if you are happy doing what you are doing because every month, I can keep churning out hits, pulling that kind of force which is very good but there is also a downside to it that most people don’t know about, the demand is more, the attention on you becomes more and I wish there was a way that I could get that attention without all that backlash involved. In order not to digress from the question, there is competition but technically, I don’t really have any competition.
To add to that conversation, I say kudos to the female musicians in the industry. Some people will ask, “Do you think this person is your competition,” and I will tell them something I got from Waje. She said, ‘”The thing about it is that everyone is interconnected and now because there are so many of us you can now hear Seyi Shay, Simi, Omawumi, Waje, Tiwa Savage, Niyolato mention a few and this has brought about diversity with the females in the industry. I think that it is a wonderful thing, I feel like more females should come out. Like with the young ones, there is this artist called Ayo and she is impressing me with her sound.
There is no such thing like this genre of music, this type of mature music, music is music as long as you enjoy it and as long as you can understand it. Nobody should be listening to what people perceive as competition. Everybody has somebody to compare their sound with and it makes the conversation grow.
You are an independent, successful artist and it sounds like you are also passionate about empowering other women in music, perhaps signing them to your record label?
It is something I have been doing, I have a record label called Oma Records. I am very finicky about the kind of artists that I want to put on my label because you cannot market what you are not passionate about. I am a little bit of a hard nut to crack but I promise you when I see the people that my heart appeals to then it will happen sooner than yesterday. Other things that I do as an artist is that I have a corporate social responsibility(CSR), I always like having conversations with up and coming female artists to nudge them in the right direction and also have conversations with women in general. I have an NGO called Little House of No Regrets. It is more like having a roundtable for women, like AA for women, we have an in-house counsellor for women and we can connect you to other NGOS that can answer to your specific needs.