From that toddler whose incredibly luscious voice would mimic music out of her father’s loudspeakers to the teen winning a national music writing competition and through the years of strutting the high streets of Nigeria’s music terrain in the eighties and nineties one of Nigeria’s largely unsung talents-maybe under-sung- ,Monica Omorodion Swaida, has come of age. She is a living repertoire of Music history as she has been an active participant with almost every big name event and star that has graced the music scene in the country. Her story is of one who knew early enough where her ship should sail. She came back into the consciousness of some who may have had some memory slip when she, from far away America, rallied the fans and well-wishers of legendary Majek Fashek to raise funds to save his life and music. Not suprising though as she credits Majek as one of her greatest influencers and mentors.Tracking her down for a chat was no mean task but, as she adduced during this interview with our own Ima’ Ero, this multi-talented diva is one of the best at multi-tasking.
Please introduce yourself
My names are Monica Omorodion Swaida
Where were you born and how was growing up like?
I was brought up in Nigeria. Spent most of my early childhood in Warri and later moved to Lagos.
How did you find yourself in the music industry; by providence or a clear cut action plan?
Many people don’t know that I have been singing since I was in secondary school. I won a song writing competition with Punch Newspapers. This took me to Lagos where my musical career started at the age of 14 years old. I have always been a music lover.
Who were your idols in the industry growing up?
I spent time listening to my dad’s collections. I fell in love with music via my dad. He used to have music books and he gathered his children and taught them songs. Some of my earlier idols were Miriam Makemba, Hugh Masakela, Jim Reeves, Ebenezer Obey, KSA, Sunny Okosun, Victor Uwaifo, Majek Fashek and many others.
What would you say about the evolution and quality of the music industry especially between the 80’s and now?
Wow! We have come a long way. Music is not like it used to be. Back in the 80s, we enjoyed music and sang to them. Now music is more about dancing to tunes. There are still good music though, but many music curse at women, men and too much profanity that sometimes turns me off. I miss music like those of Majek Fashek. Songs that go right to your soul. Lucky Dube etc. New idols now are nothing like those of the 80s. I might get slammed for these, but I am speaking from my heart.
You were at some point in Majek Fashek’s band how did that happen?
I met Majek Fashek at Aitbonia studio at Anthony Village. Then I was with a group, called Sound on Sound. One of the first rap groups in Nigeria. At that time, I was still in high school. I usually go to the studio on my vacations. When I returned back to my school and came back during one of my vacations, the group released our album that we all worked on. A funny thing happened; my photo was missing from the album. They put me at the back of the album as a backup singer! They said they thought I wasn’t coming back. Back then; we didn’t all have cell phones like now. I co wrote one of our biggest songs and others. I was heartbroken and felt betrayed. At that young age, it was too much for. I decided to leave the group. Majek was angry too. He told me not to worry about them. Told me that he would take me on tour with him. As a young girl, I wanted to run as far away from the group, so I agreed. The rest is history. I went along and did 2 of his albums with him before traveling out of the country.
How would you describe your time in the band?
Best time ever! I was a kid traveling among adults, but they treated me like one of their own. My dad took me directly to Majek and made him promise to take care of me. He did with all his heart. We toured all over Nigeria. There is no state that I never visited. We stayed in the best hotels and ate the best food. We also went to other African countries. I was blessed with playing with him briefly again in America.
None at all. I was blessed to be among the band members. I am in touch with most of them still. Some are no more, but the memories are priceless.
How would you describe the atmosphere back then?
We were a family. At that time, Michael Appoh was the band member. He was one of the best things that happened to me. Taught me a lot. I considered him like a second father. Amos McRoy was a big brother; Wole Peku was my swimming coach! He and I visited every swimming pool in every hotel, when there were no pools, we visited rivers! Mambo our drummer was an interesting fellow. Made me realize that music was a business. Everybody was great. My best friends were Sunny Are and Christopher-I forget his last name- A sound engineer. We were close. He died. God rest his soul. Also there was Arakatula. He linked me up with Aibtonia studios. I started first with Otto Records with Sam Morris. He too was a great teacher.
The feeling those days was that musicians;especially the female ones were promiscuous do you agree?
I was too young to know that. I didn’t even know what sex was all about.This is funny, but true! I never slept with no one in Nigeria. I didn’t even know what that was all about.My father took me to the studio in the morning before going to work and he picked me up after work. I am grateful for the parents I have. They were very supportive. Maybe it was because my dad spent time in England. I am not sure. My mom trusted me enough to be on the road with men. Whom I am to disappoint her? It’s a huge misconception. I am speaking for me. But like in every industry, there are good and bad people. It depends on individuals.
Did you ever smoke marijuana or try drugs?
I did in Holland where it was legal! It was not for me, so that’s history. Never in Nigeria though.
When, why and how did you leave the shores of Nigeria?
I needed to pursue my dreams. I felt like I was held back in a lot of ways. No regrets.
Did you mean to defect from the beginning or was it as a spontaneous decision after your arrival in America?
There was no intention of coming back. I didn’t go straight to America. I went to Europe first. There were so many opportunities. Going back for me would have been in a body bag. I was determined to make it outside the country and later return to Nigeria. Thank God my dreams are coming through! I am going back home more often now.
What was settling down in your new country in the early days like?
I must write a book on it one day. My experience. Do you know what it is like leaving your country to another country as a teenager with no father, mother, brother or sister? Do you know what it was like traveling with only $50 dollars with no place to call home? Looking back now, I just give God the glory. It wasn’t easy. First few years, I was with no home. God was my shelter. But there was light at the end of the tunnel. Someday, you will hear more of my story in a book.
Did you ever take a break from music in your time in America? If so why and how did you get back to your first love?
I honestly forgot about music! The last time I was on stage was with Majek in New York City. I was in university then. I used to leave school to sing with him during weekends. I focused on my school. You see, when my mates were in university, I was busy touring around the world and traveling. What brought me back to music was actually movies. I was introduced into Nollywood movies. I became an executive producer with Robert Peters and we produced Faces of Love, my second movie. They wanted to pay someone for a sound track. A light bulb came up; I remembered that I was a musician first before a business woman! I went to the studio and released my first single my babe is gone. That was how my love for music awoken again. Glory is to God! There is no going back now.
Let us into the highs of your career so far in the US
My music video Palava won the NAFCA Awards in Hollywood for favorite video. My movie faces of love won so many awards and my recent movie that I stared with won best film. God is doing great things. I am working on my new CD promotions now. I pray it gets to the top too.
What can we look forward to next? Any album? I recently released my first musical CD titled Monicazation which is out right now in the markets. I am presently promoting that. Other works and collaborations are in the works.
Tell us more about your awards
I won my first NAFCA Awards for favorite video titled Palava. My movie Faces of Love won numerous awards. More awards in the future by God’s grace. Amen.
Who are the biggest artistes you have worked with?
I worked with Majek Fashek, Evi Edna, and late Sunny Okosun. I was a kid and hungry! I needed to be on stage. That seemed to be what mattered then. I knew what I wanted and went for it.
Do you play any instrument?
I just recently started playing the guitar.
Which Nigerian acts would you want most to collaborate with?
It will be an honor to be on stage with Majek Fashek again. I would definitely love to work with Charlie Boy! I love that man! He inspires me. There are many new artists that I wouldn’t mind working with. Lots of good musicians.
Interesting!would you say you’r a studio act or stage one?
I have been both. Been on stage for almost half of my life. I just recently started doing just studio act because of time, but this is for a short time only. I am looking forward to being on stage again.
What is the biggest challenge in the Nigerian Music scene and how do you think it can be mitigated?
Nigerian music scene saturated with people that won’t work with you unless you give them money. Promoting your music in Nigeria is not easy at all. Piracy is another problem. But I believe that there is hope for new artist because of social media. It helps. The way of making money now is not album or CD sales; it is via live shows and endorsements.
How do you balance the home front and work?
It’s called multitasking and God’s grace.
What is your beauty regimen like? Any special routine?
Lots of people don’t know much about skincare. I happen to be an independent director in one of the biggest skincare company, so I learned a lot about skincare. I never go to bed with makeup on, I make sure to wash my face with a facial bar and moisturize. I never use any harmful creams like fade creams, which are actually very bad for your skin.
You recently organized a fund raiser for Majek Fashek ,what motivated you? Majek is a brother and father figure to me. I had been working with Majek’s wife for a long time trying to help him, but was not successful. After seeing a picture on Facebook one night, I decided it was time to take action. It was just the right time. I knew Majek would have done the same for me like he did when I was a teenager. I was my brother’s keeper. If I didn’t help him and he died, I would not have forgiven myself. Majek has the biggest heart. Those that know him truly know. Many of those he helped abandoned him. God didn’t.
What was the response like?
Many people gave what they could. It really wasn’t much money, but the awareness became something else and we got many people that wanted to help him including churches. Ayiri finally took the bull by the hones. God bless Ayiri.
Were his friends with you on the mission?
Many people helped in this mission. Black Rice was with me all along. Mike Appoh was on the phone with me almost every day. Jolass Court also joined the cause, Mary Oguntade, and many others supported. I can’t really name all of them, but God knows them all.
How is Majek’s health at the moment?
Majek has improved greatly! We talk almost every day. Watch out! You will see soon!
Is it true that Majek has been hooked on drugs all these years or was it all lies?
Majek had alcohol issues. He faced his demons and he is still fighting it. One day at a time. He is a fighter. He is fine now.
Some say you had an affair with him in the early days please,true?
Ha! That’s impossible! I was a kid while I was with Majek Fashek. I didn’t even know what condoms were to tell you the truth. I have never slept with any musician in my life. They didn’t even know the color of my underwear! Except swimsuits of cause! I challenge any Nigerian artist to come out and say they have slept with me. Not one!
What is your relationship with his ex wife Rita?
Rita is my older sister’s classmate. She is a big sister to me. Rita comes to my house and so do the kids. When I go to NYC, I stay with her when I am chanced. She is a great woman and a fighter. God bless her.
Should we expect anything new from Majek Fashek? Do you think he still has it in him to hit those heights he reached before?
Gush! You haven’t seen anything yet! The best of Majek is yet to come. God will make Majek great again! His music still makes me cry.
Do you have protégés and what are you doing about discovering new talents like you easily enough?
I formed Monicazation Movie and Music production Inc. My goal right now is to push me and other new artist.
Would you want to tell us about your ‘oga at the top’?
Who is my oga at the top?? Lol! Anyway, my husband and I have been married for over 15 years. He is the love of my life. He completes me. He understands my dreams and trusts me fully. I told him everything about my show business world before we were married. He was proud of me! He always asked me what happened. Why I stopped. Anyway, my husband was made especially for me! I am blessed. He’s very private.
One of my biggest phobias is missing heaven because of a stupid mistake or sin.
Back to your music any parting words to your fans?
Thanks for believing in me and standing by me. God bless you all and I hope I can put a smile on your face often. Mega love.