Alhaja Salawa Abeni is the Queen of Waka music in Nigeria. Unknown to many she started singing at a tender age of thirteen and despite spending close to five decades in the industry, she still remains the toast of many celebrities in the society. Her energy on the stage is second to none, at events she always thrills her fans and always leaving them to beg for more. In this exclusive interview with City People Publisher SEYE KEHINDE, she talked about her journey into the music industry, her experience with the blackmailer, how she got her unique voice, how she came about her song titled “Gentle lady le mi” and how she has been able to cope with the lockdown in the past three months.
Congratulations on the blackmailing issue. How did you feel when you heard about the news?
First and foremost before I answer your question, I would like to use this opportunity to thank Nigerians, the Nigerian police force, Rapid Response Squad, the commissioner of police Lagos state for their support and words of encouragement all through this ordeal. I can’t forget all the show of concern on Facebook. Ig I will forever remain grateful. Back to what you asked me when they called that they found him I was like please can I see the person? I really need to speak to him. At least let me know my offence, and where he got my pictures from so they said I can come the following day when I eventually got there and saw the boy I was surprised that a little boy like that could do such so I summoned the courage to talk to him. I asked him what my offence was, where did I go wrong and who sent him to me. But in all I am grateful to God Almighty, everything is over now.
How have you been able to cope in the last three months?
It has been extremely tough, it’s not easy but we need to thank God for our lives, our lives is the most important thing. We don’t have an idea of when we are going to resume work, we don’t know where we are heading., all we do now is just entertain our fans on ig. We are begging God to please have mercy. If I don’t work I won’t eat. No hope from anywhere.
Considering your years in the industry, one will think the hardship will not affect you?
Hmmm, my brother, it’s not that easy. If you have a mansion filled with money and you keep spending without adding more to it, it will definitely get finished and we still have people also begging for our help here and there so generally, it’s not easy.
What have you been able to achieve in your career in this last 3 months of sitting at home?
Yes, I am more relaxed, my brain is settled so am composing everyday. Everything is just piling up in the brain since we have no events or parties to go,I only get to entertain my fans on social media to remain relevant.
How long have you been singing?
It was 46 years in February 2020, I was 59 years in May by the special grace of God I will be celebrating 60 years next year. I had lots of things planned down for this year before covid came. I already bought a ticket to go to Canada to see my children and grandchildren, unfortunately, I couldn’t. I wanted to go to lesser hajj from there but in all, I give thanks to God
What are your post-Covid plans?
I have plans to release my album and I have been creating awareness on social media concerning it.
What have you done to remain relevant in the industry for close to five decades?
It’s not my making, it’s by the grace of God, God knows it all and I will remain grateful to Him for making me who I am today. I also always make sure I deliver what my fans desire. I make it a point of duty to always listen to my fans advice and ideas on how to improve my music, maybe that’s why they love me so much but in all I will still give all glory to God Almighty and my hard work.
Lately, you seem to be more into the society women especially the fabric merchants on Lagos Island what’s the connection?
Most of those women you see are my childhood friends and because they love me, we have kept the relationship going and they always call me to perform at their events.
Can you remember the first album you did when you just started music?
That will be in 76 in memory of Muritala Muhammad for the great job he did. Then the economy was good so I did two different albums. My second album was titled “Igba Agba”. I used that to praise those that have been singing even before I was born. People like Haruna Ishola, princess Adetoun, Olatunji Yussuf, King Sunny Ade, Evang Ebenezer Obey, amongst others. We did 2 albums in 97 which I titled “Eni basu koji I”
How was it like starting music at age thirteen, were you born into a musical family or what?
In 74/75 we always do moonlight with my guardian, late Ganiyu. I used to listen to Doc Sinkiru Ayinde Barrister, King Sunny Ade, Chief Ebenezer Obey, there was also a popular radio program back then featuring I-Show-Pepper, Efunsetan Aniwura, I used to listen to the show. There was also a program on the radio titled”eja ka lo sun” they used to play music from 9 p.m for 2 hours every night, after the program, they give special recognition to the people they played their music and I will always be like God I wish I can sing too and people will listen to me so I feel God just said Amen to my prayers. When we eventually started we had band leader baba Egbe Alhaji Mushura, he will gather us all together back then in the group. I was the only member then one person every other were old enough to be my mother and father so that was how I started
What about your unique voice, is it hereditary or you worked on it?
Honestly, it’s a gift from God, even at home my children always marvel at the switch of voice when am talking and when am singing even me I don’t understand, its a gift.
What year did you sing “Gentle lady le mi”?
It was in the early ’90s
What was the reason behind that song?
In 1990, I was separated from Alhaji Kollington Ayinla. I was taking my children to school and a Danfo driver hit my car and started insulting me at the same time and I was supposed to take my kids to school. I was forced to call my brother because as at that time I was staying with him before I got my own apartment, so he started rushing to where I was, and I know if he gets there he will tear the guy apart. So, I told my kids to get inside the car then I started singing in the car that I was not at fault, that am a gentle lady that was where the song came from. When I got home I recorded it, did a little adjustment and that was how I made the song.
How do you get inspiration to write your songs?
Things got better in 2000 when phone came so when an idea comes to my head I pick up my phone and record, I will now memorize it. After that I will call my band boys then we practice together, do the necessary amendment and that’s all. We put a lot of hard work to get what we want.
Where do you get all the energy from when you are on stage?
Music is my food and the crowd is my inspiration, once I see a crowd I become very energetic and I don’t get tired until am told it is enough.
What stage is Waka music now?
You know then when I joined the group, I met people old enough to be my mother and when they did their music their style was different, so I infused new things into my own. They sit to sing but I don’t, I introduced instruments into mine and named it Salawa Abeni and her funky modernized waka group.