By SAM ANOKAM
The name, Maureen Ejezie, would ring a bell in the ears of those who witnessed the golden days of Nigerian music in the ‘90s. They will definitely remember the ebony dark beauty that serenaded the nation with her highlife hit, I Love Palm Wine and I No Go Lie.
Hugely influenced by the late South African music icon, Miriam Makeba and Oby Onyioha, the Delta State-born Ejezie said that the run-away hit meant to complete her album, turned out to be the chartbuster.
Twenty-two years after quitting the scene, the graduate of Federal University of Agriculture, Umudike, Umuahia and coordinator of Female Musicians Association of Nigeria (FEMAN), is back. Maureen went back memory lane as she opened up to The Entertainer on her career, family, the palm wine song and many more. Excerpts:
What has been happening to you all these years?
I would say as a showbiz person, I wasn’t out entirely but I mellowed down a little as a mother taking care of my children. I didn’t stop show business entirely. I went into the business of equipment rentals and doing some of the government shows silently as well. Now, I want to start the normal things that I do. I stopped them long time ago.
Have you released any other album apart from I Love Palmwine?
Yes. Apart from I Love Palmwine, I No Go Lie that I released in 1990 when I was doing my youth service, I have released a few others like Proud to Be A Nigerian and Delta My State. I did that for Delta State.
We didn’t hear much about Proud to Be a Nigerian, what happened?
It was a little popular because over a thousand flags were used. Up till now, they play it on air. Most times, on October 1. Even NTA still plays it.
What inspired the palmwine song?
When I was in the higher institution, I was a Kegite and still am. Once a Kegite is always a Kegite. I was actually looking for a song to complete the album and my elder brother said, ‘why not use the song that you always sing in the house, in the kitchen and all that to complete the album?’ And behold, I love Palmwine song that we wanted to use to complete the album became the hit. Even the others didn’t make it. I love Palmwine became the title of the album.
Why the song at that time?
I saw it from the angle of the fact that the yeast in the palmwine is medicinal and most people are not taking it. I saw it as a drink that people should take especially as we produce it. For the fact that there is yeast that clears the eyes and all that, that should be our drink.
How was it being a female member of the Kegite club in school?
It was fun. I was their treasurer.
How come you read Agricultural Science and ended up a musician?
I actually wanted to do music but it wasn’t possible and my mum was a headmistress at that time. My mum insisted that if I must sing, I must be a graduate. And whether I sing or not, I must be a graduate. So, I had to go and read Agric Science to satisfy my mum.
Popular producer and director, Chico Ejiro too studied Agricultural Science. We were in the same school and graduated the same year. We served at the same time and were very close when in school.
What was the major challenge of producing the palmwine song?
During that time, I would say finance but I was lucky I got a sponsor and it wasn’t easy because Lemmy Jackson was behaving funny. He was the man in vogue at that time as the best producer, so getting him to produce the album was war because he had a whole lot of us in his hand. You had to hustle for your date and all that. It was hectic but at the end of the day, it went well.
What did you benefit from the song?
I thank God. At least, the song took me outside Nigeria for the first time. As a youth corper then, you would understand what it meant to be paid in dollars. It was big for me.
How did you manage fame?
As a youth corper, I wasn’t even in Lagos because I was doing my orientation in Shagamu and the album was released here on Polygram label. It took little time before it became a household song, the Kegites then helped to popularize it. I was still myself then. But among corpers, it took a little while before the song became a hit. It became a hit a month before I finished youth service. So, there was no superstar thing where I was serving. Though, I had one small Skoda car. On weekends, I would just move from Shagamu to Lagos, and on weekdays I would rush back to Shagamu.
How did you cope with men then?
That wasn’t my major priority at that time. I didn’t look at that. I decided to be focused so that I would not digress. I saw most of them as friends, nothing short of that.
What was your growing up like?
It wasn’t that bad. We are seven in number. I thank God for my parents. We were all able to go to school and we enjoyed our childhood.
How long did it take you to release the second album?
It took over five years after I Love Palmwine to release Proud to be a Nigerian. At that time, the recording companies started folding up and it wasn’t easy for you to market your job yourself. When I Love Palm Wine came out, the stress was off me. The distribution network should be number one which most of us now do not have but the recording companies at that time had it so, I was looking at the angle of where to start from. To do this job, you have to market it yourself. You have to carry your album up and down to be able to sell it. You have to do the publicity. Putting all that together wasn’t easy. At the end of the day, I got the album done but I had to market it myself.
Are you now working on another album?
Of course! I want to do a remix of I Love Palmwine. It has overstayed in the market. I am currently working on a collabo with a popular musician. I will inform you when we are done with it by God’s grace.
You are the coordinator of FEMAN; tell us about it?
I am for now the coordinator of the Female Musicians Association of Nigeria. We are putting things together to see how the Hall of Fame that we have in mind can be achieved. It would hold early next year. We are trying to honour most of our female musicians that have been forgotten. Most of them are in their late ‘70s and early ‘80s. We are going to honour madam Beauty Oko-Ome; she sang all the egwu amala songs you can think of in this world. She was the originator of egwu amala, a dance that was famous in the ‘70s and ‘80s and till today, she is still performing.
Also Batile Alake. She is 78 now. Salawa Abeni came out from her band. I called her last week and she told me she just came back from a show. There is another woman, Hajia Bamani Toge, she is from the north. She is like Miriam Makeba there. She is also in her ‘80s. There is this other woman that sang the song Omawunmi just remixed, Bonsue Azikiwe. Her name is Nene Udemba, leader of the Udemba’s band, it was even the song used for independence in 1960. She performed it live and she is in that age bracket as well. Then in Calabar, there is Mary Afi-Osua. She is about the same age as Udemba. If you come to Calabar, you would see her statue at the round about. The Cross River State government did that for her. That shows how popular she is.
Most of these heroines have been forgotten, so we are going to honour the five of them in the first leg of the Hall of Fame by the end of February next year.
You were Maureen Ejezie then and you are still bearing the same name, why?
A musician is always a musician. That name still stands. That is the name I am known with. I am married and my husband’s name is Uso.
How would you compare Nigerian music then and now?
There is no comparison at all. Music now has gone far, not like then. We are not struggling anymore. Now we are more respected. Before, if you say you are a musician, you are not seen as a serious person. People didn’t even see it as a profession. Now, we are well paid. Then we were paid peanuts but now they value us.
Who are your contemporaries?
They are Daniel Wilson, Esse Agesse, Omohinmi Cecilly, Blackky, Veno Marioghae, and Mike Okri among others.
Is any of your children taking after you?
My son is a dancer, he sings as well. The other one is an Engineer; he sets instruments. Virtually all four of them are into show business but they must go to school first.
What is your opinion about the crisis in PMAN?
There is a reconciliation committee and interestingly, I am the only female in the peace committee. Ortitz Wiliki and Chris Mba among others are also members. The committee is trying to see how we can bring peace to PMAN because it has lingered too much. It is getting to10 years now if I’m not mistaken. We want to see how peace can come back to PMAN and you know we have different factions. But by God’s grace, ours is not to know who is right or wrong but to see how we can bring all the factions together and if possible set up a caretaker committee which during their tenure will now plan for a proper election. I thank God that most of them are seeing it from that point.
Do you have any agenda for widows?
We are having a gala night for widows slated for December 14 at LTV Hall 1. We, members of the Female Musicians Association, are in partnership with an NGO. Most of the widows may not have had any opportunity of attending a gala night after the death of their husbands. We have some organisations we are working with that have been taking care of widows and we are counting on them to help us bring these widows. We want to empower them with small-scale businesses and make them happy.
Do you still drink palmwine?
I don’t drink alcohol but palmwine is one drink I take. I still love palmwine and I no go lie.
What message do you have for your fans?
Maureen Ejezie is till bubbling. I am still alive and by God’s grace you can be sure of getting a good music from me early next year.