‘It’s been a journey and a real battle’
Ara needs no introduction. She has thrilled with her energetic performances virtually everywhere in the world and stands as Africa’s foremost female talking drummer. And after well over two decades as an entertainer, she’s set to release her debut album, entitled Ara De.
She shed light on Ara De in this chat with ENCOMIUM Weekly. She also talked about her sojourn in entertainment which she described as a ‘battle’…
What’s the whole idea behind this meeting with the press?
It’s to let the whole world know that Ara is back! It’s my first album and I thought it was imperative that I let the world know that there’s an album that’ll be dropping very soon from Ara. People know Ara as the drummer, a lot of people don’t know I sing. And also this is to parley with the press. In the future, my management will put together something where we’ll host the press, not to ask questions but to just to eat and drink.
You’ve been away for some time, what’s been happening?
I won’t say anything kept me away. I’ve been performing, Ara plays only exclusive shows. People have accused me of playing mostly for the elite. But that’s not true. The truth is that many people appreciate culture, and I perform to those who I feel will appreciate my brand and my kind of music. It’s not like I’ve not been active, I’ve been very active.
Why do you feel the need to project our culture so strongly?
There’s a need to project our culture because that is who we are. Like I always say, our culture is our DNA; and you can’t run away from your DNA. We need to start appreciating who we are.
When I go outside Nigeria, they gravitate towards me, when they see the way I dress in my full Nigerian traditional attire. They are curious to know who I am and where I’m from; and they come to me and ask, and I tell them I’m from Nigeria in Africa. They want to know my tribe and I tell them I’m Yoruba, and that makes me really proud. People are studying Yoruba outside now, they come from all over the world to study my language, my culture. Then why are we the custodians shying away from this culture in the name of religion. Even the Bible recognises tradition. There’s a place for culture and tradition, and there’s a place for religion. And I don’t think apart from those who’ve propagated themselves as devil worshippers, there’s no religion that doesn’t call God. We all serve God. Are you telling me that they don’t call the same God, the Father of all creation? They call Eledumare, they do. I’m not promoting any religion.
I know the truth, I know that my culture is not barbaric. I have a personal relationship with God, and I’ve a personal experience and relationship with Christ. I come from a Muslim home, so I have experienced both religions. And I can tell you that it’s only those who have ulterior motives that hide under religion to perpetuate their evil ways.
But I’m not condemning any religion; all I’m saying is appreciate your culture – it’s who you are. There’s no way you’ll talk about the Yoruba history without mentioning the names of these gods; those are our ancestors, and we stop running away from them and give credence to them.
Like I’ve always said, nobody will dare swear by Ogun falsely, you won’t dare! But without batting an eye, someone would pick the Holy Bible or the Holy Quran and swear. But they would not dare that with the Yoruba gods. That’s why I’m advocating that we give power back to the traditional rulers, I’m sure that most of the problems we have in this country today would be solved. Let’s go back to who we are.
Let’s talk about your hair. You seem to have deviated from your famous long braids…
I didn’t deviate, really. For those that do Ghana weaving, you’ll notice that sometimes your hair would start receding if you don’t take care. There’s no way I can keep the kind of hair I do every day, I’m being realistic. At times, I have to take it off. Else, a time will come when I won’t even have any hair to braid. So sometimes, I take it off and let my scalp rest and breathe. I’ve not deviated, when the need arises I still braid my hair.
Why should I look out for your album, Ara De?
You should if you want to listen to quality music, and if you love and enjoy your culture. We tried to make it commercial, but also if you want to learn some virtue, just and go listen to Ara De.
What’s the message of this album, Ara De?
The message of the album is that no one can stop you. If you listen to the track, Ara De, it says can’t you see no one can stop your blessing; when it’s time, you’ll arise and shine. Do not be discouraged. Delay is not denial. It might look like it’s not going to happen but be focused, keep at it, it will surely come.
The journey of the African drum has been tedious, it’s been work, it’s been a battle, both physically and spiritually. But at least it’s here; because I refused to stop believing in God and in myself. Today, we have
Ara De, that’s why I entitled it that.
What’s the drive at this point?
I have a message. I’m sent, it’s my destiny, my calling. And once it’s your destiny and you are called, definitely you can’t go wrong.
Why did it take this long in your career to release an album?
It’s been a journey 25 years running. I am trying to uphold and preserve our culture and it has had its challenges.
We live in a society where we consider our culture as barbaric, which is so sad. I represent my culture, it is my DNA. We cannot run from our DNA. Fortunately and unfortunately, I was with a management for seven years that gave me a platform.
Fortunately for me, my dad (God bless his memory) saw this special talent in me and groomed me, bought me instruments, got me a keyboardist. He was a senior manager with UBA for 30 years before retiring. So, I got the opportunity to perform at their end of the year parties.
Along the way, I met my former record label boss and I thought it was the best thing that could ever happen to me. He gave me a platform that I’d forever be grateful for but I was locked away from the entire world. I didn’t know what was going on in the world. For instance, I didn’t know what Facebook was until 2008, I didn’t know anything about social media. When people blame Michael Jackson or say nasty things about him it hurts. I experienced it for just seven years, while he did for all of his life.
I wasn’t allowed to make friends, even my own family couldn’t reach me, I didn’t know what was going on out there; I was brainwashed. By the time I realised what was happening to me I decided to run away, my life was threatened. But I was advised by people who had been in the industry before me that I should allow the contract die a natural death before moving on. I moved on when the contract expired in 2007.
Every effort to frustrate everything I’ve tried to do came from my former boss. Even until recently when I visited the Ooni of Ife. I was called to the side and asked who a certain man was to me, and I said he was my former record label boss. And they said that he vehemently opposed my invitation to the Ooni’s palace. And that’s not the first time. I’ve been to different places and I was turned down because they said the same person had threatened them.
But I’ve come out of all of that; the fact that I’m here today speaking to you guys is a pointer to the fact that there’s God. And I thank God that today someone believed in me enough to say you know what Ara, damn what anybody says or does, I believe in your talent and I’m going to make sure that your work comes out. I’ve recorded in Paris, in the USA, Ghana, everywhere but none came out. I’ve always been recording but none came out.
This is the first one and I can tell you it’s been a battle, both spiritual and physical. I thank God that I’m alive today; there was serious threat to my life.
And because of what I represent and stand for, I have refused to say some things to the press. I thank God that I’m here today and this album, at long last, is coming out. I believe the sky is wide enough for all the birds to fly freely without clashing. The sun doesn’t hinder the stars from shining.
So, I have the boldness to go forward, backed up by the Father of all creation, God. I am backed up by my father, even though he’s no longer here; I’m also backed up by your love and prayers for Ara. I’m also backed up by my ancestors, who said we have sent you to do this and you will do it.
I came into this world with my talking drum. In my first picture when I was three days old, I had my hand exactly like I was playing the talking drum. Only the eyes that see could see me carrying my talking drum in that picture.
So, no one can stop me; I’ve been patient, I’ve been praying. And I’m grateful to everyone that has supported my new record label boss (I don’t know why he doesn’t want me to mention his name) and to the new Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Babatunde Adeyeye Ogunwusi (Ojaja II).