Stella Monye… The Samba Queen On A Humanitarian Mission
The singer and actress, Stella Monye, popularly known as ‘Samba Queen’, has been variously described as a humanist and lover of people. With her rich experience in social service work, she is deploying her arsenal to effecting a change in the country. She speaks more on this.
In what way can you be described as a humanist? I HAVE a lot of experience in social service work. You can say it fell on my laps, but I wouldn’t have let it fall on my laps if I didn’t have interest in the first place. I have 10 years experience in human right, civil society and social services work.
Can you tell us what you have done exactly, and how you have shown compassion? There was a time I was going to serve food in schools in Lagos. I would go to special schools for the visually-impaired, those hard of hearing and others. I used to make it a point of duty to serve these children food.
I was working with a faith-based foundation in Apapa and I remember that in that organisation, we had other social service workers, who were supposed to be the ones to serve the meal. But I always took it upon myself, by going with them to make sure that it was properly served.
It made a lot of impact because the children were always coming to see me. There were so many other areas where I participated in social work. I had worked with the late Beko Ransome-Kuti, Gani Fawehinmi, Anthony Enahoro and Gov. Adams Oshiomole.
I was working with the labour movement. I worked with Dr. Joe Yinka-Odumakin. I was almost involved in all her civil society work. She still invites me till date and I often oblige her, unless I am not in town. I have always had my hands full of social activities.
When Pronaco was around, I did all the road show with them. I used music and it was fun and it was also hard work. But you are not known to have any song that addresses human rights issues? When it fell on my lap, I had to come up with songs about societal ills and whenever we had such outings, I would sing songs from Bob Marley, Fela and the likes.
I remember I used to sing, Mr. President, by African China. I will make sure that all the songs are relevant to the events. I would teach some singers the songs so that we could sing together while on road shows.
So, it was another kind of gathering for me. I made a lot of people do what they had never thought they’d be able to do in their wildest imagination. It was fun.
It has made these people become better individuals. Who are these protégées? I had Lucky Okri, that is, Mike Okri’s younger brother as lead singer.
I had Charity, a singer, who works in my band and also does other professional singing elsewhere. I was able to gather them. They were great singers. I had up to 250 singers, drawn from churches schools music departments for instance at the College of Education, Ijanikin.
I had up 50 people that I have invited for such group work. Apart from PRONACO that offered you the platform, what other platforms have you enjoyed? I was on the NTA morning programme, AM Express for about two quarters and I gave them the band through the foundation that I was working for. I gave them the group of musicians.
The music was tailored to what they discussed on the programme. Do you have a platform that is registered by you? I came up with a show that featured only female acts that had been in the night club circle with no opportunity to break into the mainstream. I showcased them. It was called the ‘Hook Up Show’.
Senator Oluremi Tinubu chaired the first outing. She encouraged me and even provided us with a hall in Alausa-Lagos. Tinubu was one of the people who bank rolled us from the beginning. But at a point, I had to do other things. I was also thinking of screening it on television.
That slowed me down a bit because I had to attend to other things. I will come back to it. Where have you intervened in the lives of widows and other women? For sometime, I have had this organisation called Women Health Initiative Nigeria. It was inspired by a young girl and she brought the baby and dumped her in front of my house.
She was just 16, living with her uncle in that area. He was always abusing her verbally and reminding her that she had a baby out of wedlock and that she didn’t have a job.
She really didn’t have a job. So she dumped the baby and ran away. The policewoman who stayed in the same premises was called. She then called my attention to the baby.
We decided to take the baby to Little Saints Orphanage, but then we needed to make enquiries as to who saw her dump the baby and where she stays.
We had a lucky break. Somebody saw her lying on top of a broken down vehicle with the baby that afternoon. We found out that a lot of people know her. We traced her uncle and traced her too. We reconciled her with her baby and we gave her some clothes. We gave her some diapers for the baby.
It inspired me. There are lots of girls out there with similar experience and they have no place to go because we have no social security in Nigeria. When I see incidents like that, I pick them up.
A lot of younger girls who saw what I did for the girl came to see me in the house to ask for one help or the other. They wanted jobs, some I would help to get jobs. Sometimes, I would give them perishables from my kitchen. I can give you foodstuff. I did a lot of that.
I had a baby as a teenager myself. Although the circumstances may be different, they may not be lucky as I was to get some care. But I just said this is one area I want to look into. Another NGO that works with single girls recently invited me to be a member of their board of directors.
What kind of policy instruments can government bring to bear to stabilise this situation? During the campaign, I overheard one of the parties promising to start social service scheme of about N5000.
Some people were complaining about it, but then let us start from somewhere and see how it goes and may be with time, it can be increased. Maybe the new government will be feeding children in school all over Nigeria. That is a huge task though. Sometimes, I ask how it could be done but it is possible.
If we can do it at the NGO level, government should be able to do something. We have the Ministry of Women Affairs set up by the Lagos State government but I don’t know how effective they are. Some women I hear claimed that they have taught them some skills for empowerment.
That is part of what we want to do as NGO. Get women to develop their crafts. We just need a centre to start this kind of thing. If international organisations can do it, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to do it. We are one of the richest countries in Africa.
The N5000 social security fund should be passed into law. They can push the money up a bit. Things are very expensive in Nigeria. You were into fashion at a time, what is happening now? I was into samba wears. I was using African materials to create men’s wear.
I started from the men because it is easier to cloth men than to clothe women. I restricted it into African fabrics. I was in love with ankara, aso oke. I had my fingers on too many pies. I had distractions. I went to the studio and I was working on my gospel album.
I also travelled a lot out of the country. I was looking for more experience and I was also trying to source for things that I could do. Which of your known songs would you say addresses the social issues in Nigeria? I will say Elenuwa, but it is not as popular as Oko Mi Ye. The song says in the days of my father, things were easier but look at what the world has become.
Life has gone haywire. So, that is a strong song. But now I am going into gospel. I believe that with God, everything is possible. You were also seriously involved in political campaigns leading to the 2015 elections, are you now a politician? Yes, for the first time in my state, the governor’s seat was rooted to my constituency.
It was all hands on deck for me. To God be the glory, he won. I don’t put my hand in anything that fails. Everywhere they turned, I was there. I brought in some icons for the march and we went to all the 25 local councils to campaign for him. Before his arrival, our own was to sensitise the audience.
It was wow! I took Ras Kimono, Orits Wiliki, The Righteous Man and Kimono was even more famous than anybody else. Kimono was almost mobbed at every location that we arrived. It was a huge experience and it contributed a lot to the success story. At a point, we took okada round.
We were told that the roads were bad. They stole our phones we were almost mobbed and we didn’t have security. Righteous Man was huge and when people see him coming behind us. Should politicians who want to leverage on their fame just use artistes or should they be on the side of the people? Should they demand for good governance? We did that in Delta.
We said that everything that the government promised, he would fulfill. If he fails, we would be the same people who would gather people to come and ask him why he has failed to live up to his promises and I think that is how it should be. People should not just focus on their own interests that ‘well we have paid me why should we care”.
Musicians should be on the side of the people not politicians. Those who take sides with politicians are taking the wrong approach and it is wrong.
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