My Mother Went to The Grave With 90% Of My Secret – Chioma Chukwuka
Popular Nollywood actress Chioma Chukwuka has revealed her hidden talent which the world is yet to see.
The actress disarmed cynics with a mesmeric display of her vocal strength in Lara and The Beat, a movie on its way to the cinemas in weeks.
Here is what she told Lanre Odukoya about the upcoming movie and other issues
When you saw the script for Lara and The Beat, what was your first thought?
From the get go, it was a beautiful script, so I didn’t object to anything. First we had the first draft which we did a reading for. You know when you read a story; it’s one writer, or maximum two or three writers. But when people get to read it at the round table, you find that one or two people might point one or two things out and you go back to your drawing board. So we did a back and forth before we finalised and started shooting, so it was awesome. It was awesome coming on set. I got the script and I was really excited. Biola Alabi is someone I have admired, and considering the fact that she had just released a blockbuster, the year before, my thought was “Abeg, let’s do this!” So it was exciting.
What was the part that you found most enchanting about the movie?
It was just the entire production, the quality of the production. First and most of all, I got to understand that in as much as you are of a certain age, you will be required at all times to play a certain age. When I read the script the first time, I was thinking, “So what role am I playing because I am not seeing myself as one of those young girls that their father died?” They said “You are Tonye’s mum.” I told them that I did not understand because Tonye’s mum is about 50 years plus. I am not in that range, but they told me “Oh, Chioma, you’ll be fine. We’ll try and age you a little, and considering the fact that most women these days are quite youthful, have you seen the trend, have you seen people in their forties, they look like they are 26.” So I thought, “Fine, let’s do this, I’m up for the challenge.” And it was awesome.
We heard you sing in the trailer, and they said it was your real voice?
Are you shocked that I can sing like that or you want me to sing so you will hear? I’m not going to sing, sorry. When we did it in the studio, I had to learn. Christy Essien Igbokwe was my mum’s favourite, so we had her records, not CDs, but the plates at home. So it was easy for the songs to resonate with me. Like I said before, I have not sung in a while, so I was a bit rusty. But they said I would be fine, that when they get to the studio, they would either take it up a notch or take it down, which they did. They took it down to make my voice a little bit tiny. So it sounded nice, and I was thinking maybe I would go and do some training again and probably sing an octave higher than what I usually sing.
So which is your first love, singing or acting?
I am married to both of them.
What was it like working with music artistes on a movie for the first time?
It was awesome. Like I said when we were inside the hall that I like being truthful. It was difficult at first. At the initial stage, it was difficult because even though it was still from the entertainment industry, we were coming from two backgrounds as it were, the music and the acting. And they are used to things being snappy and sharp, they do their thing and they run off. We are used to preparing, first take, second take, third take, camera rehearsals and all of that, so it’s in our system, but they are not used to doing one thing over and over again. They had to learn and we had to be patient. It was a fusion I would want to see more often. We are entertainers, and the more we do things together, the better the industry becomes and the understanding would be a whole lot better.
You mentioned that you want to do some musical training. Are you giving music a try professionally?
Yes, I will sing to my children. It’s not something I intend to do on a professional level. It’s stressful, it is tasking and it is a lifestyle. There are some things you won’t do, there’s a way you won’t talk… With an actor, you have to try different voice ranges. You have to be calm, you have to be cool, you have to be angry, you have to be husky and all other moods. So it takes a toll on the voice, so I think that’s what happened to me after I had my last baby and then continued acting. That’s because when you are pregnant, your voice octave drops- either one octave below or two octaves. So, I think I dropped by two octaves. When you drop, it takes you a whole lot of practicing to come back to where you used to be. I just didn’t bother.
You don’t seem to be aging at all after many on the screen…
‘Hello, wetin you take old pass me?’ I think basically, because I started off just after I left secondary school. Thank God my parents let me do it, because you see actors everyday on screen. The more you see them, the older they become, and it gets worse for us that get married. Once a woman gets married, she adds about 10 years to her age. And when she has children, you hear people call her “Mama.” I started off at 17, so when people call me Mama, I just accept it because ‘I don tey for the industry.’ It’s been almost 20 years.
But you still look young, what is the secret?
‘When suffer hold you and you look slim, and you know how to package yourself, you are in the business’. I do exercise though but not consistently, and not consciously. Looking good is good business. If you understand the kind of business you are in and you understand the demands that come with it, you have to be ready to give it all it takes. For those in the Diaspora, it doesn’t matter if you are fat or thin, you can get a job that demands for you to put on a lot of weight, and the other one you have to shed a lot of weight, so you have to be ready at any point in time.
Some people think that you are a snob…
I actually think I am a snob as well. I’m just joking though. But I think that Nigerians are quick to generalise. I am a very shy person. The job I do helped me a lot to come out of myself. It was even worse because I went to a single sex school, so I was just used to women. And mixing with guys is something I am not used to. I just started coming out of it as an actor. So the first impression you get of me is that I am cold but that is me shielding myself from people I do not know.
You’ve always spoken so warmly of your mum. What do you miss about her?
It’s going to be five years that she passed away on May 22, I miss everything about her. She was my best friend. She didn’t use cane on me. She used hands, pestle, slippers and so on. She was a ‘leftie’ and I kept forgetting all the time and expecting the slap from the right hand while slaps landed on my face from the left. She went to her grave with 90 percent of my secrets.
That was how close I was to my mum. She was practically my backbone. She did Omugo with me when I had my first child for almost a year. There’s a proverb from the Igbos that says, the day you lose your mum is the day you lose your god. I’ve been thrown in the open but I believe she’s an angel, she sees better now and she’s fighting for me.