By Gloria Okezie-Okafor, Daily Sun
Nigeria’s First Female Professional Flutist, Ebele Ezeamakam Says Governors Running After Her
She plays one of her classics ‘I Need To Know’, and the atmosphere relaxes into a beautiful mood. Ebele not only has the voice, but her music is unique
She is arguably the first Nigerian professional female flutist – and perhaps Africa as well. And speaking career wise, Ebele’s journey into the world of music, a combination of contemporary and classics, began some eight years ago.
Ebele the flutist, as she is fondly called, has become a brand name in her style of music, and she is sought after at big events involving government, corporate, and private. But all these did not come without a sacrifice. She left a good job in the oil and gas sector where she was well paid, to pursue her passion: music.
Chocolate skin, elegant, sassy, comely, and lively, Ebele comes across as the woman to behold by that dream man. But she had spent a good part of her youthfulness building a career for herself. And guess what? Her first professional outing was with the sax icon, Mike Aremu. That’s how much of a perfectionist Ebele is – it has to be all or nothing; and she tells you: ‘I give my all in whatever I do, even with the company I worked for.”
This reporter was with this woman of noble character in her simple apartment somewhere in Ikeja, Lagos. There in her living room, you find a piano, a bookshelf with neatly stuffed books, a collection of awards, a music player, flat screen computer hung on the wall like a television set, from which she selects videos of her music to entertain you – or other stored movie clips if that is your fancy.
Ebele has no air for pretensions. The conversation starts almost as if we have been familiar for ages. So, rather than hold the conventional media chat, we had a heart-to-heart, and she takes the journey back in time into her private encounters, in the soul of what can only be the story of Ebele Ezeamakam, each stage of the conversation punctuated by a hearty laugh.
She plays one of her classics ‘I Need To Know’, and the atmosphere relaxes into a beautiful mood. Ebele not only has the voice, but her music is also unique in many ways.
“My songs are more of the matured types, but recently I tried to do something urban. It was a song I did with Cobhams, and he produced it. It’s titled ‘Dreams Come True’,” she says to keep the atmosphere in conversation mood. “It’s a song I did to fit into the contemporary style of music.”
Aside playing the flutes, Ebele is a complete musician, as she tells you: “I write and compose songs, I can read and interpret musical notes, I can play instrumentals. This is unlike an artiste who just writes and composes.”
She also did a song in Benin language entitled, ‘Oghama’ where she uses a combination of the flute and African beats, something she says has won her more fame in Africa and beyond – combining the flute in African jazz concept. “This is why I am actually the first female flutist. There are other female flutists, but they don’t perform beyond their small circle. But I have been able to create a career with the flute in more professional ways,” she attests.
Ebele would rather introduce herself as a contemporary gospel musician – contemporary because she is attuned to the current times, gospel because her songs are mostly inspired by God, and for Him; and a musician because she is not only a composer and singer, but also an instrumentalist as well as an interpreter of the tunic sofa.
With a high pitch sonorous voice, Ebele recounts every experience she had encountered in her journey to stardom. For instance, she says:
“What made me revered as the first female flutist is because of the way I use the flute in my music – the flute is not a common musical instrument, and it is always used in enclosures like churches, classical events, and other private places. But I have succeeded in using it contemporary wise, not just in classics.”
But how long has Ebele been playing the flute contemporarily.
“Eight years going on nine years. But unprofessionally, I have been playing the flute since I was fourteen. It started as a hobby.
I remember at six years, I was playing into the recorder. Then I upped my game when my parents exposed me to some Philippines who had come to teach music in our local church. The white woman noticed my high pitch voice and said I would be good with the flute. I saw her play the flute and I liked it. That was how I started, using her own flute.
“My parents had started feeling funny at this time wondering what I was doing. They never expected I would get too deep into music. They felt I should concentrate more on my studies. It became even crazier when; rather than go for extramural classes to prepare for GCE, I would go to learn the flute. It became a real problem in the house. Until one day, the Philippines set an exam for us – those of us being trained – and asked us to invite our parents over…”
What was the reason her parents gave to allow her to get trained by the foreigners?
“It was my dad who discovered my musical gift. He said as a child of five, I would sing nonstop for hours. He even said they would be so disturbed on how a child would sing for hours without pausing,” she stated, laughing. “Growing up, I was exposed to our family church where I sang in the choir – The Apostolic Church. So, I was allowed to be trained by these Philippines not just in music but also in instrumentals. I learned music professionally under the foreigners.
“At the exams, I did very well. It was after then that my father bought me my very first flute. I was fourteen then. And ever since, I never stopped grooming. My parents liked it though; they didn’t expect me to make music my career. For instance, my mother says all her life she admires women who wears suit, so she had hoped I would take up a banking job so that I would wear suit like them.
“My parents even had to tell me that they didn’t want to hear anything music in the house. They said they only encouraged me because they saw the passion I had for music, but they never expected me to take it up full time. I studied Accounting at IMT, and Business Administration at Benson Idahosa University. After graduation, I worked in an oil firm here in Lagos. I was doing well, and had a section that I headed. I worked there for about eight years.
“I was a key person at my job; I was even there when the company started, and I did very well for the company. But the music thing was always coming. What was first a hobby had become a passion. And nobody encouraged me. My boss felt I was not going to succeed. He said people who play the kind of music I was doing were always abroad, and that I do not have the chance of making it here in Nigeria.
“But here is the power of passion. I teach that to my music students now – the power of passion. There’s nothing you can’t achieve once you are passionate about it.”
How did your boss know you were into music?
I was still a member of a band; I get invited for shows, and they get to see me perform. But I never stopped giving in my best at work. When the musical thing got a strong hold on me was after my first single, ‘Jawa Chineke Nma’ with Mike Aremu, the saxophonist. After my first single, I decided it was time I resigned from my job. My releases have been singled to promote my brand – which is me.
Your music tends to be more classical in nature, what inspires that?
Yes, God inspires us, but what are those things that motivate you towards your style?
I’m a thorough person. I like to give my best in whatever I do.
How did your parents feel after you resigned from your job?
I kept it a secret from them, but somehow they got to know. And then after my father started seeing me in the newspapers, he became proud of me. While I worked, I never cheated my boss, I believed in putting my best at whatever I do. I believe in excellence. While putting in my best at work, I’ll still find time to compose music. And after I resigned, I did some part time business to help me pursue my passion.
In all this drive to succeed and build a career out of your passion, did you find time to socialise – like build a relationship, hangout with other women?
I believe in women creativity. Most of the awards I have received, like Inspiration Award, were given to me by women groups. They felt I was an inspiration for women, doing something outside the norm. Onyeka Onwenu happened to be a recipient at the same award ceremony as a woman who has made a lot of positive impact in the society, and to women.’
What I mean by socialising is, did you have an intimate relationship with a male, and have other females you interact with?
I’m a very sensitive person, and I’m careful with people. I find out that people want to socialise with you for very many reasons. I’m a self-motivated person. And I take my time in whatever I do. Talking about socialising, I need to see the purpose why I should socialise with you, because people can be funny, they don’t see you the way you tend to see yourself.
I’m a very thorough person. And it was what my boss found out about me. I always come up with ideas and execute them; and before you know it, I’m moved from one desk to another. You can call it grace. So, you are careful not to deal with the wrong people, as not everyone would understand that. I have been able to impart ideas and motivation into people. I have seen my ideas work for people – and that’s because they believe. If they were the wrong people, it will not work for them.
I see myself as an open and sincere person. I don’t know how to keep grudge or hold malice. And I tell you my mind as it is; this is something people often can’t cope with. So, relationship has to be purposeful for me. And it would not be ideal talking to people if that would not add value to either of us…’
How would you describe yourself as a child, reserved or extroverted?
I would describe myself as a very reserved person, growing up. But I did interact with people I knew. As an adult, I like to see myself as extroverted but with purpose. I’m a very determined person. There is nothing I set my heart to do that I don’t achieve – that’s how purpose driven I am.
What has been your experience with men? Have you been hurt before and why?
I don’t really have time for that. I have lots of men disturbing me because I’m attractive. Like in my professional setting, I’m always gorgeously dressed. So, a lot of men may find that irresistible. But I’ve also got the will power to control that from the beginning. I made a lot of money working in my earlier years. With music, I’m doing it for the passion.
A man can’t entice me for the money. So, I set the pace. I go to a producer and tell him – this is what I want. For instance, I told Cobhams what I wanted, but he’s different because he is not just a producer but also a musician. When I meet any producer, what I want is a thorough job. It’s business. Leaving my job for a part time business where I didn’t use to make as much as I made at that time was passion. So, telling me that you want something to do with me because of the money you will give me, you are looking for the trouble of the lion. I was able to work for myself and build the life that I want, so there’s nothing a man can entice me with, apart from substance. I have a lot of shows I go for and not get paid because of the passion I have for what I do.
Once you can’t allow money to be a factor for you, men can’t control you. These are challenges I was able to overcome, and anyone can – it doesn’t matter what field you are in, media, music, or corporate establishment. Men disturb, but most of the way they come is through money.
Also, maybe I’m lucky to be raised by parents who are disciplinarians. Although, I would say it is more about me – I chose to be an upright person, someone who is particular about what she does. Coming up as an adult, it got to the point where I chose to be closer to God. It reached that point where I told God that I want Him to help me make my choices. For instance, I can’t just do anything without first asking ‘what does God say about it?’ These all helped me to live a life of integrity.
Women are being termed vulnerable. I don’t agree; vulnerable in the sense that some of them say ‘oh he broke my heart’. I don’t like this breaking of heart thing. My heart is not ceramic bottle or plastic bottle, so when I hear this break heart, break heart thing, it gets me confused. The first time I said this was on a talk show on Africa magic. People thought I was funny, they couldn’t understand what sort of a lady I was.
We were four of us from different fields in that programme. And the lady said ‘what if my guy broke my heart’, and I asked her ‘which guy?’ Why would he do that in the first place, and who told him he has my heart?
They all saw me like a different person. You know, this is like a norm. I don’t go with the norm; I set my own pace. You don’t have me, and I will not give you. Before a guy can say he has me, maybe that will be my husband. After that, I came to the point where I told God, ‘make me strong; don’t let any of these men get me’. That was when I knew God answers prayers. God listens to your innermost desires. Do you know how many men have tried to get me?
Some of them, all they wanted to do was to make sure they get you in bed. And I can boast to you that none of them succeeded, because I was very strong – as in strong in that part. I don’t give a damn about who it is. In the beginning, that’s where they would have gotten me, but I raised money – I was not looking for money from men. Those men who thought they were bold enough to dare, knew what they got – including governors.
Because of this, I lost some places that claimed they would promote me so fast, and make my brand excel so fast. And no matter how long it takes, I’m still here now. Would any man come and tell me that he played any major role in my success? If a man is coming to me now, he knows he is coming for relationship. I’m not that tough. I’m friendly.’
So, are you engaged now?
(Smiles) I’ve come to that point of my life where I know I really need a man in my life. Then, I was busy trying to build my brand. I have someone now, though, we started since last year. He is not based here, and he has done a lot for himself. I prayed about it. I can tell you I have someone who is not insecure about me – and that to me is very important.’
Is this person Nigerian?
(Laughs) I’m scared of Nigerian men o…
He is not Nigerian then?
He is, you know, someone who has spent much of his life (over) there. Most Nigerian men are always conscious of their women succeeding more than them.
How did you meet? Did he hear about you?
I think it is more of divine. He didn’t know about me when we first met. I wanted a man who would allow me do what I want to do, while I let him do what he wants to do, no one disturbs anyone. If you ask me to choose between my career and a man, I will choose my career. This is what happens when you allow God balances your life for you.
When did you start making money after venturing professionally into your brand of music?
In the first two to three years, I was making peanuts. But after then, I started getting well paid.
Like how well paid?
(Laughs) It all depends. I do things for some agents and persons based on relationship. Sometimes these people link me to government bodies. The pay grows on basis – depending on who is inviting me. Like now, I am involved with some foreign agents, as I’m taking the brand, Ebele the Flutist, outside the shores of Nigeria. You can imagine what the pay will be then. The next group of artistes I will be featuring will be foreign artistes. At the end of the day, I’m considerate. At least, everyone in the band has to make their money, including the agents.
What’s the complete picture of Ebele the Flutist?
Ebele the Flutist is a musician promoting her own brand. I have students I teach music and how to play the flute, and also a band that I run. But I recently unveiled Ebele’s World, which I’m delving into. And it is about health and fitness training, and talk show, and beauty and style. What brings about the talk show is that I am practically a motivating person with so much experience that I want to share with others. I see myself as a talk show host who wants to influence people positively.
I am an entertainer. I have been at women’s programmes that when I perform, women become so excited – you know the kind of thing you see when men perform. At the end of a particular show, a certain woman came to me and poured her heart out. It wasn’t actually about a Jesus song I did, but I inspired. I’m a multipurpose and multitasking person.
With my talk show, I intend to bring the best out of people. I’m a socialite. I have a lot of things in my head. So, you can imagine spending time on idle talks, it wouldn’t make sense. Currently, I’m planning a programme with the Presidency that will take me to Abuja. So, you can see there’s just no time for idle moments.