Kween Onokala: Beyond the afro and the sweet smile…

Kween Onokala

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Bouncy, energetic, full of life and a welcoming spirit; that’s the easiest we can describe her, anything more profound than that will send us straight to the abstract. Kween Onokala stands tall with a tom boy swagger, rocking an afro that will impress even Erykah Badu. Fashionista, actress, musician and mother; she is an epitome of what the average young Nigerian woman would love to be.

A native of Abia State, Nigeria; Kween, as she is popularly known, grew up in Ogun State, then lived in Abuja before moving on to London. This humble diva that started singing in a church choir in Abeokuta at the age of ten and has since performed beside the likes of The JJC and 419 Squad, D’banj and Don Jazzy. In this issue, WRT brings you Kween with absolutely no holds barred. Do enjoy.

WRT: How has it been for you as a single mother and hardworking artiste?

Kween: It’s been very hard. I mean, the reason why I was away for a long period of time was because I needed to be around my son, to nurture him. I miss him a lot when I am not around. So much is going on in his life and because of my work I don’t get to be around so much; that’s why I thank my mother and my wonderful family that help me take care of him.

WRT: What do you call your style of music?

Kween: I will say I do a lot of soul music. It could take the form of traditional patterns, it could take the form of R and B, it could take the form of folk songs; but there is a lotta soul in my music.

WRT: So which soul stars influence your music?

Kween: I pick up my inspiration from me because you need to be sure of yourself. For example, I do my music because that’s the way I feel. But I love Asa, India Arie, Erykah Badu, Angie Stone and many other great artistes out there like them.

WRT: Still on influences and generally speaking now, who or what are your influences?

Kween: My influences have always been things that happen in my life and also people. People like my mother, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and a great number of other artistes.

WRT: You have an album in the works, what is the title of the upcoming album and which artistes are you working with?

Kween: My upcoming album is titled ”Kween Don Come”. I’ve only worked with Djinee, so far.

WRT: Which producers are you working with on the album?

Kween: Cobhams, ID Cabasa, Don Jazzy, OJB, JJC of the 419 Squad. I have great people working on the album.

WRT: So you have finished recording and the album is ready?

Kween: I finished recording a long time ago; but as an artiste, you get inspiration and ideas every time and you have to keep going back to the studio to polish what you have already done. But if I get a good marketer today, I’m ready to go because I have enough songs to put out.

WRT: Are you under any record label?

Kween: I am doing my stuff myself, under my own production outfit called Rough Sounds Production.

WRT: You were born in Enugu, grew up in Abeokuta, Abuja then London. How has this migration imparted on your music?
Kween: When you move from one place to another, you learn. You gain a lot of knowledge about diverse people, their ways and their culture and that has really helped. Having lived in Abeokuta, I can speak Yoruba, which I put in some of my songs and being an Ibo girl, that aspect of my life comes naturally. Traveling about has really influenced my music and me a lot.

WRT: You got an award at the maiden edition of the Sound City Music Video Awards (SMVA 2008). You were nominated alongside artistes like Nneka, Nnena , Asa, Ty Bello, and Sasha. Did you expect to win and how did you feel when you won?

Kween: I felt fantastic because I wasn’t really expecting to win. For me winning was already in being nominated. But, when they called my name I just could not believe it. I felt like I was flying, you know, it was so great because I was nominated alongside great women, the category was a very tight one, so to come out as the winner gives me a wonderful feeling.

WRT: You were also nominated at the Hip Hop World Awards (HHWA 2008), but you did not bag any award. Did you feel disappointed?

Kween: I did not feel any disappointment at all. We have a lot of female artistes in the country. For you to be nominated alone shows that people accept you, people love your work, people see something in your work. I was nominated at the HHWA but I lost to Asa and she is a fantastic artiste. It’s all good, last year at the Nigerian Music Awards (NMA), I was nominated in five categories and I won the award for best highlife music. I feel good.

WRT: How did you hook up with JJC and 419 squad?

Kween: I went to London and we met. A lot of people think I was a member of JJC and 419 squad. I was never a member of JJC and 419 squad. We just share the same love of music. We met and we did music together, we toured together, we played shows, we recorded together and they are great friends of mine. JJC and 419 squad, Don Jazzy, D’banj; we just loved doing music together, and we are still great friends.

WRT: Did you think D’banj and Don Jazzy would blow up this big?

Kween: I have always known that they would blow up. They were at the wrong place at the right time; England is not a place where you just blow like that. It will take exceptional work for that to happen. D’banj is so talented, he has charisma and he has so much going for him. He has a massive stage presence. Don Jazzy on the other parties a very fantastic songwriter as much as he is a producer. I knew they were going to blow up if they came to Nigeria. They did and I am very happy for them.

WRT: Which 3 Nigerian music albums do you listen to, constantly?

Kween: Maybe singles, I listen to Asa, Infinity (Olori Oko), Djinee (ego, I no dey shame), OJB (searching), Sunny Neji (Oruka), 2face, Ty Bello (Greenland), and a lot of other exceptional songs and many classics that most of these guys have done.

WRT: Do you think you a kokolette or a mamalette?.

Kween: I’m a babylette. (laughing) Look at you, you want me to claim mamalette.

WRT: Quick one: Jill Scott or Erykah Badu?

Kween: I’ll take both of them.

WRT: Mariah Carey or Rihanna?

Kween: Mariah

WRT: Your Afro. Do you keep it as a kind of brand identity or its just an on/off thing?

Kween: It’s my brand identity. A necessary part of me, it’s a part of the whole image.

WRT: A few words of inspiration to your fans.

Kween: I wish all my fans well and will want to thank them for their love and support. I love them unconditionally.

WRT: Thank you for your time, and of course, for being a wonderful person.

Kween: You are welcome.

Click here to view pictures from the interview.

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