By Tony Ogaga Erhariefe
The name Alhaja Monsurat Adegbemiro aka Akobi Esan rings bells in Islamic music circles in Nigeria and beyond. In fact, with five albums to her credit and still counting, Akobi Esan is one of Nigeria’s biggest Islamic singers. The native of Badagary and graduate of Public Administration from the Lagos State University (LASU), and member ISMAN, in this chat with Entertainer opens up on career, marriage and her dreams.
You studied Public Administration, how come you are into music?
Public Administration is an endless exercise. However, I could say I inherited the talent for music because it is in my family. I got it from my dad’s elder sister. She played waka music and is a contemporary of Salawa Abeni’s; music comes to me naturally.
Tell us about your style of music?
What I play is Islamic music. I was born and brought up in the Islamic tradition. I discovered I had talent for singing on November 20, 1999. Somebody appreciated my voice and ever since I have never looked back.
How many albums have you released to date?
I have released five albums. I did the first one in 1999 and it was Ire Ni Mo Fe. The second was Bihizinillah. The third was a hip album and it was inspired by my husband. I also have Iho Meji and Ramadan Tonic which will be released this Ramadan. My music is on all radio stations and I am well known.
You’re a mother of three kids. How do you combine the home front and your career?
I got married in 2010 and I have three kids. Let me thank Almighty Allah for the strength and also my parents. You know, when God supports you in everything you do you won’t feel stressed out. I think God is with me. My husband has also been very supportive; in fact, he is my pillar. He is a commissioner in Ogun State. Even this morning he was the one that woke me up. I don’t believe in maids so I do everything myself including taking care of my kids and securing the home front.
How do you get inspiration to write your songs?
My inspiration comes from Allah. At times in the morning, after having my sulat, inspiration just comes. And maybe, sometimes, when I am in the kitchen washing, inspiration just comes and I start singing.
Tell us about growing up, how many kids were you?
My dad has two wives. The first wife only had a daughter. My mum is the second wife and she gave birth to four kids but one of us is late now.
Were you born with silver soon?
No, not really, but my parents were very comfortable. We were neither poor nor too rich.
Coming from a Muslim background, did anybody try to discourage you when you started out?
Nobody discouraged me. In fact, I had the total support of my family. Even when I had an accident in 2007 I was still going to play shows and nobody stopped me. I play all kinds of shows including birthdays, naming ceremonies and house warning. I also play at burials. I am very busy. My weekends are booked up.
Was there any time you felt like quitting?
Yes, that was after the release of my first album which was sponsored by my husband. To this day I have not received a dime in royalty from that marketer. Marketers will keep saying you’re up-and-coming so your CDs are not selling but it’s a lie. These marketers are ripping us off. I am just appealing to them to have pity on us.
What has been your happiest moment as an Islamic music artiste?
My happiest moment is when I sit down and think and realise that God has been so good to me and I am like, ‘is this me that God has done all these for?’ And also, when I am with my kids I am very happy.
How did you meet your husband?
(Laughter) That was in school at the Lagos State University. Though I was in a relationship before my husband came along but it was not a serious relationship. My husband made me the woman I am today.
What was the attraction for you?
He is someone who hates lies and that is what I like most about him and that is the way we are raising our children; we encourage them to always tell the truth no matter whose ox is gored. My husband is much older than I am; he is in his 50s so I am a very small girl (laughter). At first when he started coming around me I was like, ‘what is wrong with this old man?’ I never wished to marry a married man but when I look back today I do not regret it. He was my class mate at LASU. Back in school he was always watching over me. He always encouraged me musically. In fact, before we had anything together he first made sure that he knew my parents.
Can we say that you owe your success to your husband?
Yes! Without him, God and my parents, I wouldn’t be here today.
What do you want to say to your fans across the world?
Wow! You won’t believe it but for almost three months I have been receiving calls from people I don’t know from all over the world asking after my music. They are like ‘Alhaja, what is happening? Which new song do you have for us? Which one is coming out at Ramadan?’ And sometimes I don’t even understand their language. I get a lot of calls from France so what I want to tell them is that they should watch out for my new album which will be released before Ramadan.
What are your dreams?
I want to use my talent to preach Allah’s message. I want to be an Islamic music super star.