I’m Worth a Billion Naira: I Made Millions Performing on Stage – Oriste Femi, Nigeria Musician

Smashing sexy and street-wise; ravishing and riveting; with a sprawling tattoo just below his neckline and a pair of sunglasses veiling his eyeballs, the 31-year-old singer-songwriter and performer poses for the camera.

From a street ‘star’ to a superstar and a self-proclaimed billionaire, he rules the airwaves of Nigerian music in his own unique style. Frenetic and fun-driven, he controls his fans with his scintillating songs and ecstatic sentiments. Raised in the ghetto, living a luxury life in highbrow Lekki in Lagos State, he cuts the picture of a hero in the fable of grass to grace. Meet Oritsefemi Majemite Ekele, otherwise known as Oritse Femi of the ‘Double Wahala’ fame. Strong, sexy and soulful, Oritse Femi pours his body, spirit and soul into his lyrics and performances.The eclectic, young and energetic musician in this interview with Oge Ezeliora unabashedly chronicles his past from Tolu in Ajegunle, the rigours of poverty of his polygamous home, his love-children and how Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade became his childhood dreams to where he is at the moment. Deep in his street-stained heart lies a man in love; there is more to Oritse Femi than meets the eye.

Can you take us through your background, particularly your early days in Ajegunle, Lagos?
I am from Delta State. I was born and brought up in a small but mighty community called Tolu in Ajegunle, Lagos State. I grew up in a polygamous family with so many siblings. My father, being an engineer, wanted me to follow his footsteps. My mother being a church worker also wanted me to be in the house of God. All these were distractions for me. I started my music career right from my primary school days. I also got my inspiration from the street because I had the opportunity to hang out with the underprivileged in the society. I am very happy today because I have been able to gather a lot of experience from my friends back in Ajegunle to compose my songs. It was not only tough but also rough. It was not easy because of my background. I was struggling. I was on the streets, hustling to make ends meet. I actually stayed away from my family. I couldn’t depend on my dad, because he had his own challenges as a polygamist. That was why at the age of 14, I went into the street to hustle. I hawked on the streets of Lagos. My dad was an engineer and he taught me how to dismantle and repair boat engines. I learnt all that. Then, I had my own boat that I was using to transport passengers from Ajegunle to Lagos Island. I also worked as a bus conductor.

Growing in Ajegunle, you have to hustle otherwise your contemporaries would snatch your girlfriend from you. Ajegunle residents believe in hustling. That time, nobody knew me, so, why would I go into hiding? But honestly, I didn’t engage in any dirty or illegal business. I believe in my music and that’s what is seeing me through today. In fact, I never thought I would ever climb to where I am today. But I thank God that I have been well branded by my record label, Shining Entertainment – it has made me a brand new personality as a musician. In the past I had a lot of good music but there was nobody to project me. Now, I have got a lot of opportunities to show to the world the creativity that I possess. All glory goes to God.

What is your real name?
I am Oritsefemi Majemite Ekele but my stage name is Oritse Femi. It’s an Itsekiri name because I hail from Itsekiri in Warri North LGA of Delta State.

How old are you?
I was born on January 5, 1985. Do you think I am an old man? Forget these white hairs on my head: na my style.

What motivated you to start singing?
It all started while I was still in school; there, we used to have music clubs. Those days when we used to have get-together, I was always performing. When they saw the talent in me, people advised me to keep practising because constant practice makes one perfect. That was how I became enthusiastic about music. The greatest opportunity I had musically was when Shaba Ranks, Keppy Ton and others came to establish a Ragga Dub School in Ajegunle. They were brought here by the late Johnny Nap. That was where Daddy Showkey, Daddy Fresh, Father U-turn, Baba Fryo and a lot of other stars had their breakthrough. I started projecting my own kind of African music called ‘Reality or Conscience’ music. It is a kind of music that touches or arouses the feeling of the people. Some people were calling it hip-life because it has all the elements of different brands of music including our popular highlife. So, whether I am singing about ladies, money and other issues in the society, it always arouses the consciousness of reality.

Before you went solo, you were part of a group; what did you accomplish?
When I was in a group called, The Junglist, we released two albums. It was a joint project with my colleague, Chibudo. The first album was entitled, ‘Boys Dey Binu’, that is, ‘boys are not happy’. The second album was ‘Money Na Time’. Both albums had eight tracks each. Later I went solo and released an album, ‘E le won’, which means ‘chase them’. That was when I started singing about the corrupt politicians and the need to chase them away. It was released in 2007/08 during the elections and turned out to be a hit. My second solo album was later dropped into the market titled, ‘Unfadeables’. I was motivated to release this album because of the wickedness prevalent in the world. One of the hit tracks that are making waves on radio and TV is ‘Mercy of the Lord.’

It has a remix featuring the late Da Grin, Rhymzo and also my record label chairman, Shining. We have already shot the video and it came out and sold very well in the market. The Unfadeables has fourteen tracks then. And it redefined the Oritse Femi people have been hearing about. Apart from the artistes I mentioned, I’ve also featured in my works 2face, Pasuma Wonder, Nico Gravity, B Kleen and some other popular artistes in Nigeria. It is a thank-you album to my fans who have been urging me on. The fans have been there saying that Oritse Femi cannot fade. That is why I entitled the album, Unfadeables. It is a street lingo narrating how people neglected me when I was not known. In 2013, I left the music scene for a period of time and I came back with more quality songs and one of the biggest hit-songs in Nigeria. I released a single titled, ‘Double Wahala’; the late Fela Kuti inspired the song. Few weeks after, the single started making a lot of waves on TV, radio, the Internet and other platforms before the video was released in 2014 which made it much more popular. So far, I have done so many songs that I have lost count and I am still working on more songs that will be hits this 2016.

What inspired the song ‘Double Wahala’?
I got the inspiration from God. Everything you want to do, you definitely put God first. Before I came out with ‘Double Wahala’, I was receiving low responses from my fans. I tried my best, but my fans did not identify with my songs. I had to go back to the drawing board to review my style of music. That was how my breakthrough came about.

At a point, you took a break from music. What led to that?
I was quite busy that period. You know I am not a lazy person. Besides, I was not okay financially. That period, I was busy looking for sponsors for my music. I continued working hard to prove my mettle until 2013 when God gave me breakthrough. Look at me today, my hard work has paid off. I am contented with what I have achieved. Baba God no pass me by at all.

So the song brought you good fortune?
It brought me more than a fortune; it opened doors – signing of contracts, endorsements, and hitting international stages.

You seemed to share the same ideology with Fela. How much did he influence your music?
Naturally, I used to listen to Fela’s songs as well as King Sunny Ade’s as a child. My father happened to be one of the fans of these legends. I tried to pick some of Fela’s lyrics and blend it with the lovely African melodies of King Sunny Ade to create my own brand of music. Interestingly, I was the only young artiste in Nigeria that met Fela face to face. Then, I was under the tutelage of Maverick John Nabella, the founder of Ragga Dub Chapel, where the likes of Daddy Showkey, Baba Fryo sprang up back in Ajegunle. They used to invite some top American stars such as Shabba Ranks, Tupac and many others to perform in Nigeria. We would visit the African Shrine with these foreign musicians, where we usually met with Fela. But importantly, I was conscious of Fela’s message and the lyrics of his music.

A lot of your fans are interested in your marital status. Are you married?
For now, I am not married. But I will get married very soon. I have a fiancée and we have been together for close to two years now.

Do you have children?
Yes, I have two beautiful daughters who are between nine and 10 years old.

Isn’t your fiancée the mother of your two daughters?
No. My two daughters are from different mothers and I am not marrying any of them.

Why are they not good enough for marriage?
I did not say that. I am just OK with my fiancée. The story of my children was back as a street boy, growing up in the ghetto city of Ajegunle. I had some childhood girlfriends who got pregnant (for me). But I had no means of livelihood to sustain them. But I ensured that I took care of my kids. I couldn’t take care of their mothers because of my financial status then. But now that God has elevated me, I am already taking good care of the children and they are doing just fine.

How do you manage rumours and controversies particularly now that you are not married?
Anywhere you are, people must gossip about you. Even almighty God, they also gossip about him talk less of me, an ordinary musician. I just ignored all the rubbish they say about me and move on. When they said my popularity is from the Devil, I just smiled. Nobody knows it’s a product of hard work. All this gossips don’t bother me at all. I am a moving train and no one can stop my shining no matter what they say, I no send people. Do you play any musical instrument? Listen, I started music professionally as a lead vocalist in my church, Cherubim and Seraphim Church in Ajegunle, Lagos where I played bass guitar. I am an expert in that.

Financially, how do rate yourself?
I am worth a billion naira. Sincerely, I made up to N60 million just for my stage performances in 2014 and 2015. The painful aspect was that I lost my dad. But God knows better. And I gave him a befitting burial.

What led to your father’s death?
My father was just 62 years old when he passed on. In fact, as of the time I lost my father, I least expected the story because I had a big project for him. That was on February 10 last year. We were told he didn’t show any sign of ill-health before he became suddenly ill and later died at the hospital he was taken to. Like I said, God knows better.

Do you have any awards or endorsement deals?
I have been nominated for four awards in the Nigeria Entertainment Awards 2014 and 2015. I also won awards at the Headies 2014 and in 2015.

What is your favourite food?
Favorite food is fresh fish.

What is your favourite colour?
My favorite colour is red.

What are your dislikes?
War and lies.

Do you have any regret being a musician?
Never! I am happy and always happy as a musician.

What are your biggest accomplishments?
They are cash and properties. Today, I can boast of my personal mansion in Lekki; latest Range Rover SUV and other cars. God has blessed me ooo.

What is your advice to beginners and your fans?
I want them to be focused, unique and to please, love one another. Anywhere you are, people must gossip about you. Even almighty God, they also gossip about him talk less of me, an ordinary musician. I just ignored all the rubbish they say about me and move on. When they said my popularity is from the Devil, I just smiled. Nobody knows it’s a product of hard work. All this gossips don’t bother me at all. I am a moving train and no one can stop my shining no matter what they say, I no send people I’m the Only Young Artiste in Nigeria That Met Fela Face-to-Face.

Culled from Thisday

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