Popular singer , Tope Alabi , speaks with TOFARATI IGE about her childhood, career, marriage, motherhood and other issues
You recently released an album , Yes and Amen. What is its thrust ?
The album is full of wholesome praise to God ; there are no side attractions. God told me about three years ago that I should make an album that would contain only praise and worship. There are 11 tracks in all . I worked on the album for about two years. God usually gives me the titles for my albums, and also the time to release them .
You often share moral lessons in your songs . How did your upbringing influence that part of you ?
Whenever God tells me to record an album, He always tells me how to go about it. A lot of times , He often uses lessons from my childhood to explain what I should do. I was the only girl in the house and I was raised strictly . My mother was a disciplinarian and she brooked no nonsense . There was no room for me to go astray.
Did your mother support your music career ?
Yes, she did because she was also a singer. She always sang around the house. She believed that one didn ’ t have to be immoral simply because she is a singer. Every other member of my family was not pleased with my music career but my mother never took offence . She taught me that a female shouldn ’ t be too close to men . For example , I was never bathed at the same time with my male siblings . My mother used to check if my virginity was intact every three months interval before I got married ; especially whenever I returned from movie locations. When I newly got married to my husband , we went to the National Theatre in Lagos to watch a movie and actors like Yinka Quadri, Ebun Oloyede , among others were there . When they saw my husband , they congratulated him and told him that he had chosen a good and exemplary wife . That made my husband quite happy . My mum was very strict and she never spared the rod. She also showed me a lot of motherly love.
What are some of the lessons your mother taught you that have endured till date ?
My mum always taught me to be respectful. She mandated me to always kneel when greeting elderly people and I still do that till date , even for people I am older than .
How often do you get to spend time with your children ?
I thank God because He is the one that has raised the children for me . I am very grateful that my children are godly . Even when guys approach my daughter , she tells me about it because she knows that even if she doesn ’ t tell me , God would reveal it to me . Whenever we are together, I tell them about God . These days, kids have access to information from a lot of places . If God is not involved, they may not turn out well. I have learnt that it is very good to be friendly with your kids so that they can relate well with you . I play a lot with my kids . If children are not shown love in the home , they would seek for it outside .
What other childhood ambitions did you have?
I wanted to become a fashion designer. I studied Mass Communication ; I also thought that I would end up as a broadcaster or a correspondent. However , I have always loved acting and I joined a theatre group when I was in secondary school. My dream then was to become a star actress .
How did you start recording soundtracks for movies ?
I started my entertainment career as an actress and back then , they didn’ t do personalized soundtracks for movies . One day , one of my colleagues, Adio Majesta, said I should be able to compose songs for movies . He told me the title of the movie and that was how I started making soundtracks for movies . He believed I could do it because I always sang whenever we were on location and sometimes , I used the incident happening at that particular time to compose songs.
Would you still love to be a movie star?
I still love to act but right now , there is no time for that . I was recently approached to act in a Christian movie but I haven’ t been able to go on set because of my busy schedule .
How would you describe your experience as an actress?
I joined the group , Jesters International , in 1983, and I started acting with Papilolo and Aderupoko . There were times that I would be on location for several weeks, yet I wouldn’t be given any role . I used to feel frustrated but I didn’ t know that God had another plan for me . Now , I have more fulfillment as a singer. I have the opportunity to minister to people and break yokes. I don’ t take all that I am for granted.
When was your breakthrough moment in your career?
I became very popular when I released the album, Ore ti o Common . I didn’t think that people would like the song because it was the ‘ cover ’ of a makossa hit . The original song didn’t have any moral message but I decided to change it to a gospel song. People really loved and accepted the song . Meanwhile, I had released two albums, Ikoko Dudu and Baba iwo la k’ epe , before then but they weren’t successful .
How have you been able to manage your marriage and career so that none suffers?
I have been trying my best and God has been helping me . I work with my husband ; so , we are often together. My children have also been wonderful . I always teach them the word of God and they even know how to pray better than me now . My children also critique my ministrations and I learn from them .
Are any of your children following your footsteps in music?
Yes. My first daughter , Ayomikun, is currently studying music in the university. She often tells me a lot of things about the rudiments and intricacies of music. I actually wanted her to study medicine but she chose music. She writes good lyrics and I respect her for that.
Aren’t you disappointed that she chose music over medicine ?
I am happy with her choice. I had told God that the children should become whatever He wants them to become ; and not just my wish.
You recently built a house in Iju , Lagos. Why didn’t you go to a highbrow area like Lekki?
I believe that God is everywhere. I have always lived in this area and I am comfortable with it. This place where I live is very peaceful and I am sure that if the people in Lekki get to know about it , they would want to move here .
Some people regard gospel singing as a calling. How do you draw the line when charging clients?
Some people had been doing this job before we started. Most churches know that they have to give honorarium . Till date , there are some places we go to minister and do not charge a dime; they would give us whatever they like . However , in some places , they could take us for granted if we don’ t tell them what they are required to pay. For about 15 years in my ministry , I didn’t charge anybody. I recently started to do that because I realized that people were taking us for a ride. There was a particular church we went to minister and at the end of the programme , they gave us N 300, and the place wasn’t even in Lagos . How am I supposed to share that with my band ? There have been lots of experiences like that . This is the only job that I do and I have several responsibilities to cater to .
Why did you decide to start marketing your albums yourselves?
Marketers usually told us that they sold low figures and it was often difficult to get money from them . That was why we decided to set up a structure to sell our albums ourselves. We usually see the CDs everywhere; yet, the marketers would tell us that people are not buying . So far , the experience of selling the albums ourselves has been great .
How would you describe the experience of working with your husband?
I enjoy it . Gentle people ( like my husband ) are conservative and reserved . I like the way he is because we have opposite characters. I spend and shop a lot but he is someone who believes in saving money. At every point , he knows what he is doing. Gentle people may be stubborn but it usually helps us to achieve certain things. My husband motivates me a lot . Even the people that work with him in the office love him very much. He might be stubborn , but he is not a troublesome person. He is a very lenient person but whenever he is tired of you , nobody can convince him otherwise .
How do you make sure that misunderstandings with your husband at work don ’ t go home with you?
We often take some of them home. At times, we have misunderstandings on stage . He usually frowns at me whenever I don’ t get something right on stage , and sometimes , he communicates with me using the piano . He also doesn’t like it when I talk too much on stage . He often tells me to greet people briefly and go straight to my song delivery . In cases like that , I always apologize first because I like saying sorry .
How do you like to dress?
I like to look good. You shouldn’t say that because you are a Christian, you wouldn’t look good; things have to be balanced . I like to wear good outfits, and they don’ t have to be so expensive. My father was a tailor and I know how to design clothes . Sometimes , I sketch the attire I want and give it to the tailor to make it.
How do you unwind ?
Sometimes, my husband and I travel to be alone together for some days . During that time , I would sleep well and go for massages . I also love to watch movies and play table tennis.