Waje: the diva, activist, and mother
Voice of a diva. Life of a star. And the mind of an activist. But when Guardian Woman sits down with Aituaje Aina Vivian Iruobe, aka Waje, it is the mind of the activist that shines brightest, even for a diva that she is.
“I want to be called among women in Nigeria impacting lives,” she says looking directly at the interviewers.
Waje believes being a singer affords her a platform for reaching out to a lot of people, across the gender line. But her engagement with the society extends beyond churning out songs that have positive messages. She has Waje’s Safe House, a foundation, through which she collaborates with different non-governmental organisations on their projects.
The foundation was launched on October 1, 2012, and has assisted NGOs such as Mental and Environmental Development Initiative for Children (MEDIC) and Child Life Line. She has also donated to orphanages in Nigeria and Kenya in association with a corporate organisation.
“In every quarter, I partner with one NGO and we strategize on how to make sure their messages gets to the right people and I get to work“, she says.
“As I started growing in the industry, I felt that there were quite a number of things I wanted to do as regards to helping people out. But I just didn’t have the finances or the capacity. The only thing I could use is the brand I have built over the years. My team and I decided to create an avenue where we can partner with different NGOs and their causes and use the face of our brand to sell their message. We help them reach out to the people who want to be involved and help with the cause.
“We realised that there are a lot of people who want to help but don’t know how. It is in that phase that we say to them, ‘This is an NGO we have discovered; this is what they are doing and this is how you can help. That’s what Waje’s Safe House basically is.”
She says as an artist, her life is not just about parties and shows. “As musicians, we are messengers. It is not just about the parties and enjoying ourselves. But one way or the other, we should also use our songs to mirror what people are going through, so they know we understand and are going through some of those problems.”
Her passion for lending helping hands to others has seen her collaborate with ONE.org for which she headlined a song ‘Strong Girl’. She is also a UN Ambassador for Peace and a Purple ambassador for 50/50 rights for women. In these capacities, she strives to draw attention to issues affecting women in Nigeria.
“I am passionate about a lot of women and girls issue,” she tells Guardian Woman. I work with ONE on the ‘Poverty is Sexist’ campaign and we are looking at childbirth mortality rate. Giving birth should be a natural, beautiful thing. But a lot of women die while doing that. So, we are looking how to change that. We are researching that issue in order to make sure that we focus on the message and bring about a way of solving the problems.”
Through her ‘African Woman’, an initiative of Waje’s Safe House, she aims to give scholarships to five bright young women who are unable to complete their education because of financial difficulties.
She says, “I am passionate about education because I believe that poverty is sexist and that we can eradicate it through education. Knowledge is power. If you don’t know, you will not know what to do. So I believe empowering women is one of the fundamental things we want to, and empowering people with education is the best foundation you can lay before we start talking about what money can do or cannot. I’m also supporting causes that aim to stop violence against women.”
Why is Waje investing much of her energy and time on humanitarian causes?
“Most of these activities are informed by my childhood experiences. My parents separated when I was young. A lot of things my mum would want me to have, I didn’t have. Some of the things I had, I had to fight for them. But not everyone is as fortunate as I was. There are children whose parents are still together but still cannot have proper education, not because their parents do not love them but because they cannot afford it.
“These children may even be very intelligent; they do well in school. But their parents cannot afford to send them to school up to university level. So, yes, my childhood has impacted on my engagements. But my existence as an artist has also been my driving force.
“I get a lot of feedbacks from fans and other people. They tell me their problems. Sometimes, people will send me direct messages about their school fees. But I cannot pay for everybody. If I pay for everybody me sef go go bankrupt na. But it feels bad that I cannot pay for them all. Some of them say they only need N20, 000 to complete their schools fees. Meanwhile, you can spend that same N20, 000 on juices and burgers on a single night out with friends.”
Additionally, she is also driven to help people because of her conviction that individuals need to build structures that could provide solutions to societal problems. According to her, doing that will make it easier for the government to carry out its responsibilities. “But if we wait on government to provide for us all the time, we may not get things done,” Waje says.
As she gives to the society, Waje does not neglect her own home. As a single mother, she is determined to give her daughter the best. She confesses that being a mother has impacted positively on her music, especially in terms of the values she incorporates into her songs.
“There are songs I would really want to sing. But I would not do those songs because if as a listener, I may not be comfortable with my daughter singing that sort of song, why should I go ahead and sing them?”
She insists that the need to maintain a balance between her daughter growing up in a good environment and being herself and maintaining her career is important to her.
“I became a mother at a very young age. It was not something I prepared for. I had to learn on the job,” she tells Guardian Woman. Learning in such situation entails making decisions. There were certain things I had to stop doing.”
“I am a single parent. But no matter how much of a friend you are to me, I will not bring you to my house, not because I do not value your friendship, but because I have a daughter who needs to understand that men coming and going is not the right thing. That’s an example of one of the things I had to do.”
Like many Nigerian women, Waje is disappointed the Nigerian Senate threw out the Gender and Equality Bill. To her, Nigeria has missed the chance of giving validity to the individuality of people as men and women. “Culture and other things have informed the way we think and the way we treat one another. Someone recently told me that in their office, women earn 30% less than men, even if they are doing the same thing. So, the bill should have been passed to finetune the minds of the people, especially, in the private sector and other sectors of the economy. Then the whole society can follow.”
She says some men are antagonistic to the gender equality conversation because they see women as competitors. “But the fundamental thing we are missing here is an opportunity. Both men and women should be given equal opportunity,” she emphasises.
Until lately, Waje has been mentoring contestants on the Voice, which is due to start airing on April 10. She is the only female artist on the panel that includes 2Baba, Patoranking, and Timi Dakolo.
The task of coaching the contestants, she says, is emotionally draining but at the same time, fulfilling. She explains there are occasions when she finds it a bit difficult deciding on who to pick or send out. “You have a lot of young artists who see the show as their last chance of becoming stars. And as someone who has been on a reality show myself – Advanced Warning – I understood their emotion.”
She says the experience on the Voice has caused positive changes in her. She is determined to light a path for younger artists. “I intend to do something a lot of younger artists will benefit from” she says. She has also started voice training again, in spite of having a vocal range that covers three octaves.
Her immediate future is filled with projects: she plans to release a live album, something no Nigerian artist in her class has done. Collaborations with foreign artists are also on the cards.