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J’dess… The Golden Voice Of Ada

By Chinonso Ihekire
05 February 2022   |   4:25 am
Watching her rendition of the 1984 Onyeka Onwenu smash hit, Ekwe, at The Voice Nigeria barely four years ago, one could tell that Joy Ebiem, professionally known as J’dess, was always destined for the spotlight.

J’dess

Watching her rendition of the 1984 Onyeka Onwenu smash hit, Ekwe, at The Voice Nigeria barely four years ago, one could tell that Joy Ebiem, professionally known as J’dess, was always destined for the spotlight. The singer who wields a distinct fusion of folk and RnB has continued to distinguish her discography with intimate storytelling, enchanting vocals, and soothing vibes.

And with her latest body of work, an 8-track extended playlist (EP) dubbed, Ada, J’dess delves deeper into her roots to create a stellar tribute to fatherhood and all that it represents to her.
  
Since her teenage years, performing with a girl-group under the moniker The Destined, J’Dess has always had her eye out for the rarest of sounds. Like many similar singers, such as Asa, Bez, among others, her crave for soul-lifting harmonies, continues to undergird her approach to her craft. Despite the array of disappointments, J’dess dusted off her despairs every single time; holding her hope higher than the failed music promotions, lack of finance, frustration, and all other speed-bumps on her journey to the limelight. Ultimately, just on the verge of her big breakthrough, after her 2017 stint at The Voice Nigeria, she lost her dad who inspired the very audacity that shaped her.
  
As the Ada (a moniker given to first-born daughters in Igboland), she gathered her broken pieces and strung her breakout record, Chi Efo (pronounced Chee-hay-foe), which pushed her into the limelight; even bagging her a nod at the 2020 Headies for ‘Best Vocal Performance. Now, with Ada (The EP), J’dess evolves sonically, bringing her pain, her triumphs, and her grief into this emotive masterpiece of a record.

   
Catching up with Guardian Music, the 31-year-old singer opens up on her well of inspirations, her journey so far, making this EP, navigating the musicdom as a married woman, as well as her love for dogs, Chimps, and others.
 
When did you begin your journey in music?
WELL, in 2007, I started recording my own songs, but I started out as an acapella singer; I was in an all-female acapella group in church. I was like 14, even before 14, we were already singing. We would go from church to church, and we called ourselves The Destined. So, that’s where the name J’dess came from, because my name is Joy so I took the “j” and the “dess.”

I also had the likes of my colleagues who had like 1’G” as Goodness as their name and then they had G’dess. Fast forward from that time to 2007, when I got into school, Enugu, at the Institute of Management and Technology. So, I started recording, I started working with Decreamzy. When I heard Chinwike – Resonance, I was so excited. I was like, ‘this looks like what I want to be, you know.’ I mean, she was doing clean music. I really admired her so much that I wrote my first song after I heard that song. Then, that’s how I started.

I did my first track, featuring Phyno. It was called Light and it was a gospel song. He wasn’t the duper-super star. We were both up and coming and I was 17 then. We even had to perform the song at a hotel called Filbon Guest House. Then, my second song was Alagbara, featuring Bouqi. She happened to be in Enugu at the time, so my producer got her to do the song with me.

But at the end of the day, all of that died down. It wasn’t the online period; it was a phase where you try to push your song in the Alaba market and all that. After that, I joined No Time Records, with Wiz boy. I wasn’t signed officially; we were just working. They thought I was really talented so we started recording a song. I did a song called Kpankpando, which means star. That song really paved way for me in the East. It gave me my recognition somehow, in the east. I did a few gigs here and there.

I didn’t follow through with the record label, but they were still like my family. Wiz Boy had to pursue his career, as he had no sponsor at the time. So, he was trying to carry everybody along, including Zoro Swagbag; we were all in the label unofficially. And in 2013, I decided to go for a gospel challenge show called Destiny Child Talent Show. I happened to win that one and it looked like, ‘oh, gospel was the part.’ I shot my video in South Africa, did an album – gospel album. But I don’t know what happened with the marketing of that project; I remembered sharing the CD myself.

So, that was it and I thought to myself – what am I going to do from here? You think you have arrived, but you haven’t. But I kept pushing, because I really wanted to be heard. I really wanted to do music beyond just talking about God or coming from church. I really wanted to talk about life, and talk about my experiences in the form of stories and song. So, in 2017, I now tried The Voice Nigeria, where I emerged as one of the top 8 finalists. I came back and there was still nothing really, because all I had was a cover to the MI song, One Naira, and I had a thing with my duet partner then, Chris Rio, people thought we were dating.

We did a song together and people loved it, but it still wasn’t out there as I wanted; I lost my dad that same season. In fact, I was planning to go see him then when I lost him. It shook me, because I had to do interviews and I had to plan for his funeral, because I was his first child. It was crazy and that was what inspired Chi Efo, because a lot of people were trying to comfort me. I was so sad, because it was like I was breaking through and I needed him to stay alive for me to get there and then he can enjoy the benefits of being my father and for me very thing he has been through. But that didn’t happen.

One time, I was driving and a sound came, the word ‘A new dawn.’ Sometimes, I think in Igbo – so Chi efo   – a new dawn. And I stopped, I called a friend and said this is the song I just got and I think it’s great. I fleshed it out and I will call him to ask what do you think about this; that’s how the song came about. I had trouble trying to produce it, and I couldn’t get what I want. I’ll cry, because it wasn’t it. The last one was when a producer disappointed me.

Then one of the cavemen, Kingsley was like, ‘you know what – come let’s do this song, Janet.’ He wasn’t as good, you know; he was still in his early phase of production. He was still trying his hands on different things, but I trusted him to do the song. So, he came and played what he could play. Started the song, called the guitarist and even Benjamin the drummer. Like everything was fine and when the song came out, I loved it, but I thought I needed a violin. I thought the drum was too much. So, I called Magical Andy, and we kind of reduced the drums and added some artificial studio drums, and I got a violin. And that’s how Chi efo came. And when I was nominated for the Headies, it made me feel like I was beginning to do the right thing. I was happy and was like well-done girl.

So, you’ve always had this idea of what your sound should be like?
Yes, I have. But you know; it’s difficult to bring it out, having it in your head. Sometime, I sing and I am like, ‘what is this? This is not what I wanted you know and I dump the song.’ So yeah, it had to do with a lot of trying and trying.

Let’s look at Ada. First of all, why the title? Why the direction?
Well, I didn’t want the regular name. I thought of different things- I thought of naming it Chi efo, because it’s my first, you know, like the break of a new dawn. I wanted to do something for my dad and everything takes me back to wishing he were here. His name is David Ikemefuna. So, I wanted to name it ADA David, but it was weird in my ear and I just laughed.

You know that I was his pride and joy. I remembered when I was little, and he was a truck driver and he would take me to the park and people would be like are you the one that gave birth to this fine girl? And he will be like Ada Nwayi (my first daughter). Like, he was so proud of me. So, Ada for me is like everything I have been through; most of my experiences for it and how I have imagined it. And then, it’s my first major body of work and something I dedicated to my father. So yeah, I just thought Ada was simple and short and explains everything.
 
For someone who started this journey for a long while, you’ve definitely faced a lot of despair. What did you do differently that helped you to stay on your course?
I would say the fact that music is my passion and the fire came running. I wouldn’t say there weren’t times when I felt like dropping music. In fact, I felt like you know what, you can’t just do music. I mean, I had a lot of responsibilities. So, I tried to do sound engineering; I tried to go learn live sound engineering in a company. I actually tried different things that I was even acting. I am on Tinsel, and I wrote soundtracks. I tried to surround myself with people I know are passionate about this thing, because I draw energy from them as well.

So, there were times when I felt like giving up, like three months when I hadn’t recorded anything, a friend of mine who is also in the music industry would be like ‘you no wan record song? You don do this one? Wetin you dey do J’dess?’ Then I am like, ‘girl, you have to sit up.’ Also, the energy that guys go with in this industry is like they go head-to-head with the whole thing.

And then, there is this ideology that female artistes are lazy, and I don’t want that for myself. So, I try to just carry myself around. As they are going to the studio, I am like ‘guy where you dey go?’ And I go with them. That really helped, for the fact that I really loved making music. And sometime when I want to give up, some ideas just come up in my head and I see myself writing and I am like I need to record this.

How would you conceptualise your sound?
Well, it’s a mixture of traditional folk and R&B. I don’t have a name for it, but because I try to tell my story in— it’s like I take myself way back and then I create the song. Like I said, I think in Igbo, I think them the way my mum says things; she wasn’t that educated, so there is always that local flavour in how we say things.
Also, there is a lot of soul in terms of how I feel and want you to feel what I am feeling so I pour out my entire self in every line.

So apart from Esther, who else were the people you drew inspiration from?
Asa, Brandy; I like her a lot. Then in Nigeria, I love Simi a lot. For the guys, I love the way Justin Bieber sounds, and I love 2Face a lot.

For Ada, you collaborated with a lot of people. How was it like working with them?
It was during the pandemic; it was at that point when there was no movement and I was thinking to myself, ‘what can I do differently to myself?’ And I also had a lady, Ann Obaseki, who has been very supportive with this particular song Chi efo. And then, I am part of the choir called Loud Urban Choir. So, she was like, ‘we can do something with the choir, featuring one or two people and make it like the USA for Africa song, We Are The World version of Chi efo. Like having different artistes singing same song,’ and I was like ‘oh, great idea.’

I had the music director of the choir who was also a producer and he helped with the arrangements of Chi efo. And we both thought about people who would interpret the song. And of course, Waje came to mind. Also, Chigurl is a huge fan of Chi efo, and when we went to her, she said ‘yes.’ Zoro, of course too, and then the cavemen had produced it; they know the song.

That was how we were going from house to house. I went to Zoro’s house and then to Waje’s house and I also went to cavemen’s, and they recorded; it was beautiful. They also did it for free, and they supported me, and it was really massive. It meant a lot to me.

You’ve been nominated for the Headies. You’re getting a lot of recognition for your distinctiveness. What does that mean for you?
Getting on the Headies, before then some of these songs have been recorded years ago. Like in one of the trailers I did on my Instagram, I said it that some of the songs have been out for over five years, even before Chi efo. But Chi efo came out before them. It wasn’t easy, because I mean, as an independent artiste; music is very expensive. So, producing these songs is really expensive.

I had to even cut deals with some of my producers to say that they get splits on the royalties, because I didn’t have money to give them. That’s how I’ve been able to pull through, you know. It has not been easy to make music, but I was inspired to make sure I finished these songs – mixing and mastering them and putting it out.

So, I have done that with Ada and the next thing for me is to put a face to the brand J’dess. I don’t have a lot of visits out there. I don’t have a lot of videos for Chi efo. So, the next thing for me is to put a face to the name. Do videos for people to see and recognize this girl, keep recording songs and doing more collaboration; and also keep doing good music.

On putting a face to the brand, what inspired your signature hairstyle?
For me, I just like to do things differently and I like my roots. I went back to the days of the old; I wish I could show you pictures. So, my pictures I saw, they had the hairstyle on, and they wove the wool with thread, and then the whole puff and it was a thing; a local Nigerian, African-esque thing. And I am fully Naija and Africa to the world. I also noticed that people are fascinated that I am bold for making the hair. It makes me feel good and very African.

I can’t help but hear your dog in the background. How many do you have?
Oh, that is one of them called, Zuri. I have two dogs.
 
What other pets do you like?
I’d like to have a chimpanzee. I have this emotional thing for them when I see them, because they seem human. And when they do their faces, it just touches me in my heart. I will like them if they know me and I can relate to them.

How are you coping being a married singer?
So, I am married and I am one year old in my marriage. So, before I got married, I prayed. I was like, ‘God, please let my story not be the way it usually be; like most of the female artistes get married and their career go down the drain.’ And I prayed for a supportive husband and God gave me that.

The sweet thing is about his entire family. They are very supportive of my career. They look out for opportunities for me, they look out for gigs for me, including my mother in-law. So, it’s a blessing for me. But the thing is he is exposed and not like the typical African or Nigerian man; that gives me room to do my stuff.

From Ada the EP, what are your favorite songs?
I like Mmiri a lot- I also like Lee Nu.

Whats your most memorable moment(s) while recording Ada the EP?
I think it was when I travelled to PH to make Lee Nu. My producer was not here in Lagos, at the time. So, I travelled and slept in the studio for like three days just because he was very busy and I had to be there to record the song. It was something that was supposed to last for a few hours, but to get that few hours was very difficult. So that’s a memorable moment for me.

And there was a line I missed in the song. My husband heard after I had finished mixing and mastering the song. I mean, that was crazy. So, I had to go back to Port Harcourt, to re-record it. I had to now mix and master again.

So, Ada the EP is making the rounds, what do you hope to achieve with it?
You know how promotion is hard? But thankfully, my distributors are doing a good job. Shout outto Ogaga, my A&R – he is amazing. It went from me trying and failing to get into Johnny’s Room Live to be one of the opening acts to meeting Ogaga, and since then he’s been very helpful and I am grateful to God for him. When Ada hits millions of views then I’d know, the world is really listening to me and that will be it for me.

Do you have anything to add?
I want to say that I am happy and this is really encouraging for me, to have eventually put out this work. It is something that I have always dreamt of. I mean, my dreams coming true. It doesn’t seem like I have not made money yet; it just feels like I am fulfilling a purpose and I am very happy. And I’m trying to encourage people out there to keep going, especially the female artistes. Just keep doing what you are doing and it will happen for you.

Finally, tell us three things that people don’t know about you?
Well, I sweat on my palms and on my feet – like it drips. So, when I am nervous, I sweat so badly, and when I am not, I don’t sweat on my face, but only on my palms or my feet.

Also, I play a lot. I love to play a lot and I can be very foolish in my play (in a good way). And I don’t think people know that about me, because I am always looking elegant.

 

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