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Waje 2.0… The Evolution Of Naija’s Ageless Songbird 

By Chinonso Ihekire
20 August 2022   |   3:42 am
There are many interesting facets to the life and artistry of Aituaje Iruobe. However, for the elegant songbird, her evergreen evolution remains the icing on the cake across her double-decade career

Waje

There are many interesting facets to the life and artistry of Aituaje Iruobe. However, for the elegant songbird, her evergreen evolution remains the icing on the cake across her double-decade career.

With Waje whose sun refuses to set on her career, her relentless desire to outdo herself continues to illuminate her discography as a delight to African music lovers across the world. 

When Waje announced that she was quitting her music career four years ago, everyone wondered why the RnB maestro had suddenly lost her muse. Yet, her hunger for creating timeless sound pieces brought back the singer whose voice spans over three octaves to the microphones. And when one takes a listen to her just-released third studio album dubbed, Waje 2.0, it is a welcome relief that she never sojourned down that path. 

Within the 11-track album, Waje returns with an interesting twist to her artistry, delving deeper into the current sonic palette within the contemporary music scene in Nigeria.

Tag-teaming icons such as Falz and Tiwa Savage, among others, blend a fine mix of melodies across dancehall, pop, soul and RnB as she explores several facets of life, love and self-development. For the singer, music remains a mirror of her personality; a groovy pilgrim across the streets of life. 

Waje, who is also a successful media executive, actress and voice coach on the music discovery reality show The Voice Nigeria, pours her experience, wits and passion into this record which is a slice of harmony for all generations of music listeners. 

“It is really about evolving,” she tells Guardian Music, over a sit-down. She takes us down the experience of creating this body of work, sharing her creative process; the backstories behind some of the gems on this record; her interesting filmography; as well as all the other myriad ingredients that spice up this interesting upgrade that is Waje 2.0, painting a perfect portrait of why her voice remains a labour room for classics in Nigerian music. 

Why did you name this record, Waje 2.0?
IT is really about evolving. I have evolved, more like a reemergence of myself, being comfortable in who I am and the space that I’m in as a musician, especially because the next year would be twenty years since I started as a musician. Most times, for some people who have been here for this long, it’s either you start piping down into other things or something like that. For me, I just feel like there is so much more to do with music, with regard to myself.

I feel like this is just the beginning. I had a great foundation, and I have had a good run, but there is so much more. That is why I have decided to title it Waje 2.0. It’s almost like it’s a rebirth of something that has been there but now refined if you know what I mean. 

How does it feel to have done this for twenty years? 
Well, we are twenty years in this, by next year. It felt great to be honest because sometimes people only see the glory, they don’t see the grind. And even before people knew my name, or rather put a face to my name, we had been doing this for a while. Since I was in school, I was always trying to find a way to showcase myself.

With regards to how I feel, I am still hungry; I still want more. I feel like there are so many things I should be grateful for, but there are so many other grounds to cover. You know what I mean. And it’s just a blessing to be healthy first of all because health is wealth. So, I am healthy enough to be here, still trying to conquer territories and cross boundaries and for me, that’s a blessing. 

Have you ever felt like quitting it all?
I did. I have had thoughts of quitting, you know. Also, I have always been vocal about how I feel and the space I am in every time because I also believe in the truth of carrying your audience on the journey of your making. So, I have had that temptation many times, but you know, music is… I don’t want to say music is life, but it is such a language that it’s almost the only language I know how to communicate in. And it’s a space that I haven’t really done as much as I want to do.

You know there is a sense of satisfaction that comes when you tell yourself, ‘oh, you’ve done the best, move on, and all those kinds of things.’ But when you know that there is so much more you can do, that’s not what’s on your mind. Your focus is, ‘Oh, what can I do next?’ ‘Okay, I have done this one, I want to do another thing.’ ‘Oh, I have toured Africa, I want to tour the world.’

So, I think for me, that’s really what has kept me hungry. Just knowing that there is more, and not getting carried away with the accolades. This is a job, like every other job, and I am still really enjoying the process of it, so I don’t think I will be retiring.

That’s nice to hear… 

And I just wanted to add that even though it wasn’t something that I did deliberately, I feel like the way we branded the Waje brand; she can do whatever she’s doing, till she’s 60, or 70 if she so pleases. I grew up listening to Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Onyeka Onwenu, and the Evi Ednas and Angélique Kidjos of this world. When you see them, when you listen to their songs, you are reminded of their legacy. There was never a time when retirement was, it just grew, you understand.

So, for every space they were in, they grew into that space and conquered that space and then in the next space, they did something else. So, I think for some reason, it affected me in that way, like that’s probably going to be my own story as well.

How long did it take you to create this project?
Okay, maybe one or two tracks were done in 2020, but I started most of them last year. Another thing is that we understood the short attention span of most of the listeners we have today. Some tracks are literally like two minutes and a few seconds. The one with Falz, I got people tweeting at me like “What’s wrong Waje? This song is too short.” And I’m like “Oh, but na una dey set the trend nah!”

So, a few tracks were made during the lockdown, for instance, the one with Tiwa Savage, No Rush, which was produced by LeriQ. The other ones were made from late 2021 till now. 

What is your creative process?
Okay, so to be fair, in the past, most of my songs have been about my experiences. But in this particular Waje 2.0 project, I wanted something that will appeal to a wider audience. You know my brand has always been tailored to a niche market, which is great, but I wanted to spread my wings further than the niche market, you get.

So, I employed the services of young songwriters who love music and love exploring. I just told them, ‘don’t look at the things that I have achieved. Just think about it is an artiste who is just going and she’s not focused on sitting on the public’s perception of her and her music, but she just wants to appeal to a wider audience.’

So, for this particular project, some of the experiences were not necessarily mine, because they were written with me; but I found a way to connect them so that it resonates with me, and so that I can deliver vocally if you know what that means. Like Bills Bills for example is about a woman who keeps spending on her guy, but he never really does the same. There is nothing wrong with a woman coming through for a man she actually loves if she’s financially loaded, but there is also a thin line between taking that for granted. Like crossing those boundaries and being like, ‘oh what, it just seems like she had to give and he demanded it all the time and vice versa, even with women demanding all the time.’ The song is for everyone because if your loved one is not there, your lover or your boyfriend or whatever, your girlfriend and if they are not there, you will still take care of yourself.

Even in marriages, I believe that people should help each other; it shouldn’t always be a one-way street, because you are meant to build together. So, that’s what Bills Bills is about. It was just a woman saying, ‘Hmmm, you are getting used to this my, every time alert, do you get.’

Now, has that ever happened to me? I have had instances where I have gone on dates and we were not really dating. We were just having a conversation to see if we could get into a relationship, you know. And then, next thing a proposal lands on my lap and it’s not even a proposal that is going to benefit like a co-investor, do you understand. It was more like loan me this money, I will give you back and it’s not like you and I are… so, you see where I drew the experience from to now be able to relate. So, some of them are like that. I would draw my experience from people or rather, other people’s stories, but I will still find a way to connect it to my own experience and then deliver vocally.

There’s a song that really caught my attention, In Between. What was going on around that record? 
So, In Between was written by my manager. And the way it was written was so funny, because we were done with the album, and we were waiting to submit it. I had more songs, and there were other songs I took out from the album. Not that they are not great, but you know we didn’t want two or three songs of the same genres in the album. So, we had great songs and we were sure we were done with the album.

Then, I started having a conversation. We travelled to Abuja for a show and I had a conversation with my manager about something that was happening in my relationship at the time. Not necessarily my relationship, but it was happening to me at the time, you know and what was going on in my mind. And from that space, he called me later on in the evening and he sang the chorus for me, ‘don’t let go, I’m giving you everything and I was like ‘Woah!’ And he said ‘that’s the chorus Waje.’ And it was like when we get back to Lagos, we will write the verse and we will go to the studio and we will write the song.

So, I got to the studio and he had written it already. We contacted Wilson, who is one of the music directors for The Voice Nigeria, and he played the keys, and the piano and I sang the song. We didn’t want so many instruments to distract from the emotion and the simplicity of the song. I think that’s why that song caught your attention.

It caught your attention because the message is strong, yet it is simple and I didn’t do too much flowering of my vocals, but I kind of focused more on the emotion of how I wanted people to feel when they listen to the song. Like you listen to it and you are looking for the person you are going to sing, ‘Don’t let go of me yet, still, hold on, I am still willing to give my all,” you know what I mean. 

This album is a blend of more contemporary sounds. Do you feel like you nailed your objective?
When I got to the studio with Falz, I told him that I wanted short value, I wanted people to go like ‘Hmm okay, so she’s capable of doing this? This is interesting.’ The thing about experimenting is that you have to be open to trying different things. If people like it great, if they don’t like it, it’s still great. You’ve tried; you know what I mean.

When we started this conversation, I told you I was hungry. So, because of that hunger, I still felt or I still feel that music being a strong language doesn’t always have to be communicated the same way. The message can come to you in a different genre. So, with Falz, I told him.

I said, ‘give me short value, help me bring out the side of Waje that people have not really experienced.’

Feeling good was the energy that we had in the studio. You know, just gisting with Mastercraft and he started producing the beats and then next thing, ‘I’m feeling good.’ You know, we just went in the moment of how we were feeling in the studio.

And track three, which is All Day, is the song that LeriQ and I had produced together. LeriQ and I had done it, and my brother co-wrote that one. He co-wrote and that was during the lockdown. I just feel like for me, my mind space was ‘I want a newer, younger audience, but I also don’t want to leave my audience behind – the ones that have followed me all the way, you get.’

So, I was just looking for the right balance. Unlike my other projects, I involved the services of an A&R; I didn’t do Jack of all trades, master of none. I didn’t want to impose my sound or my experiences all the time. There were fights, a lot of fights. You know, the way everyone is playing Rara and everyone is tilting to Nobody, I had never thought that those two songs would be the songs that people will pick by themselves. So, I guess our experiment worked. 

So, what are some of your most memorable moments when you were putting this album together? 
My most memorable moment while putting it together was, or I would say, would be when my team and I were picking the tracks. Just remember how I was very adamant that some songs should not make it, because we had over 20-50 songs to pick from, you understand. And, I’m so grateful I listened to the team and not just myself, because for the first time in a very long time, by the time the album was a week, just on one platform, we had over a million listens on one platform and that’s by the time it was a week. That has been in a while like my last album didn’t get that.

It just shows that when you allow the team to do what they are meant to do, you’ll get the results that you want. So, for me, that is memorable. And thinking of what we had because this album is not just a hit, this album is the beginning of so many things that we want to do- to put out this year. I’m now in a space where I am having butterflies because I just can’t wait for you guys to hear the next one, because in my mind I’m like it’s working okay what’s next. 

Speaking of collaborations, who are some of the newer voices you would like to work with?
It would be interesting to hear Terms and me on the track. I have loved her even before now. Her voice has always had a way of drawing you to her and I really love her. I love her pen, I love how she writes; I love the simplicity of how she writes. She doesn’t over-flower her music. The depth of which she also delivers to me is just genius.

And I love Arya Starr; I love her energy, I love everything about her. There are so many of them I would love to, even if it’s not on the track, there are other ways that you can collaborate, you know what I mean. I love Fireboy so much, I love Asake; he is groovy. I love Joeboy. There are quite a number of them that I really do love.

Oh, Crayon has my heart and he had it from the first single. There was a time his first single, every time I went to a club or a lounge and they start playing his song, I’m sorry, I don’t care who is not dancing, ‘me, I go just stand up dey do my own dance by myself.’

For me, what I feel is the value that they bring. They make it so inspiring and really rejuvenating for someone like me who stayed here for this long. You know, you just listen to the sounds that are coming out today and you are like, ‘Hmmmm, imagine if we did this and this.’ I’m such a feature person; I now go crazy when I listen to them. So, it will be beautiful to work with them.

There was a time when Waje was on our screens as an actress. Is that going to happen anytime or we are done with that?
Oh, we are not. I love acting because it’s the only time I cannot be Waje if that makes any sense. I can play other characters you know. So, I love being in a movie. I just finished one, which is not out yet. I did it earlier this year, it was directed by Funke Akindele and her husband. I am looking forward to that coming out as well and then a few more scripts I have on, that I am also a producer.

I co-own a production company with my friend Omawunmi and we have a script that we are working on at the moment, which is absolutely on fire. I can’t wait for you guys to see what we have in store in that space but yeah, it’s not something I’m going to stop doing in the next ten years; I am going to be doing it for a long time.

Let’s talk about motherhood. What are the key experiences or lessons you’d love to share? 
I am grateful for the blessing of motherhood, really. It humbles you. It redirects you in a way that there are certain things you don’t take for granted. So, it really helped my maturity and when I say my maturity, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have a good time. But no, it’s the maturity in a sense that I can recognise things to be grateful for rather than take those things for granted.

My relationship with my daughter is amazing. She’s just finished, we are waiting for graduation now and she’s just really made me proud in every way. You know how something that would have been frowned at now becomes a blessing. That’s how I feel because I am still very young and I have a grown-up child. And I hope too that with my work ethic and her watching me do what I do and how hard I work, I hope I’ve been able to teach her certain values and principles in life as well because that’s what motherhood is really about. It’s about spreading the right values and the right principles to generations after you; you know it’s not just about procreation, about being the child into the world. So, it’s been a blessing.

Is there anything you would like to say to your fans?
First, before I thank my fans, I want to thank the media, because I’ve been here this long and they’ve supported me, you know what I mean. You know you can have a voice and not have an avenue for your voice to be heard if that makes sense. So, I want to thank you guys for always putting me on and always looking for the best way to protect my brand. It’s just been an amazing journey.

And to the fans, I sincerely mean it when I say thank you because I have been here long enough and people have come and gone. It’s not because I’m that much of a genius or I get it right all the time. So, it’s a blessing that one cannot put down or write about.

I can’t tell you that there is a course 101 on how to stay for this long and still be relevant. So, it means that it’s just pure love from the people who listen and from the people you get to meet; they just find a way to connect with you and start loving you all the way.

And for constructive criticism, trust me, I take it. It doesn’t upset me; I take what I need to take. I learn from the things I need to learn, you know. If you are fully grown and you don’t need any direction from maybe one or two people, that means your work here on earth is done. It’s time for you to go and sip Piña colada with Abraham in heaven. But if you are still here, it means that there’s still much to cover and I’m still here.