Waje Returns with Dauntless Vibe In Heart Seasons
Words aren’t just enough. And that’s it. W.A.J.E. That is the review! Well, let’s see what else could be said. For most people, it is no longer news that Nigeria’s vocal powerhouse, Aituaje Iruobe, announced her exit from the music space two years ago.
While many grieved her departure, a lot more took the fight personally, cheering and coaxing her to not hang her boots, but return to the booths. Though she sometimes resurfaced with a few singles or collaborations, the question of whether she had come back for good lingered.
In this interview with CHINONSO IHEKIRE, she spoke honestly about why she’s back into the music industry, her lessons from being a coach on the Airtel’s The Voice music contest; making music for impact; connecting with the bohemian creatives of the Gen-z population, and her latest project Heart Of Seasons.
You’re back into the music full-time, what really brought you back?
WELL, just the same way it found me when I was young; not like I was looking for music when I was young. It just found me and brought me peace. I got to that point when it found me again; I just couldn’t stay away.
Even when you guys thought that I had left the scene, I would still have vibe sessions with my producers and songwriters and we would just write and have fun. It didn’t make sense to have all that content and just keep it to myself.
Was there pressure from people for you to come back?
I wouldn’t call it to pressure, I would say they were people who appreciated my music and the value that I brought to the table, asking questions like, ‘Waje, what next?’ and saying they were rooting for me. Sometimes, all we need is just the support and people navigating us in the right direction. So, it has even been easier. Strangely, I found this Heart Seasons EP to be my easiest release in a few years. It is just the time; when the right people are just surrounding you.
Heart Seasons feels a bit different, what went into that EP?
Funny enough, it was basically teamwork; you might be shocked that I mostly co-wrote most of the songs. Most of the songs were not fundamentally my idea; songwriters and producers were pitched and then we listened and went back and forth. It was very intentional.
It wasn’t that I was sitting down with a cup of coffee in some vacation spot and then the thoughts cross my mind, although that would paint a very fantastic picture; but that is not what it was. It was asking: ‘Who are the right people to work with? What do we want? How are we going to release it?’ I am open to growth because I feel like when you stop growing, you sink. And in my state of being open to growth, I have met a lot of young people, especially in this generation Z, and you would think that it is all about commercial music for them.
The beautiful part is that there are commercial songs in the EP, but the writing skill that these kids have is amazing. They wrote stuff and I was intrigued that they are so young and able to give the listener a vivid explanation of how you want the listener to feel when they listen. So, it was just a fantastic synergy between the team and myself.
When was this recorded?
So, the songs were sent in last year, but I had been making corrections and we had been going back and forth. I internalised it and then we booked a session in three days and we recorded everything this year.
Looking at your journey from W.A.J.E. to Red Velvet, to this project, is this a new focus for your music?
I would say that I am no longer afraid of evolving. What people fear is the unknown, and evolving looks like you are going into space where you are not exactly sure of how people would accept you. The truth is that, until you try, you would not really know. From the reviews of this EP, I think that I have come to a point where I am no longer afraid to just be in the moment and explore, with the sounds, lyrics and messages.
So, this is definitely going to be consistent, in terms of content. Don’t be shocked tomorrow if you hear that I am doing something completely different from Heart Seasons; I am exploring.
What’s a typical day in your life when you are not singing?
Well, when I am not singing, I am a co-owner of a media company and I also own an interior company. Most times, when I am not singing, I am trying to market my company with my partner and keep it afloat. When it does not work, I just stay at home. I go out once in a while; I am pretty much a home person. Thank God for social media, because these days, you can be at home and be everywhere.
When you want to make music, what is the process like for you?
It’s really random right now. Before, there used to be a process where I used to really think and just want to focus, but now, it is random. It is intentional, but without putting too much pressure on myself. I just go to the studio and say, ‘okay, if I am not inspired, I would drive back home.’ That is how it works for me now. Sometimes, I go without even thinking of what would be the outcome for that day; I might go thinking of doing a particular song, but when I get there, we do something else.
There are no rules these days and it’s no need to put yourself under pressure so that it makes you feel like. I am Virgo and people like me… we really like structure. But sometimes, just live and allow yourself to live in the moment.
Speaking of moments, this is when we are watching The Voice reality show. As a judge on it, how has it impacted your career?
Firstly, it has drawn me closer to people. Every weekend, I am in their homes. Sometimes, I receive messages from people who feel like they have known me. Sometimes, I read these messages and I laugh and I feel really loved. They say that ‘Oh Waje, I feel like I have known you forever.’ I guess my personality is what they connect with, which is great.
It is one thing to connect with the music, but connecting with the brand is another thing. I know sometimes, I go out and I’d see kids calling ‘Aunty Waje, Aunty Waje’. Once you have kids in your corner – forget we are adults – you are sorted o! The kids, grow with you and your brand. I appreciate that as well. Also, it has made me appreciate humble beginnings even more. I see these young talents and they are fighting to get what they want.
I am a product of a reality show and I know how I felt when I was in that space. If you know any of them, they would tell you that I maintain relationships with them even after The Voice, and the reason is that impacting is not just financial; there is the knowledge that this ‘person’ actually supports you.
There are times when a lot of them would come to my house and we would sit down and gist. I would share what I know; I can share with them. It humbles me to be that person that I would say is my mentor. That is part of their success and I don’t know anything that is bigger than that.
Let’s take it back a bit to the beginning. Why did you pick the name ‘WAJE’?
We (my team) were looking for a name that would stand me out. I didn’t think that my actual name actually registered; Aituaje (Ah-ee-too-ah-jay)! What people call me at home is ‘Aitua’. When you remove Aitua, what you get is Waje (-Uaje). The acronym – Words Aren’t Just Enough (WAJE) – was from Ayo Rotimi, very early in my career. He asked me a question, ‘How do you want people to see you?’ I kept ranting and going into that phase of aspiring to perspire. I was giving him nuggets and he just said ‘Words Aren’t Just Enough. I kept on going oh, without realising that he had added an acronym to my name.
You mentioned that music found you, why do you think it found you?
Well, because I was trying to be something else. I was in school; I went to the university to study something else. The mindset was ‘You love music, but you need a job, a degree, and all of that.’ Music was inseparable from me because that was one thing I knew and knew how to do well. I was on a scholarship in secondary school, because I could sing, and things like that. I never knew that music would eventually be what would open doors for me. I am glad I went with the flow.
What were your early musical influences like?
I am very much a 90s girl. I listened to Toni Braxton, Monica. I used to try and imitate Beyonce and I listened to a lot of Destiny’s Child. There are quite a number of them. Yinka Davis, Lauryn Hill.
Who are you feeling current?
My playlist would have H.E.R. (American artiste). I enjoy H.E.R. a lot. Lucky Day. I like Tems; I love Tems a lot. Ayra Starr, Oh gosh, that girl can emote. I just love easy singers – people that just know how to make you think or feel, effortlessly. I listen to Teni, Fireboy, Joeboy… I am a huge fan of Oxlade.
There is quite a number. I love Justin Bieber; I have been listening to him a lot lately. I still have my old playlists. I do a lot of gospel music, to be honest when it comes to enjoying myself. When it comes to artistes that I feel like I really want to work with, those names and more come up.
Do you also listen to your own music?
Well, na me sing am now (laughs).
Everyone praises your vocal range. How do you still maintain it?
My voice has had its challenges and struggles. We (her team, again) always try to correct what we are not doing right. Sometimes, when we have done it for so long, we neglect it. So, I am always trying to correct a few things. I still have a vocal coach, so, that place where the sound cWajeomes from is a muscle. Just the same way you eat well and exercise your physical muscle is the same way you have to exercise that muscle where the sound comes from.
All those vocal warm-ups and doing training is what makes you consistently an amazing singer… it never stops. Even Celine Dion still does her vocal warm-ups. The minute you stop, you stop growing. And the idea is that the older you get, the nicer you should sound. So, you have to put in the work.
What’s the vision for your music?
The vision for my music is to impact life. You want to live a legacy of consistency, where people should think of you and they should always say, ‘Waje did this, so I can do this.’ I want people to listen to my music and feel like Waje gets them. There are songs that also helped me through my own times; I want my music to do that for people.
Are you working on any new music?
There is definitely stuff; I am working on another EP that I am going to drop this year, and I think that is my babe. All of them have my heart, but this one I am about to drop has my heart and every other organ in my body. I have always wanted to do this for the longest time. I didn’t have the guts, because I felt that people would criticize it. I was also in my head; it is not all about the people, sometimes; I wasn’t sure that I could do it. I am so excited about it.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I would just like to thank you for the interview, and to everyone who is reading this. Thank you all for your support and constructive criticism. I look forward to having more of me in everybody’s living room.
To wrap up, tell us three things we don’t know about Waje?
Ah! Is there anything you people don’t already know about me? Okay, let’s see. I love watching TV. I like visiting restaurants; it is a thing for me. If I hear that a new restaurant has opened, I would go there so I would taste the food. If the food is not good, I won’t go there again. I also like wine.
What about any weird fan experiences?
Well yes, one time on stage, I called up a fan to the stage to come on stage and dance. And this brother held me so tight and almost wanted to kiss me on the lips. I was literally fighting to get myself free from his embrace; I think I have a picture of it. I was struggling to free myself and he was quite big. He was just being an honest fan and I appreciated him, but kissing on the lips is extreme.
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