Chee: My talent has brought me before influential people
Chidinma Elenor Okebalama, popularly known as Chee, is a gospel singer and a song writer. She holds a BSc in Electrical Engineering from Northeastern Illinois University. The Abia State-born Chee has performed at various high profiles national events. Some of her songs include Mu Na Chi Mu So, We Worship You, Glorious, Carry Me, N’ime Hi, How Great Thou Art, Hark The Herald, So Beautiful and Amnesia. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her passion for music.
Share with us your growing up
I am the third child of four children and I always just wanted to be something in music. There was always music in my house, in the car and on the TV. Being influenced by some of the great people growing up, it has helped build my confidence. I did a lot of Karaoke competitions. Every school I was in, from primary to the university, I was always in the choir. I just think that, everything I do, somehow, music just play a very sweet role. It grounds me; it opens the door for me. I notice that my talent, like the Bible says, makes a lot of space for me in different industries. It brings me before a lot of influential people and that I do not take for granted at all. I have a BSc in Electrical Engineering and I worked in the United States with the US Government for over six years, building radars theoretically because I never deployed them. I have a very calculative, analytical mind and I don’t know if that’s good for music or not, but I tend to find out that my engineering background really helped with my music. It helps me with understanding so many concepts – because sound is also part of engineering.
You came into limelight performing at The Experience and rendering exceptionally, the Nigerian anthem at major national events. How has it been so far?
So far, I will say my career has been interesting; it’s been filled with a lot of surprises and loads of achievements that I never thought about. Till date, I have sung for over nine presidents around the world and counting. And it’s just been very exhilarating. There have also been a lot of disappointments and delays, but one thing I know is that there has been a lot of growth. I measure my success.
Have you always wanted to sing?
Yes. I’ve always wanted to sing since the age of four. I remember being in the gospel choir of our local church and ever since then I have been singing.
Most artistes today started out in church and then diverted to secular music. Would you consider it someday?
Actually, what some people may not know or may have forgotten is that my foray into professional singing or into music as a career started off in the secular industry before I diverted, to being a gospel artiste. I had always been singing in the church, but when I decided that I wanted to become a recording artiste, I started in the secular space and then after five years, I had one of those ‘Aha’ moments where God was literally like saying “this is not where you’re supposed to be”. I had been running away from being a gospel artiste for a really long time but I think I’ve embraced it now with my full chest.
Tell us about your acting prowess, considering your role in God’s calling which is not a circular movie
To be very honest, I don’t consider myself as an actress. But I can never write the story of my life without mentioning the role that I played in ‘God Calling’. To me, it wasn’t really acting, because Ana, who was the lady I played – was a single praise and worship leader in her local church and at the time, that was exactly my profile. I didn’t feel like I was acting, it just felt like (it was) my real life. On choosing roles, you might have noticed that after that, I have not done any other movie – maybe just one or two plays in House on the Rock, but I don’t really consider myself (as) an actress. That was a kind of role that didn’t seem like it was going to be too tasking. Honestly, I possibly don’t think I can do it but, never say never.
You released a new single. Tell us about it
‘Munachimso’ is my latest single, although, I have a few more coming up very shortly. The song is one that simply says ‘God is there with me’. It is a very encouraging song for anybody who feels downcast, who feels grateful also, in acknowledging the fact that they are hundred per cent aware that everything that they have achieved, everything that people say about them is attributed to God, and is attributed to Jesus, and is attributed to the help of the Holy Spirit. That’s what the song is about – just acknowledging God and also strengthening those who listen to it, to make them understand that they too will never be alone.
What inspires your kind of music?
It is very simple. For me, being a gospel musician, it almost seems like I don’t. The ‘musicianship’ of the music, I credit to the producers, the instrumentalists. Although, I don’t play, I hear sounds and I portray those sounds to the instrumentalists and to the producers. However, lyric-wise, a lot of times the inspiration is given to me by the Holy Spirit in a dream. Sometimes, I see myself performing the song, and immediately I wake up, I take my phone and I do a voice note of the tune. Other times, I could be reading a Bible verse and it just pops out to me, like from out of the pages, and before my devotion is over, I would have a new song. Other times, it’s almost like I’m in a trance – I am not sleeping and I am not awake, but somehow I just go into this place where I get some lyrics. It can sometimes be really sad, or really happy and then those emotions just evoke some form of gratitude or plea towards God and before you know it, it becomes a song.
What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion, to me is a mode of expression. It sometimes defines the state we are in, in life, because I believe a lot of people’s fashion evolves with knowledge and interests. For me, fashion is one of those things that help me express who I am at that given moment. I think it’s a very important tool because most times, people compliment my style – although, I feel like I don’t give it a lot of effort, but it seems like people are interested in what I wear and it just keeps me looking for better ways to express myself.
What is your style?
I think my style is Laid-back Chic. I don’t like anything that would make me ‘suck belle’, so I own all Bubus – different iterations, different renditions. A few weeks ago, I switched it up, so I like outfits that accentuates my figure, but at the same time, being modest and tasteful.
Share a bit of your skin-care routine.
Basically, I drink a lot of water. Maybe that’s why I don’t sleep a lot at night because I pee a lot. I drink a lot of water during the day and even at night. I always have three bottles of water by my bedside. I try after junking out to eat healthy once in a while, but to be very honest with you, I woke up like this. I was born that way, but I also try to enhance it by using serums, moisturizers, sunscreen – anything that can keep my face moist, so that it is not dry and cracky. When it is plump and moist, it looks fresher, there are not many lines on the face and you just have clear skin.
What advice do you have for young people looking up to you?
My advice to them is that life cannot be rushed, and when you see someone who you think overnight just blew up, go and ask about their stories. A lot of them spent years perfecting their craft and others in obscurity, but then, somehow, they’ve been brought on to the limelight, to prosperity. I will advise young people to keep working hard in their little corners where no one is watching, and especially for a gospel artiste, whatever you do on stage, typically, is a reflection of your private personal worship. So, don’t expose yourself too much if your preparation doesn’t really match what you’re trying to put up on stage. For a gospel artiste, it’s a bit different. It’s a more wholesome preparation in terms of body, mind and spirit. I would just recommend that your worship life on stage should really be the final crescendo. There should be so many rehearsals that nobody knows about, so many moments of worship people don’t know about. Make all your mistakes indoors so that when you get on stage, it’ll be second nature to you.
What is your life mantra?
My mantra in this life is love, above all. I have a few other things I’m guided by, but love is what is at the centre.