Uwale Okoro popularly known as Essence, is a soulful singer who shot to prominence in the early 2000s. Now a gospel artiste, she told Eric Dumo some of the biggest decisions she’s had to make in her life
You recently turned 40, so how does life feel at such age?
At 40, I don’t really feel any different but grateful to God for being alive and with all my senses intact. I always celebrate my birthdays but the last one being a milestone age was pretty special as I have seemingly come full circle. I feel I now have the opportunity to relive my life much wiser and with more confidence.
What are some of the remarkable incidents that have shaped your life’s journey up until this point?
Every phase of my life has come with its own challenges. Some sweet, some sour but they have shaped who I am today.
But one that really stuck with me was the words of a minister of God who told me when I was 17 that music was my life’s work. He said that I would earn a living and take care of my loved ones through it. I took his words with a pinch of salt perhaps because I was a teenager. Those words came to fruition soon.
What sort of childhood did you have and any fond memories of that period you still hold dear to your heart?
My childhood was beautiful. If you remember the soap opera “Fuji House of Commotion;” that was my house. I am the last of seven children, so it was always a battle not to be intimidated.
My fond memories though are of my eldest brother taking my immediate elder sister and me to the Apapa Amusement Park every holiday with one of my father’s cars. My father didn’t know that my brother could drive, so we were almost caught by him at a point. It was scary but fun at the time.
As a child, what dreams did you nurse and what informed this?
I remember always declaring that I was a star when I was younger. I vividly remember always writing songs about everything I saw, everything I felt, everything I ate. But I never knew my dreams were my passion and my calling. So, I could say music had always been a part of me even as a child.
You studied Theatre Arts at the Delta State University, was it always your ambition to tow this line?
Studying Theatre Arts as opposed to Music as many would have expected was because I wanted to be a performer and not just a singer. I have always been artistic, so Theatre Arts was the best route to harness all these gifts in me.
As an undergraduate, did you have to do maybe menial jobs to support your academics or there was enough care from your parents?
As an undergraduate, I was already an artiste. I performed at shows to augment my parents’ efforts towards my education. My fees were paid by them but I used my passion to provide other things I needed as a young lady.
You started singing at a very tender age but went professional at 18, how did your parents feel about your choice of music as a career at the time?
My parents have always supported my decisions. I think being the baby of the house also helped. They had at that time realised that forcing children to do their will could be detrimental, so they supported me and this allowed me to be open with them and let them know where I was at every given time.
When you chose music as a career, were there people who told you that you couldn’t be a success?
Of course, some people would always say you can’t make it. They told me to go get a proper job. But I’ve always had people who believed in me and helped me continue to push ahead strongly. So, those things didn’t bother me.
How did you come about the name ‘Essence’?
The name ‘Essence’ came out of prayer. I asked God to give me a stage name that would depict what He wanted me to be and that came.
In your days at Kennis Music, you used to be one of the strongest female voices in the industry, is there a reason why you went under the radar for a while?
After a couple of my colleagues died in the industry, I thought long and hard about my life. I always wasn’t too inclined to commercial songs per se because I always had something to say and not just to repeat overused words or try to coin a new catch-phrase to get people to gravitate to my sound.
This happened around the period my contract with Kennis Music expired. But even then, I worked with them because of the close relationship we had.
However, at a point, I needed to step aside to re-evaluate my options and my life’s decisions. That was why I stepped back for four years.
Do you think if you had switched to commercial music rather than sticking to your style, you could have become a bigger and richer star today?
I think that being rich is relative. I am rich in good friends and what I need, I can afford. I drive a nice car; I’m content with all I’ve been blessed with today. So, no regrets whatsoever in this regard.
Are there people who abandoned you because they thought your music career was over?
My fans never abandoned me in my time of hiatus, many of them reached out to me via social media and I assured them I was working on new materials. Now that I’m out with new materials, they are delighted.
There could have been people who thought it was over for me; I didn’t just care about such things.
You recently tested your hands in acting, what was the experience like?
I studied Theatre Arts and as such, I am an actress by training. I just concentrated on music mostly because it was what I readily would do.
But singing is mostly a solo effort and thus, I missed the joyful ensemble of theatre. I would love to do more, so expect to see me acting more in the future.
Many people find it strange that a beautiful woman like you is still unmarried at 40, is this a matter of choice or the right man hasn’t come yet?
Everyone’s time and season is up to God. That I’m not married now is not an indication that something is wrong; it’s just not my time.
Choice is very important because with the spate of domestic violence that is rampant these days, one needs to venture into marriage with your full senses intact and with your shock absorber. Also, tolerance and wisdom is needed to make these decisions.
Have people been suggesting funny ideas to you like just having a child even if you are not married yet considering your age?
People will be concerned of course, but I believe I and my prospective hubby have to do it for ourselves and not for others because after the party is done, we would face the reality of our decisions.
So, I’ll advise those worrying about my status to calm down.
Have there been times that you felt so lonely to the extent that you really wished there was a man around to hold on to?
Nobody can complete anyone, it’s two people that come together to make a marriage. If one person is flawed, then the marriage is shaky from the outset.
If I’m feeling lonely, I read or immerse myself in writing songs out of my experience. I try to find healing and hope that the song resonates with someone so that they can find healing as well.
Have there been people who tried to look down on you and make you feel bad deliberately for not being married at 40?
Of course, there have been people like that. I know society as a fact looks sideways at unmarried people.
As a person, I firmly put my views across or totally ignore such people. I’ve stopped condoning negativity; I don’t have time for that anymore.
What are some of the biggest lessons you have learnt in life?
My biggest lesson learnt over the years is not to let any situation or people dictate my mood or decisions.
I used to be a people-pleaser but now I’ve learnt to prioritise. If I can’t do it, I don’t bend over backwards like I used to.
Any regrets switching to gospel music fully?
The shift to gospel music is deliberate. It’s my calling; it’s what I was destined to do. Like I said before, it was spoken over my life at age 17 even though sometimes prophecies take time to manifest.
This is my set time, it’s God that matters to me now and I want to use my talent to glorify His name.
What does your typical weekend look like?
Weekends are always very busy for me. I’m rebuilding my brand and that is what I’m working on at the moment. I’m a praise and worship minister in my church, so I am involved in a lot of rehearsals at weekends.
Also, several other events eat most of my weekends, so I’m always on the road.
Any favourite meal and why the choice?
My favourite meal is rice. I also enjoy cooking. I search for recipes on the internet and try to make them.
Where are some of your favourite holiday destinations?
I rarely go on holidays, not by choice but because of my schedule. But when I do travel to rest, it’s all in Europe especially the United Kingdom.
How best do you relax?
I relax by playing the game called Candy Crush. Once I start, I soon sleep off. It is a great form of relaxation for me.
Being a stylish woman, how often do you stuff your wardrobe with new items?
Lately, I’ve taken to wearing what I feel good in. I try to stuff my wardrobe with the things that appeal to me the most.
Between gadgets and jewellery, which thrills you the most?
I’m not a gadget or jewellery person, I’m a perfume person. I love to smell good and gravitate to people who smell good. I have made friends with total strangers just because they smelt good. That is how much I value hygiene and a good smell.
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