Sunday, February 5, 2012
What hasn’t Steph-Nora Okere survived? She survived a bad marriage, nasty accident and a major lull in her acting career. She is the proverbial cat with nine lives. In this interview she shed light on her life, going against her father’s wish to study dramatic act, and why she let go of her famed fight with music star, Psquare.
What is your T.V programme about?
I have started in earnest. I started about 8 months ago. I have been to every part of the country. I have been to England to record and by next month or so I will be going to the America. You might be wondering what kind of show it is. The name of the show is ‘The Lounge’. It is built to celebrate patriotic Nigerians home and abroad. It is a show that showcases Nigerians doing good to support the Nigerian society.
When is it going on air?
It was meant to be on air this January but I overstayed in London where I went to record some parts of the show. I went to talk to some Nigerians who are doing well there by the time I got back the time slot I had in mind had been taken. You know the target audience for this show is the youth and family. Since I lost the air time, I will have to wait till April which is the next quarter.
So what station are you looking at?
I am looking at debuting on Silverbird Television (STV) before moving to AIT, TVC, Channels and on African magic.
Well, you’ve been in the movie industry for over fourteen years now…
No, it’s seventeen years (laughs)
But lately we have not been seeing you in the recent movies, what happened?
That was exactly what I was discussing with someone when I was on my way here. You see if you keep doing something over and over again for fifteen years in the same way (it becomes boring), like they say in pidgin ‘if person no pinch you, only you go pinch yourself’. There has to be a time you take a look at yourself and be sure that what you are doing is worth it. After fifteen years, I decided to check what have been doing, it has been movies all the way and this is the time to move to the next level.
Are you telling me you have stopped acting?
I am not saying that I have stopped acting although have not done anything for two years now. It is not deliberate though. You know the type of movie I would like to star in doesn’t come very often. I hope you know am a producer as well. I am working on a movie right now and it is taking me a lot of time to put together. While doing that I am also waiting to get the kind of job that I want.
But don’t you think your fans will forget your face if you don’t do what you know how to do regularly?
(Laughs) I have had people quarrel with me everywhere I go about this Issue. They have been asking what happened, so because of that I have decided to give it a comeback this year and the comeback will definitely be with pomp and pageantry. It is not about me shooting any film; it is about quality and societal value. I am happy though with the quality of films, pictures and stories we have now. They can easily compete with others outside of the country.
You were doing more of television soap opera at a time.
The soap thing was to keep me in the picture.
So which pays better, soap or movies?
It depends. But movies pay better. However, the only difference about soap is that when you are in a soap you could do it like for two to three years or more. So you know that every other quarter you will be paid and by the time you pull everything together you might realize that what you have might be more than what you get from just a movie. You know a movie is one-off thing and you are gone, except the movie sells well and you are recalled and it can’t be more than two parts or so. I don’t think soap is better but it is how long it last that matters.
I started entertainment from music. I was just a little girl and my dad would never want to hear of it. I remembered then, I used to mime and dance in front of the mirror. I wrote songs too. But I was too young, we are talking about the era of Oyenka Owenu, Chris Okotie and co, I already had a flair for music but to my dad it was a ‘no go area’. Even when I went to study dramatic arts, it was frowned at. When I was in school, I used to be in a band and I use to do shows. I went to Ife (Obafemi Awolowo University). You know I finished in 1994 and it coincided with the time when the home video began. So it went in smoothly for me because the movie thing then was the ‘in thing’. So the music part of me had always been there but it wasn’t professional. So now that the music industry has picked up and I have made my mark in Nollywood, what stops me from exploring that part of me?
You said your dad never liked the idea of entertainment, how did you convince him?
My dad never liked the idea of entertainment not to talk of me studying theatre arts. I used to tell people that I tricked him because when I did my first JAMB (University entrance exam), my first choice and second choice was drama arts in Ife. He wasn’t around when I filled the form. So when I got admission and told him I was going in for theatre arts he screamed and I tried to convince him that I would change to law after a year.
I took the change of course form but I never submitted it. I happened to have nine siblings and I am the seventh child so the follow up on what I was doing wasn’t really there. When I came out with a degree in drama arts my father wasn’t happy. So he called me after I have finished and asked where I think I could work and I told him I could work in NTA. Then he asked me whether it was in new masquerade or in Village head master (laughs). To him it didn’t make sense, he felt it was just hobby. Unfortunately, he died while I was still trying to make it.
Am sure he is proud of you now.
Yes, he should be happy. But my family now know I wasn’t wasting my time all these while.
In time past we’ve had actors who veered into music but failed woefully?
But there are also musicians who went into acting and failed. I don’t want to name names.
What makes you think your music career would be different from others?
I have always told people that, if don’t have it, don’t bother. You should be able to tell yourself the truth. Everyone has a mirror and you need to ask yourself, can I really act? Can I really sing? Not to talk about an artiste that is established. So if you don’t have it, don’t bother. So I will not sing because some of my colleagues have made an impression but for some reasons or the other they shy away. The fact that someone tried and stopped does not mean my story in music will stop too.
Are you now dumping acting for music?
No, it is not possible. There is something called the rounded artiste. I was taught that a rounded artiste is someone who can dance, write, act and direct .There are some people who can do that much. You are a journalist and you can also write good prose that doesn’t mean you are dumping one for the other.
Which one do you prefer?
They are all entertainment. I studied playwriting; I have shot eight movies of my own, I wrote all stories and produced all. The ninth one is coming on the way. I used to direct on stage, so I am not dumping any one for the other. I believe that in every human, there is something God has deposited in there and everything God has kept in you is to bless mankind. So if you keep it and don’t use it, you are not glorifying God to an extent.
Now, that we have so many people doing music, what do you think will set you apart from others?
Well, that would be my kind of music. My kind of music is not the popular one. It is soul music because I don’t want people to start thinking that Steph is doing music because of the money. It might not your popular kind of music; it is not the disco tech music.
The disco tech music is the ‘in thing ‘now, it sells more?
But that is not what music is all about.
Are you telling me you are not looking at the financial gains?
You see, every product has its own market. I am not doing what everyone else is doing. I don’t have to strain myself while doing it and I know there is a market for it. There are two types of people in the industry, some are doing art because they love and have passion for it while some are doing it because of the money involved in it. I am one of those doing it for the love of it but if the money comes in, beautiful. I want to do the art and do it well.
So when should we be expecting your album?
I have a single on air since October last year and it has been playing mildly. I want people to have a feel of the track. The title of the track is ‘Jeje’.
Isn’t that the same ‘Jeje’ song that was bone of contention between you and Psquare?
I was just wishing you would forget (laughs). Honestly I was praying you would not remember. Yes, it is the same song.
You said P square stole your song but later said you have resolved it?
No, I never came back to say that. I never said anything like that.
But we were told you guys settled. You know you people now, when there is a void you guys feel it up. I mean you press people. I am sorry to say. You know your gimmicks now.
No, I don’t know?
(Laughs.) It is now left for me to respond.
So what are you saying now?
I don’t remember calling any press man and saying any thing. The only thing I said was that let the matter rest. That doesn’t mean I have settled with them or we have had any concrete discussion. We never made it to the court; we were at the verge when some intervention came up here and there. I wasn’t saying what I said to pull anybody down. I just made a point.
But if such thing had happened in the western world it would have gone to court, why do you decide to bring in sentiment and just let it go because some people intervened.
Well, America is a peculiar society and that is how it works there. I am sure there are some issues they won’t allow lie low but if it happens in Nigeria people will call family meeting.
So have they decided to give you credit for the song now?
I don’t know what they have decided. I have not had any discussion with them. The closest thing we ever did was our lawyer exchanging letters. We have never really sat down to discuss it. I am also making a point that P Square and I never had any issue at all. So this is not about witch hunting.
Are you thinking of giving marriage another shot?
(Laughs) Well, of course. Like I said earlier, you cannot be an Island; so if it comes up again, why not?
Are you in a relationship now?
Yes, very beautiful one with God.
You are pretty and famous, so God cannot be the only one you have a relationship with?
Well that is the relationship I have for now, you know the bible says seek ye first the kingdom of God, every other thing shall be added unto you. You know when you have a relationship with God, everything will go well. You know the bible says that he that finds a wife not the other way round. Isaac sought for Rebecca. When a woman goes searching, there will be trouble.
So what is your relationship like with your ex-husband?
We saw at the last day of the protest at the Occupy Nigeria, we saw and talked. We laughed.
You are not thinking of a come back?
My sister, I am only looking up to God for now and not looking up to man. If God wants us to come back that’s fine, I don’t go about trying to see how we can come back. I don’t know if I am right but that is how it is.
But it is often said that it is a woman that makes a relationship work; do you think you tried enough to make it work?
Yes, I did. How do you deal with a situation when your husband is living with another pregnant woman? Do you storm there and pull the pregnancy out? You see in such situations there are some things beyond what a woman can do. Coming back? I really don’t see it happening again.