It is 2009. And a rainless evening at the Shell Residential Area, Port Harcourt, south of Nigeria. The Garden City, an oil hub, is home to incessant rainfall but today. It is holidays for the rain, perhaps. A small stage is set to have Lamili and her band perform varieties of songs – mainly western. It is a small band. There is Boma on the keyboard. He adjusts the microphone in front of him while a sultry lady walks in and he is distracted, not by the lady on fine heels but feedback from the speakers. I’d later find out the fair lady is a member of the band, a dancer. Her smile is warmer and resettling than the weather.
I am seated, a bit anxious but observant. The residential area is beautiful – the backdrop for the band is a mural – well spread. Steps away from the tables, a restaurant lets loose aroma from its kitchen and I am enwrapped in wants. But I’d be meeting Lamili for the first time in person so the anxiety returns. We’ve been friends on Facebook.
It is 2016, I’m somewhere in the eastern part of Nigeria, on YouTube. Lamili’s new music video for “Love Me Proper” has been replayed five times.
She’s unchanged physically, still athletic, slender and passionate about music but her mind and scope of works have changed. These days, her audiences are no longer workers at Shell or their friends and family members. She is a model for afro-pop tunes, exporting sassiness and African-ness across Europe.
Currently in Spain, her new home, Lamili recalls one of her earliest songs entitled “Ndidi”, an Igbo term for ‘patience’ and ‘perseverance’
“The song was dedicated to my late mum and grandma. It tells of me leaving home to pursue my dream, of a career in music and asking them to be patient with me.”
Certainly not a dream chaser anymore, of the young woman who left home in Anambra State many years ago, Lamili has shared stages with some fine people from across the world. Among Nigerian star artistes, she has a song with Timaya and of course, an earlier song entitled “Crazy Love” has M’ Trill, a Channel O Award winner. Responding to the question whether it has been patience all this while for her growth, Lamili says:
“It is perseverance rather than patience. I don’t think I m a very patient person as friends and family will attest. I am constantly pushing to move forward and to see results.”
Lamili made music in Port Harcourt when it was a struggle to be received by radio houses. And when someone listened to you their gestures and words were asking for more than appreciation but sex or money.
“In the past, my focus has been on the reception of female musicians in Nigeria, who were not treated on a footing equal to their male colleagues, in fact, worse. Sexual harassment is widespread. Sexual favours are demanded or offered out of desperation in exchange for exposure or preferential treatments. I have always refused to play these games, as I believe hard work, quality materials, and perseverance will get me there.”
These days, there are more radio houses in Port Harcourt and more options. Younger people have created blogs to promote songs that radio houses won’t play. And there are artistically creative music video directors too, complementing efforts by singers and performers.
“There was a clear reason why a few years ago, I decided to move the focus of activities from Port Harcourt to Lagos and then Europe. PHC is not doing enough to support and further its local talents.”
About her journey to exploring music beyond the shores of Africa, Lamili says
“Travelling has exposed me to different cultures and their traditional music, for example, Flamenco style music here in Spain. In the past, my music style was focused on a Nigerian audience. These days, I am working towards songs for fans beyond Nigeria or Africa.”
Artists are diversifying, especially in Nigeria where a musician does not make anything off a studio album, such that had to be put out for free so that it may be downloaded and cost would be covered from gigs and concerts, or brand endorsements. When asked if the uniqueness of her hairdo was geared towards setting up a brand such that would see maybe hair brands coming to her for endorsements, Lamili says
“I have a passion for fashion; though I prefer not to follow trends but to make my own. My hairdo is unique, it makes me stand-out and instantly recognizable. At the moment my priorities are at establishing the brand LAMILI across Europe and Africa. Beyond this, I will be releasing additional music from time to time while touring.”
The alluring mother of one, who would rather keep family life private, travels heavily. In her words she says:
“I don’t travel with a single piece of luggage only. Driven by the demands on my appearance at media houses and stages, I have to pack a lot. I never travel light. Apart from this, my personal fashion brand is my hairdo.”
Outside music, Lamili is passionate about raising awareness about breast cancer. She has appeared in a handful of materials about breast cancer awareness but she has not stopped advocating for at least, annual check-up for Nigerians, like it is done in Europe.
“Nigeria is way behind on the preventive side of medical care when compared to what I see in Europe. For example, annual screening for breast and other cancers is the absolute norm. We should have it in Nigeria too so we can save lives.”
Lamili Engel who shares her time between Africa and Europe is a lover of big cars and currently drives a Toyota Land Cruiser with a Toyota Auris by the side.
Note: Photographs were provided by Lamili Engel