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Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Dad planted music in me –Bongos Ikwe’s daughter Jessica

Jessica Bongos

Like her father, you only get to hear Jessica’s songs, but you hardly see her except on stage.  That’s how so much she takes after her music legend father, Bongos Ikwe. Predicted to be one of the few music talents that will take 2016 by storm, Jessica Bongos is already showing great promise. 

When she released her
debut EP ‘Unscathed’ some years ago, many knew that she had indeed learnt at the feet of the master, with her good mastery of soul and jazz music. We caught up with Jessica Bongos at one of the hottest stages at one of Abuja’s famous hang-outs where she had a show that brought out the best of Abuja’s artistic crowd.

After the show that left many without a doubt about her music talent, Jessica Bongos spoke to Paul Ukpabio.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Lagos State. I attended Corona Primary School, Apapa, then St. Judes Primary School, Festac Town, before going on to Corona Secondary School, Agbara Estate. I have a degree in International Development and a Master’s in Leisure Events and Facilities Management.

You have been spotted in Abuja. Have you relocated from your Benue abode? Also tell us about your recent show. What was it about?

I never lived in Benue. I moved from Lagos to Abuja in 2006 for NYSC programme and decided to stay here in Abuja. My recent Abuja show was a little concert I decided to have called “Jessica Bongos and Friends; the Soul Sistas Edition”. I had one last year and decided to have another this year, featuring some of the best soul singers and musicians in Abuja.

As a popular musician, how much influence did your dad have on your early musical background?

His influence on my early musical background was huge. He encouraged me to learn how to play the piano as a child because we were surrounded by music literally everywhere, in the house and in the car. He played his guitar all the time and made up songs on the spot. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t know what good music was. I also probably wouldn’t be as interested in music as I am today.

So would you say your background has influenced the person that you are today?

The background of a person I believe always plays a huge role in the person’s life in the long run. It’s definitely influenced my character and level of creativity. I’m from a very musical background and that is most likely why I’m a singer and songwriter today.

Why did you choose a musical career?

I couldn’t run from it. When you love something so much, you just find yourself going back to it every time and that’s what happened with music and I. I don’t think I chose it. This might sound lame, but I think it chose me. I didn’t plan to go on this journey. I’m shy, quiet and reserved. I don’t like attention in any way; yet here I am, in an industry where you can’t be any of these things. As a singer, songwriter, recording artist and performer, I have to be out there. I have to be okay to accept criticism from everyone and from anybody, about things as silly as “what she was wearing”. Lord knows I only care about the music and when you are passionate about something, you can’t worry about things like what people will say. You honour God and the talent He has given you and pray that He guides, protects and blesses you along the way.

Are you the only artistic child of your parents?

No, I’m not. My younger sister is a creative writer and my older sister sings and plays the piano.

Childhood memories
We have heard less of your mum; tell us a little about her?

I think she would like to keep it that way. She’s been Bongos Ikwe’s wife for decades, as well as the mother of his children from Issele-Uku, Delta State. That’s all I can say.

Your dad has been popular over the years, but he has been able to live a private life. How does he do that?

I’m not qute sure how. He just lives his life by working hard and minding his business. He’s not part of the social media era we live in now, where celebrities post “not so personal” parts of their lives for fans to see. He’s old school.

Of all your dad’s songs, which one is your favourite?

My favourites have been “Man and Man”, “Mustapha and Christopher” and “What Rght Is Right”- a song about jungle justice.

Where does the inspiration come from to sing?

I’m inspired by real life and what I’m going through at that time…love, relationship, friendship and experiences of people around me. I write how I feel. Sometimes, it’s pure fiction too.

Life in Abuja, Lagos and Benue, which do you prefer?

For me personally, Lagos is exciting to visit. Abuja is a great city to live in. And Benue is great for vacationing and quiet time.

Who is Jessica?

I’m a reserved, quiet, avid music lover. I’m a deep thinker and a creative person whose mind is constantly bursting with ideas. I’m very family oriented, a home buddy who appreciates quiet time. Solitude is very rejuvenating for me. I’m a work in progress, slowly coming to my own and becoming comfortable with me.

What do you consider as challenges for the ladies in the artistic industry?

I can only speak for myself and I always say being a female in the artistic industry in Nigeria has not been a challenge for me. If your work is good, it will be acknowledged as just that, whether you’re male or female.

If you were not in music, what other profession would you have loved to be?

I would love to be a restaurateur, an interior designer or a special education teacher-someone who teaches kids with special needs or disabilities.
Jessica at work writing songs

When you want to have fun and enjoy yourself, what do you do?

At such times, I do simple things. I meet up with friends for coffee, lunch or dinner. I love food and a good-girl chat. Listening to music is fun for me, watching live music shows, stage plays and things like that. Just simple things.

Any fond memories of best moments?

That will be my boarding school experiences in secondary school. I’ll always hold those memories close to my heart. I had the best time.

Looking back, what do you like about childhood?

Not worrying about anything at all. When you’re a child, you can’t wait to grow up because you think you can do whatever you want as an adult. When you’re an adult, keeping up with the responsibilities that come with adulthood can take its toll on you and actually make you wish you were a kid again. C’est la vie!

What appeals to you?

People with integrity and depth appeal to me.

Are you fashionable?

I honestly don’t know if I’m fashionable. I know I’m not into fashion. I don’t keep up with designers and their collections. I love to admire fashionistas though. I have a lot of them as friends. Love them! I can do without any accessory. As long as I’m clean and I smell good, I’m fine.

What vanities of life do you find difficult to resist?


Tell us about your style. Do you consider Nigerian ladies fashionable?

I think it’s evolving but I lean more towards classic retro styles. Anything that makes me feel confident, classy, elegant and beautiful. I think my music is a reflection of my style. Oh, yes! Definitely! I think Nigerian women might actually be some of the most fashionable women in the world.

What role does beauty play in a woman?

Society has taught us that physical beauty should be one of the most important, if not the most important attribute of a woman. But I know that there’s so much more to being a woman than beauty, like compassion, selflessness, intelligence, love, strength, confidence, etc. True beauty comes from the inside.

Are perfumes and make-up compulsory for ladies? Do you use them?

I guess they are. Every woman wants to look and smell good. I can go days without make-up, but perfume is a daily must for me.

What kind of foods do you enjoy and do you enjoy cooking?

I love to cook. I was a full-time caterer before I chose a career in music. I love food from all over the world, but my absolute favourite is Italian cuisine.

What determines your choice of shoes and how many do you have?

I don’t really care about shoes, so I definitely don’t know how many pairs I have, but not a lot. As long as my feet are comfy, protected and look good in them, I’m good.

Do you travel, your best holiday?

Yes, I travel. Best holiday would definitely be Las Vegas with my best friends a couple of years ago.

Your role model?

I have quite a few. These women exude class, regality, elegance, sophistication and intelligence. Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, Joke Silva, Phylicia Rashad, Jill Scott and Sade Adu.

We hear one of your siblings is in the movie-making business, did you at any point think of going into movies too?

No, I never thought of going into the movie industry.

Your father has a big name in music in Nigeria; do you see yourself stepping into his shoes?

I can't compare myself with him. I can only be the best I can be.

Was your mum worried that her daughter was going into music?

She wasn’t. My mum is very supportive of my decision to do music.

What other things do you do apart from music?

I'm a full-time musician. But like I said earlier, if I wasn't a singer, I would be a restaurateur, amongst other things.
Tell us about your new music, your recent work.

I'm still working on new music, soul music with a touch of jazz. I plan to be more experimental with sounds and touch on areas of life other than love. I hope to release my debut album by the end of the year by God's grace.

What do you love about being a singer?

Being a singer allows me express myself freely without holding back. Songwriting is therapeutic for me. I put all my feelings into my music and get the opportunity to share it with other people. The best part of being a singer for me is when listeners can actually relate to what I'm singing about. Being able to connect with the listeners is a blessing.

Career wise, what does the future hold for you?

I plan to be in the music business for the rest of my life. I may branch out into other businesses later on in life, but for now, I'm focusing on my art and giving it my all. God will take care of the future.

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