Her unique singing prowess and stage coordination have distinguished gospel singer Chidinma Elenor Okebalama, popularly known as Chee, from others. The Abia-born gospel superstar has performed at various high profile national events not holding back her passion for music; Chee has released several songs and recently debut her acting in ‘God’s calling’ movie. In this chat with MUTIAT LAWORE; Chee spoke about her journey, passion for music among other issues. Excerpts:
You came into limelight performing at The Experience and rendering outstandingly, 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 sang 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 as well.
Most artistes today started out in Church and then diverted to secular music. Would you also 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 actually, before I diverted to gospel. 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, ‘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 and there has been a lot of growth. I measure my success.
What inspires your kind of music?
It is very simple. 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, lyrics-wise, a lot of times, the inspiration is given to me by the Holy Spirit, maybe 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.
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.
You showed your acting dexterity in the movie ‘ God’s Calling’ which by the way is not a secular piece; are there further plans to be more frequent in TV?
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 one of a kind 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!
Ever since your role in the movie, are the scripts coming in?
Honestly, I have got several offers of movie roles since my little feature in God’s Calling but the honest truth is that acting is not my thing and because that particular role was relatable for me, it was easy to sink into the role. I am more focused on my music at the moment and other personal projects.
So what was growing up like for you?
I am the third child of four 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 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 school choir.
I think that, everything I do, somehow, music just plays 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 calculating, analytical mind and I don’t know if that’s good for music or not, but I find that my Engineering background really helps my music. It helps me with understanding so many concepts – because sound is also part of Engineering.
What will you say is the secret to your success?
God is my strength. I believe that whatever God will not give you, you do not need. I work and work. I don’t believe in magic or short cuts. I work and I push myself to the limit. I challenge myself every day to be a better version of who I was yesterday. I am committed, resilient and focused, learning from my mistakes and doing those things they say are impossible.
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’d advise young people to keep working hard in their little corner 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 has been your happiest moment?
Whenever I am on stage and people are blessed, I am happy. Because of where I am coming from, my mission is to help people, by putting smiles on their faces
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, it seems like people are interested in what I wear and it just keeps me looking for better ways to express myself.
How will you describe 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 accentuate my figure, but at the same time, being modest and tasteful.