Alhaja Rukayat Abolanle Gawat-Oyefeso, a leading light, sheikha of Islamic music in Nigeria and mother of two speaks with SAMUEL ABULUDE about what she’s been up to and how her music has transited time, religion and race
It seems you’ve been doing this for a very long time, what has been the success story so far?
It has not been easy, the journey has been quite challenging and tough, but Alhamdulillah (All thanks to Allah). Though at times when we are into something and expecting to get results which are not forthcoming, we say it’s somehow difficult and say all sorts of things, but by the time you get through it and try to channel your energy into it with commitment everything will be fine.
How have you been faring music wise?
I have been singing for 20 years now, and so far so good, it could have been better though, but Allah has been faithful to me, my career, my family and the entire Islamic family worldwide.
How old were you when you started music?
I started singing at a very tender age. I started composing songs by myself, when I was 17 years old. It was a very defining moment for me and I still savour the period.
Why did you choose to be a musician?
I didn’t choose to be a musician, music actually found me. I grew up with a strong passion for music. I love my religion and I felt the best way to contribute my own quota to the propagation of Islam is through music. When I realised I could sing, I jumped at the opportunity.
Did you know you could come this far?
To be honest, I didn’t know I could ever be where I am now in the Islamic music industry. Though I have the passion for music, I didn’t know that Allah could actually make a star out of me and make my jobs accepted by the people. My career started a long time ago but God made me prominent just about three years ago, when I produced “Ogbe Okan”. So far, so good, to be adjudged as the best female Islamic artiste by two prominent and highly-respected media houses is so humbling for me. I will forever be grateful to Allah for what He has done concerning my life and my career
What projects are you working on now?
I am currently working on my new album, titled “Araba,” a three-track album, which will be released in 2019, and I am working on the release of my singles. I am also planning for my yearly charity project, The Imole Foundation, which I actually initiated in 2015; the name Imole was also my stage name and it informed the foundation to help a huge number of widows who attended the inaugural edition. They were over 120 in number and they all received food items and other sundry gifts. But whenever I want to do any event, I do it in respect of my father, just to remember him. During this event, I give widows food and many gift items. The upcoming event may have a massive turn-up of 500 widows and the less privileged of the society.
What is it about your new album, “Araba”?
Araba is an album I dedicated to the national leader of All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a man who has been very nice to the people, my family and Lagos State in general. Asiwaju is a role model and a father to me, and so many other people in Lagos and Nigeria generally. He was there for me when my father went missing.
Why do you address women basically in your songs?
In most of my songs, I talk about homes and I advise women because I know what it takes to keep a peaceful home, it is very challenging. I have been married for over nine years now and it has not been easy. We just have to live in peace and harmony. So, that is the reason why most of my duets, I do talk about the do’s and don’ts of a household. According to Islam, it is not proper for a woman to live alone, but with her husband. All these are what are happening in the current situations in the society, and I am using my songs to amplify this.
What is the importance of music in Islam?
If you move closer to some Islamic clerics, they will tell you that there is nothing like music in Islam. But for me, I believe that music goes a long way in life, because music changes moods in human feelings when we are sad, and even music is a tool to enlighten people on passing potent messages to the uniformed . The only thing I feel people have with some Islamic musicians is the notion that they do not dress properly and that doesn’t add value to the religion.
Would you describe music as a tool?
Music is a tool to shape opinions and pass messages like you journalists always do. Music is life; music is anything you can think of it; music is everything. Although I am a very shy person, once I grab the microphone everything seems to be different. I can say that the microphone gives me boldness and music boosts my confidence.
With your years of experience in music, what has been your success secret?
Alhamdulillah, (All thanks to Allah), it has all been hard work and commitment to what gives me joy, though another major thing that I believe is that people love me because of my father’s story. I mean everyone who loved my dad during his lifetime and that love has transferred to me simultaneously. Secondly, the Yoruba appreciate responsible looking and well-mannered personalities. Having a good father is wonderful, but being a good person is a bonus for me, because he contributed so much to me, and that is the secret of my success. Whenever people meet me, they see Islam in me, testifying to the life of a role model that I live. There is a saying in Yoruba that, ‘Ti won ba bi eyan, ki iwo na tunra e bi,’meaning that you also train yourself and add to what your father has invested in you. Good manners and upbringing cannot be bought in the market. I often remember what my dad said to me. ‘Ruka, you must dress properly. The way you dress is how you will be addressed,’ and this saying from my dad has been working for me over the years.
Do you have any featured song or are you intending to do any collaboration?
Yes! I have recorded so many featured tracks with notable Islamic singers and Fuji artistes like Malaika in “Alao Jowujowu ”, Sefiu Alao in “Odun Ayo” and Taye Currency in a song that is yet to be released. But for now, I am trying to see if I can integrate the hip-hop artistes with the religious ones to pass across a message that cannot be rejected, because my dream for Islamic music is to be accepted by all and not just being exceptional in the music industry.
What are your plans for Islamic music to be readily accepted?
Since my incursion into Islamic gospel music, I have been trying, in my own little way, to give innovation and enterprise into the genre. That is why I have been projecting the Islamic music through my own dynamism and originality to export the music to the other genres of music and to the world in general. It should be on record that I did collaborations with some major Fuji artistes and they are now calling back for more cooperation from Islamic singers; and also for my productions, I go the extra mile to do a sound and very explicit work that will stand the test of time and I am open for collaboration from other genres of music.
What do you want improved in music videos?
As an Islamic musician, we do not earn enough to pay for a good video production, unlike our hip-hop counterparts. There are different good music video directors, cameras, for different purposes, musicians pay for only what they can afford. The difference between me and other Islamic artistes that have other businesses, which is taking money out of their businesses to support their music career. I want to lay a standard for the Islamic musicians to emulate, using quality costumes and locations.
As an Islamic singer and a role model, what are your limitations?
I restrict myself from attending indecent events; parties and clubs. Although, I receive invitations for different events, I often turn them down responsibly. The way I dress, speak or look, is always religious and cultured. However, bleaching the skin is another thing I will not attempt, because my fans deserve a responsible me.
What does Rukayat do outside music?
I am a housewife, a mother and an entrepreneur; I also do buying and selling of goods to make additional profit to my music career.
Who is your role model?
Saida Fatima Jafanya is my role model/
As the most sought-after Islamic singer, how much do you charge for shows?
Firstly; the location determines the fees and aside that I’m affordable to every common and potential creditor.
Winning awards back and forth, did you ever plan for this level of success?
Of course yes but I didn’t know that God would make me this appreciable and widely accepted in the industry so soon. I have been so dedicated to my musical career and I knew someday I would get there. Alhamdulillah for today. Glory be to Almighty Allah. Meanwhile, awards to me are like propellers, making me to work harder to satisfy God and my teeming fans.
What do you think gives you the edge in the industry?
I don’t really know about this; but my works and consistence could be accountable for my achievement.