A Week in the Life is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
Ajumoke Nwaeze won Star Quest in 2008 and got into the Nigerian Idol finals in 2011. Then she dropped out of the singing competition. In today’s #AWITL, she reflects on the burden of popularity, writing JAMB six times and her switch from singing to a creative writing career.
When I wake up at 6:30 a.m., I freshen up and prepare for work. I’d prepared my outfit for today last night so I wouldn’t have to do much in the morning. By 7:45 a.m., I leave for my office.
As the head of content at a media company, my Mondays are always predictable: attend meetings, follow up with marketing reports from the previous week and send them to the CEO. But the predictability only lasts until 2 p.m.; then it’s freestyle season.
Today, my one-hour lunch break begins at 2 p.m., after which I spend the next two hours reviewing marketing documents and writing new strategy documents for company projects.
By 4 p.m, I’m out the door. I’m grateful I don’t have to do eye service at my company, so I never hang around longer than I’m needed. I can’t wait for salsa this evening, where I’ll stay until 10 p.m. Thankfully, tomorrow I’ll work from home.
Because I’m working from home, I don’t have to get up early. Last night, I scheduled my emails so when I woke up today at 11 a.m., I didn’t touch my laptop. Today is for my side hustle. I’m going to spend the next two hours meditating and practising self-care. After that, I’ll focus on my side hustle.
By 2 p.m., I set up my mini sound studio to record a voiceover. During the 2020 lockdown, I learnt sound engineering because I had so much recording to do and got tired of calling my producer to use his studio every time.
While I’m setting up my sound equipment, I start humming popular Nigerian songs, which takes me back to my competing days.
I was living with my family in Port Harcourt waiting to write JAMB for the sixth time when I heard about Star Quest. It was a music talent hunt and reality TV show. I wasn’t interested because I’d previously auditioned for several singing competitions, and I never got past the early stages. But my sister has a great singing voice, and so, on the last day of registration, she asked me to help her register for Star Quest. Those days, you had to go to cyber cafes to use the internet, so I went across town to help submit her application.
While filling out the application form, I was asked to upload a passport photograph, something neither me nor my sister had expected. The cyber cafe was far from our house, so I couldn’t make the return trip. I decided to register myself instead, as I had my passport saved in my email; all I needed to do was download it and upload it to the Star Quest website. My sister didn’t mind when I told her, she was okay with it as long as someone from the family got in.
I did, and became the lead singer of a band with five other male contestants. A few weeks later, we won the show. As part of the prize, we won a recording contract with a top recording label and a six-bedroom apartment in Lagos. I moved to Lagos to start enjoying the good life.
But things didn’t work out so smoothly. Fame affects your life in interesting ways. The very next Saturday, I went to write JAMB for the sixth time. It was the first JAMB exam that I had to write without external help. Previously, I’d make arrangements with people who would give me “expo” before entering the exam hall. This time, I was popular, so I couldn’t move an inch in the hall even though I desperately wanted to cheatt. But it turned out to be the JAMB that finally got me admitted into the University of Calabar, so I wonder why I even cheated all those years.
In uni, I had to keep denying I was the Star Quest Winner. When people pointed at me, I’d say, “It’s not me o. Please, if you see her, let me know.”
Three years later, in 2011, I realised I wasn’t enjoying music much because I got dissatisfied with the musical direction the band was taking. Star Quest was a group competition and I’d won as part of a band. When I heard of Nigerian Idol, I saw it as my way out of the band. If I won, I could kickstart a solo career.
But right from the auditons, I had issues. The judges were sceptical of me because I had already won a major competition. I argued that Star Quest was for music groups while I was auditioning for Nigerian Idol as a solo artist. Luckily, they let me sing. They were so impressed that they granted me a golden ticket, which meant that I wouldn’t have to go through other audition rounds. I’d go straight to the live shows.
The band got angry when they found out that I’d been into the top 12. They asked me to choose between staying in the band or continuing with Nigerian Idol. I promptly pulled out of the band.
A couple of weeks later, I got into the finals, and that’s when it got overwhelming for me. While I had supporters, many people criticised my presence on the show, said I didn’t deserve to be there. The critics said I wasn’t a new face; I’d already won a major competition before, so why the hell was an established person competing with fresh talents? According to them, it wasn’t a fair fight. After witnessing several hate campaigns, I got tired of it all and pulled out.
I’d lost the privileges of being in a band and signed to a label, and I’d dropped out of Nigerian Idol. I was back to being a regular student. I’d been cruising through life for so long it felt like I had to restart my life. I burned through my savings just to keep doing music and couldn’t sustain it. So, one day I decided to just stop. If I was going to survive, I had to explore other talents.
I’m smiling now because I’ve come such a long way. I turn on my mic and begin my voiceover recording.
I wasn’t trying to make money when I started my blog. I just wanted to get my thoughts out there. The next best thing after music was creative writing. I decided to start writing the things I wanted to say.
I used to make so many errors, but I took criticism from friends and kept getting better.
My first big break with writing showed up whenI wrote a story on my blog and used it to apply to UNESCO World Book Capital in 2014. When I got selected for the one-month residency amongst already established writers, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I googled these people and found that I was the least experienced writer on the list.
Before the residency, I used to introduce myself as a singer. But after it, I started introducing myself as a writer. There were four stages of change for me. For a while, I’d introduce myself thus, “Hi, my name is AJ and I’m a singer.” Then I later moved to, “Hi, my name is AJ I’m a singer and I write too.” And then, “Hi, my name is AJ; I write.” And finally, “Hi, my name is AJ, and I am a writer.”
I’ve also always been the go-to person for my friends. When they had ideas or wanted to brainstorm something, I was the one to consult. Over time, I thought, since everybody called me to help them think, I could be the person who gets paid to think for people rather than being used for free.
That’s how I evolved into a content creator. Now, I do this for both individuals and public brands.
When I woke up today, I was wondering, “What have I not done in this my life?” I’m a singer-songwriter, a scriptwriter, an actress, a sound producer, a writer and an all-round content queen..
I mean, last year (2021), I wrote a song for a movie, and it won a best soundtrack award. I’m nodding my head and telling myself I’m good at this shit as I get out of bed. Tell me what cannot do. This wave of energy has carried me through the script I’ve been working on for the past two weeks. I know I’m going to be done with it today. Once I dot my last i, I cross my legs and admire my work. I still need to edit it, but I love what I’m seeing.
By 6 p.m., I go to the gym and work out for two hours. Even when I get back home for dinner, I’m still brimming with energy that I’ll carry throughout the weekend.
My peers still yab me for not sticking with music, but I don’t regret it. I’ve never regretted dropping out of Nigerian Idol or switching my focus to content creation. On one hand, I could have stuck to music and blown into superstardom by now. But what if I didn’t? I could just have gotten frustrated with everything, become depressed and turned to drugs. Who knows?
I’m glad that I recognised other skills and pivoted quickly when music was not working out. I firmly believe if something isn’t working, I can stretch my arms and try something new. I’m not going to kill myself on top of one thing. I’m grateful I’ve nurtured all these other skills and still get to explore my creativity.
When I was in my 20s, fame was my primary goal. But now, I no longer care about it. But I still love singing sha. When I close from work today, I’m going to a karaoke bar with my girls who’ll give me an audience and hype me up. I’m going to settle down and enjoy myself this weekend because weekends don’t last. Thank God it’s Friday.
Hi, I’m Ama Udofa and I write the A Week in the Life series every Tuesday at 9 a.m. If you’d like to be featured on the series, or you know anyone interesting who fits the profile, fill out this form.