The gracious Jessica Bongos took her time to speak to Afroway, she is an artist with a disposition to live music and would not as she puts it; ‘compromise when it comes to quality’. Jessica describes herself as an Old Soul, perfectly so her music weaves through vintage soul and pop music in complimented by her glorious voice. The Nigerian singer, songwriter started out in music about five years ago when she decided to pursue it professionally. The high-spirited singer gives details about her life and music in her first ever interview with Afroway.
Afroway: Hey Jessica, hope you are keeping well…
Jessica: Hello, I am, thank you very much.
Afroway: So exciting to have you for this interview
Jessica: Thank you so much for having me.
Afroway: Hope it won’t end…. Tell us about yourself
Jessica: Lol. All good things must come to an end. My name is Jessica Bongos-Ikwue. I’m a full time singer-songwriter, recording and performing Artist from Benue State, Nigeria. I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. I got my Primary and Secondary education from Lagos, then went to get my bachelors and masters degree from Liverpool and Sheffield respectively.
Afroway: When one listens to your music, you get the feeling that your art has been on a steady ascent, of course thanks to your father and your great talent. Tell us about your musical journey.
Jessica: So, this is an interesting question because I only started this musical journey five years ago. I made the decision to pursue music full time in 2013. So, this is all brand new to me and I feel like I’m on a crash course, you know? Learning how to write songs, understanding the music industry in general, understanding my creative processes as well as the music business in such a short time has been challenging yet very interesting. I think most creative artists knew that they wanted to be artists from a very young age. I didn’t. I wanted to be a Pharmacist, a special needs teacher, a Chef, and an Interior decorator. Everything but music was on that list. I honestly feel like it’s always been in me but I realized a little late in life. But once, I did, I jumped right into it without giving it a second thought and I put my everything into it. I even sold my car to finish my debut album. I still don’t own a car. Uber is my best friend. Lol. But jokes apart, that’s how committed I am to music. It’s been a challenging journey, especially doing this as an Independent artist but I feel so fulfilled right now and I’m so at peace with the decision I made to do this full time. I have no regrets at all.
Afroway: How much has working with your father from the onset affected your own work and work ethic?
Jessica: Watching my father work has definitely affected my work and work ethic a lot. He taught me the importance of live music and because of him, I see live music as the only way to perform. There are no other options for me when it comes to stage performances. He also taught me that there is no such thing as too much rehearsals and practice. So I rehearse before I go into the studio to record, I rehearse long hours for live performances, I rehearse in front of the mirror. He taught me to never compromise on the quality of my work and to never be in a hurry to release work but to take my time to do it right. (Why I still don’t have a music video till this day, lol). He also taught me that it’s not and will never be about me but it’s one hundred percent about the music. He’s honestly taught me so much and I’m thankful to have free and easy access to his mentorship.
Afroway: From ‘Unscathed’ now ‘Broken to Peace’ what inspired or informed these titles?
Jessica: The title “Unscathed” is just as it’s meaning; not injured or not scarred. If you listen to “Unscathed”, I would like to believe that you can tell that someone who had come out of all these hurtful experiences unscathed wrote it. 3 out of the 5 songs on “Unscathed” made it to the album “Broken to peace”. “Broken to peace” was inspired by the last five years of my life. I had been through a lot of hurt, rejection, confusion and depression. I had a lot of work to do on myself to get my full healing and eventually found the peace of mind that I’ve always longed for. The album is inspired by the brokenness I had to deal with before finding my peace. It’s a mix of sad, happy and real stories.
Afroway: How differently did you craft these two projects? Do you think you achieved what you intended for?
Jessica: The process for both was quite similar. Very similar, actually. I wrote the songs according to how I was feeling, recorded them in the studio and named the projects towards the end of the recording. My project titles always come to me towards the end. I never know what I’m going to name them. My producer, Atta Lenell Otigba helped with the naming of “Unscathed”.
Afroway: What was your favorite part of the process while writing and recording ‘Broken to Peace’ and of course working with Atta Lenell Otigba & Tay Iwar?
Jessica: My favourite part of the recording process for me would be studio sessions where I would open up to my producer about my feelings and what led to me writing these songs. It was like therapy for me. We’re friends and he really gets me so he was able to appropriately interpret my emotions and feelings in each song. It was also the first time that I had ever gotten really emotional recording my music. “Do you remember me” was especially hard for me to record. I remember crying when I heard the guitar lines in that song. It literally brought out the exact mood I was looking for and was a fresh reminder of what the song meant to me. “Mama Ene” was emotional for me to record as well. Music is so powerful. I was overwhelmed with emotion during the entire recording process for “Broken to peace”.
Afroway: How do you feel about the response so far?
Jessica: It’s been okay. I really wish I had more funds to promote the album better so it could reach more people but it’s okay. Next time will be better by the grace of God.
Afroway: Here at Afroway we fell in love with “Mister Macho Man” at first listen, like let’s explore this artist… and there it was we were blown away. What does this song mean to you and what inspired you to write it?
Jessica: Thank you so much. “Mister Macho Man” was the first single off Broken to Peace. It’s a very literal song, not coded or subliminal in a way. I start the song by saying, “I am begging you, leave my friend alone”, so obviously, I’m speaking to someone. In this case, I’m speaking to the husband (now ex husband) of a very dear friend of mine. I was a bridesmaid at her wedding. He was physically abusing her for most of their marriage and when she opened up to me about it, I was angry and upset and wrote the song. “Mister Macho Man” represents the man who uses his muscles to hurt a woman instead of protect her. “Mister Macho Man” is a letter to an abusive friend’s husband. Words I wish I had the opportunity to tell him directly.
Afroway: Your music is with a touch of pop and that straight vintage soul, this of course defines your music, but why do you think this sound has the right fit in modern Africa?
Jessica: I am just making the music that I know how to make. I’m an old soul hence the vintage soul and this kind of music that comes directly from my soul is the kind of music that I understand and that is what I’m creating. Music that is meaningful and has depth, music that can touch peoples hearts, music that people can really relate to. I’m being true to who I really am and will have it no other way. Also, I’m not making music for just modern Africa. Thanks to technology and social media, music can reach people in different corners of the world.
Afroway: Tell us about that bit of r&b and soul history that has always stuck with you.
Jessica: This stems from music I listened to growing up, I believe. My dad was a huge Motown fan and played music from the Motown legends all the time. Not just Motown, but he listened to a lot of soul, folk, blues, rnb and country and that has definitely shaped me into the musician that I am today.
Afroway: What is your take on the current state of soul music in Nigeria and Africa at large?
Jessica: I love that it exists at all. It’s still growing and that excites me. It’s taking a while for audiences in Nigeria to fully embrace this genre but they slowly are and I’m thankful for that. Soul music is still not so popular in Africa but I honestly believe that there’s a market for it in the continent and eventually, we (soul and alternative musicians) will be welcomed with open arms.
Afroway: Apart from music what else are you involved in?
Jessica: I am a full time musician. I have plans to dabble into other things later on but I understand the importance of honing my craft and giving my music all the energy and time that it deserves. Right now, I need to be a full time musician to succeed in music.
Afroway: As an artist how much are you putting in to become an African Influencer?
Jessica: I hope that my work will speak for itself and will one day lead to me being an influencer. For now, I’m not focusing on that. I’m focusing on writing and creating good music and giving the music lovers out there the best of me through my work. If the music becomes influential at some point, then yaay!