From Africa with Soul
Debbie Rubunu Olotu is a 24-year-old Afro jazz soul singer, songwriter, guitarist, makeup artist and fashion creative from Delta state, Nigeria. She grew up in Liberia, Ghana and Sierra Leone due to her parents’ jobs as missionaries. At an early age, her father discovered her musical ability and asked her to join the church choir. He also encouraged her to pursue a career in music and filmmaking because of her strong passion for music, arts, and media. When she was 18, Olotu started performing solos at events and later on with bands like Rhythm and Sax and Faint Medal. She emerged one of the top 8 finalists at the 7th edition of the MTN Project Fame West Africa. The judges praised her vocal style and delivery for her original composition Tinko. Her musical influences include Cobhams, Lauryn Hill, Lianne La Havas, Diana Krall, Asa, 2Baba Idibia and her father. Olotu believes her style is special because of her eccentric vocal dexterity. Her debut single We Are Africa is a conscious song that preaches unity and peace in Africa. In December 2016, she released another single Mai Lo with the accompanying video in Yoruba, Pidgin, and English. She runs a lifestyle company Rubunu Essentials and is presently in the studio working on new projects.
When was the first time you performed in public and how have you built up your brand since then?
(Laughs!) My first memory of performing in public was with my father and two brothers in a church. I laugh every time I see that picture. My first professional gig was in 2012 at a concert in Ghana and since then the ball has been rolling for me. I keep searching everyday for new ways to improve my musical art, and keep getting better though the help of the Most High
What skills and life lessons did you take away from the 7th edition of MTN Project Fame West Africa?
Going on the MTNPFWA 7.0 was a life changing experience for me. I learned many values and lessons about music and life in general like patience, punctuality, hard work, discipline, and branding.
What is your genre of music and how has the acceptance been?
My music is basically ‘Spirit Music’ as I do not like to feel boxed by terms and genre. Music for me is a highly spiritual medium of translating my ideas, knowledge, and beliefs per era to mankind in a way that they can reckon with. So far, the acceptance of my music has been very heartwarming and encouraging.
Who and what are your musical influences and sources of inspiration?
From my latter teenage years, I took a liking to jazz music and listened predominantly to Ella Fitzgerald and Dianna Krall. Later on, I picked up Lianne La Havas, Lauryn Hill, Asa, Bob Marley, Fela and The Noisettes. I figured out quite early that I am not trying to be part of the industry. I am just on a mission, the duration of which I am clueless about. One thing for sure is that no physical being in the industry is puppeteering me or the course of my careers. This gives me liberty and adequate room for expression, which the industry sometimes lacks. It will be much easier to say that nature, love, people, life and all the good things inspire my music, but I have learned to trace everything to its source. Basically, I am inspired by the self-existing power from which everything comes from.
You have performed live at a few events like the Tamerri Festival. Can you share your experience?
I have been privileged to perform on several stages over the past months, and it has been a growing experience for me. I get less conscious of myself and focus on the musical expression; I guess people can tell and connect with the purity in that.
Have you opened for any Nigerian acts?
Yes, I have (smiles)! I was privileged to open for Bez Idakula at the Bez Live Concert Abuja, and also at Jeremiah Gyang’s concerts both in Abuja and Jos.
Who would you like to open for abroad?
I would love to open for Lauryn Hill. I have met her and she is just an amazing soul. Moreso, I have been able to relate to her music on so many levels; deep calls unto deep (laughs!).
Have you faced any challenges as a young, female upcoming, self-managed musician?
Yes, I do face a few challenges, which are not uncommon. I just take a step at a time and focus on what is most important.
Are earnings from performances here in Nigeria worthwhile?
Money has never been the focus for me. This is one of the reasons I have been able to turn down record deals and other similar offers. There is a season for sowing and reaping and it will be ridiculous to be focused on reaping what you have not sown. If you sow your seeds in the right seasons, the harvest will be worth it eventually. I try not to mix things up.
Are you working fully in the music industry or do you have a 9 t0 5 job you fall back on?
(Laughs!) I have once tried a 9 to 5 job but promised myself never to do anything just because it is the norm. I have other things I do; I’m a proud leatherwork maker, artist (painter) and fashion designer presently working on my first collection.
You play the acoustic and electric guitars. How has this helped your music?
The guitar for me has been such a great aid in my musical creation, as well as my stage expression with or without a band.
Rubunu on the acoustic guitar
Rubunu on the electric guitar
Do you have any plans to collaborate with other Nigeria and international artists?
Yes, I have plans for collaborating with a few people both home-based and internationally, though I prefer not to say their names (laughs)!
What are you working on?
I am currently working on my debut album.
How do you spend your leisure?
When not working on music I am either reading, writing, sewing, cobbling, painting or cooking.
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