JESSICA BONGOS: CONTINUING A LEGACY
Full of depth and soul, Jessica Bongos is definitely creating a path for herself in the music industry. Born to the legendary singer Bongos Ikwue, Jessica holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Development and a Masters in Leisure Events and Facilities Management. Finding true expression in music, she is a singer/song writer with a mission to leave her own legacy.
At what point did you decide you wanted to get into music?
Hmmm. Very recently, I would say a little over 2 years ago, I knew that I was an avid music lover but I never thought I would ever make or create my own music. Being a successful musician means inevitably getting out there and being celebrated by people, which contradicts my personality. I’m a bit of an introvert. I like to be in my own little corner; I’m very shy and quite reserved. Though nothing has changed, I’m just not scared to be out there anymore.
How much of an influence has your illustrious father been on your musical journey?
Probably about 99.99%. First of all, I would have no knowledge of music or love it as much as I do, if it weren’t for him. Growing up as a little child, he played his guitar a lot and sang to us all the time. He would usually write songs on the spot. He also sang along to a lot of music. He would harmonize the lead singer he was listening to. I clearly remember him doing that a lot with Harry Belafonte, Don Williams and The Everly Brothers. Music is my escape. It’s where I can go and be guaranteed peace and happiness. Watching my father work has also influenced my journey. It’s taught me a lot, especially not settling for mediocrity. Ordinariness or being average is just not acceptable.
As a vocalist, you can perform any genre, why did you decide to settle on neo-soul music?
I’m a soulful singer. It is what it is. I could change my style but then, if I did, I would be pretending. I wouldn’t want to put myself in a box though, and say I’m a neo-soul singer. I’m constantly writing songs and sometimes, when I sing them, they sometimes sound country, soft rock or very jazzy. The other day, I started singing this new song I wrote randomly and I said to myself, ‘the only way this song would work is if it’s a highlife song.’ I could hear the trumpets in my head. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not confused, the core of my music is definitely soul but there are so many different sounds and instruments I love to explore. After production, the song may not necessarily sound like neo-soul or soul music though I’ll sing it from it my soul.
Are there any pressures stemming from comparisons with your father, or do you see yourself as a completely different person?
Naturally, there are. Some people have even asked me, “Why don’t you do the type of music your father did?” My answer is always the same. ‘We are different people inspired and influenced by a different time and different experiences. I’m lucky I have him to teach me and guide me.’
Which artists inspire you, and whom would you like to work with?
Oh my, too many! Bongos Ikwue (of course), Lauryn Hill, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Sade Adu, Jill Scott, Corinne Bailey Rae, Norah Jones, Maxwell, Asa … I could go on and on. Can I dream and say Lauryn Hill? I love her. I would also love for Smokey Robinson to write me a song. Just one song then I can die a happy woman.
What do you hope to achieve with your music?
I just want to make good, meaningful music that people can appreciate and connect with. I’ve listened to other people’s songs and thought, ‘wow, did this person know what I was going through? He/she must have written this song especially for me.’ Being able to connect with people through your music is so special. That’s what I want to achieve.
What are your thoughts about the Nigerian music industry and where would you like to see it go?
It’s incredible how the Nigerian music industry is growing. I would love to see it grow to a point where other genres of music are accepted quite as quickly as what is perceived today as mainstream music. At the end of the day, good music is good music. Soul/neo-soul/RnB/soft rock/alternative singers should be given an equal opportunity for a professional career in music and for growth.
Some may say your sound is more marketable abroad, have you thought about relocating, or do you plan to stay here in Nigeria?
Haha! My passport is as green as green gets. I’m right here.
If you were not a musician, what else would you have considered doing?
I would be a restaurateur, an interior decorator or a special education teacher, someone who teaches kids with special needs/ disabilities.
As a woman in the music industry, what challenges have you encountered and how do you handle them?
The major challenge for me is not my gender. It is being an independent artist.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists who are interested in alternative sounds like neo-soul?
I don’t think it’s my place to give advice to anyone; I’m seeking advice myself. I’d just say be true to yourself and make music that you love and understand. You are the best version of yourself in your truth. Trust me, there’ll be days when you’ll want to just throw in the towel but don’t give up. Keep working, and enjoy what you’re doing. Never stop learning and trying to get better. Read any and everything that will help you get better. Take classes; watch to learn about people that inspire you. Keep growing and keep shining!
Are you working on any project at the moment, and when can we expect something new from you?
The EP (Extended Play album) I have out on www.jessicabongos.com was sort of an introduction to what people should expect from my debut album. I’ve started writing songs for that. I haven’t started recording any of them yet but can’t wait to. I’m very excited about that.
January 16, 2020
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