BY CHUKS NWANNE
I had concluded that this is one arrogant lady, who thinks the media, even of The Guardian caliber, should be crawling at her feet. This was after my initial effort to talk to her – a few months ago – yielded nothing. But meeting her in Lagos recently has erased that thought. She is Miss amiable indeed – as pleasant and life-loving as she stands on air.
Her office was really busy that morning when I arrived for what you could call ‘a second missionary journey.’ I quickly put a call across and within seconds, she appeared in her elegant outfit. Forget her pidgin English, Matse Uwatse is indeed a polished lady; you need to hear her accent–– directly opposite of what you hear on air!
“A lot of people thought I would work with English stations due to the kind of person that I am; even back then in school. But it’s so shocking for many to see that I’m doing pidgin and many times when people see me, they could hardly reconcile the pidgin voice they hear and the person they see.”
To be frank, I had the same problem.
“I know; it’s normal, I get it all the time,” she says beaming with smiles. “They are like, ‘how come, you don’t look…’ and I’m like, ‘you expect to see an old woman?’
Maybe they expect to see a typical Waffarian?
“I’m a Waffarian,” she exclaims. “I was born, brought up in Warri and I schooled in Delta State University, Abraka. So, I’m a full Waffarian; that’s what I’m,” she says confidently.
“But living in Warri,” she continues, “my Dad incorporated reading in us; now you are seeing me, I’m even holding a book,” she says displaying a short story book. “I read all the time! This is my apartment here, you can see book everywhere, I read, that’s me. So, it’s shocking for some people that I grew up in Warri and I’m like this. People used to ask me how I manage to switch from pidgin to English and I tell them it’s God’s blessing; I’m grateful for it.”
IN truth, Matse was seriously indisposed the period I had attempted talking to her. Oh yes! In fact, the situation was really bad, to the extent that the Waffarian had to stay away from the public eye for sometimes to recuperate. But for the love of her fans, Matse had no option than to be on air.
“People hear my voice on radio then, but a lot of them didn’t know what actually happened, It was a robbery attack, in fact, they threw me out of a moving vehicle; that was how I sustained these injuries,” she say, showing scares on her elbow and legs. “I’m very sorry, I didn’t just want to face the press then.”
Describing herself a very simple, easy-going and creative human being, Maste, a graduate of humanities from Delta State University, never had plans of becoming a broadcaster; her coming on air was totally God’s making.
“I never studied broadcasting; I’m a graduate of Languages & Linguistics (French and German). The truth is that I never knew I was going to do radio; it came by God’s intervention.”
You speak German?
”Well, I speak a little bit of German but I speak more of French; German was an elective course, but I majored in French. I did my one year exchange programme in Togo as part of my studies,” she informs.
How was it like living in Togo?
“It was fantastic; the scenery…almost the same, but everything is different. The communal life, the way of living, the government, the food, the people… different, but basically the same; we are all Africans but just different flavours that differentiates us,” she enthuses.
So, what did you miss about Nigeria while away?
“My family and friends. But I love Togo; they are so wonderful; warm people, very hospitable, security was top range –– you are not scared of walking around by 2am in the morning.”
They have vibrant night life?
“Yes, fantastic night life; Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast… I toured round those places. In fact, there was a night our car broke down on the road and we were all shaking. But suddenly, we just remembered we were not in Nigeria, and we calmed down. Before you know what was happening, people came asking what the problem was, and we told them there’s a problem with the car. You know what happened, the car was fixed and we moved.”
So, what does that tell you about Nigeria?
“Jesus Christ, I love my country,” she exclaims. “But it tells you that we have a lot of work to do in this country. To get to that stage, we need to do a lot; self-assessment is very important for us.”
Being a talented person, Matse never expected people to be surprised to see her in broadcasting.
“I’ve always been a very talented person as a young child and my parents noticed it; as early as six—seven, I could write my own story book. Then, my father used to count the leaves of my notebooks; then I had the penchant for pulling out the middle page, cut it into pieces with scissors and sew it with needle and thread, use crayon to colour it. If you come into my room then, you will see all sorts of drawings on the wall; I used to make and colour them.”
Before Wazobia FM, Matse was an admin executive with a luxury company; it was a friend, who hinted her of an opening in Wazobia FM.
“I’m not really a paper, paper person; I don’t like to just sit down all the time; I have a very imaginative mind. So, I wanted a place where I could explore. Sometimes, there’s a lot inside and you need a medium to bring it out, to speak with people.”
Even before applying for the job, the lovable presenter was already loaded with stuffs.
“I knew the programmes I was going to do; I already had what I wanted to do. So, during the interview, they were like, ‘you are interested in working with us,’ and I was like ‘yes, I want a job that I do and I do it with joy.”
Was the interview in English?
”No. It was initially in English but along the line, they were like, ‘oh, you are coming for Pidgin English presenter, speak pidgin.’ I just started, ‘ok, na so e be… and they kept asking me questions and I was answering them; they kept laughing. I went as far as saying, ‘even inside my bad here sef, I get one programme we be say I wan do for una.” She says bursting into laughter. “When I was leaving, in a way, I felt I had the job. So, when I was called for it, I was convinced.”
She continues: “Back then in the university, my friends were like, ‘Matse, one day we will see you in a fashion TV,’ but none of them thought of seeing do pidgin. The beauty of Wazobia is that, it’s like an untilled ground that was just left open for people to come and till. Everybody used to think of pidgin as something for the razz people, but I believe many of them have seen beyond that. Even Nigerians in Diaspora, they really embraced the Wazobia identity; in our studio, we get feedbacks from people in different parts of the world. Our broadcast is not just Nigeria; you can listen to us online; it’s now a world thing,” she boasts.
DON’T mind the confidence Matse exudes on air now; her first day on air was terrible. But like they say, practice makes perfect.
“Ah, I was trembling!”
You were all alone?
“No, we had people that were giving us tutorials on how to work with the console. I remember the first day they told me to man the studio myself; they just gave us two weeks training and threw us like that at the public to do our own thing. When I got there, I was like, ‘hey, God, what if I press one thing and this console goes off.’ I was kind of scared,” she admits. “But I was like, ‘if I fail, I fail. That was how it started till where I’m today.”
Though she runs different programmes for the station, Eko, How Una See Am and Amebo Zone, seem to be very popular; she has a lot of followers.
“Eko, How Una See Am is where we talk about issues in Lagos, while Amebo Zone is where I talk about family affair, relationships, personal affairs and all that; just trying to help people; I know there are lots of people that have problems…I’m from a broken home too.”
“My father and mother are not married to each other.
“Yes, so, growing up without both parents together, you see a lot of problems.”
How did you cope?
“I was always in the boarding house; it made me seek solace in books more; I try to forget what’s happening and read my books. The more I read, the more knowledge I get. That doesn’t mean I was running away from my problem, but it was a better way to cope than being aggressive and becoming a menace to the society.”
So, what’s your relationship with your parents now?
“Fantastic, they both love me so much. My mother is crazy about me; she’s the one that has been giving me so much strength in this. My father is an introvert like me; very quiet but strong personality that doesn’t say so much. He says one or two, but you know he’s the pillar behind your back,” she muses.
All these influenced you in starting the programme?
“Yes, it did, because I knew there were young people growing up. Even along the way, I get phone calls from people, who have problems and needed to share with me; sometimes, I put the calls on air, sometimes I just narrate the story. Thanks to God, it’s been helping people. Everywhere I go, when people know this is Matse, the first thing they do is to just give me a hug.”
You must have collected so many of them?
“Yes; especially from the women; I get a lot of hugs from them. Even last Saturday, I went for a wedding; it was one of my programme, No Vex. They had problems in their relationship and the man called to say, ‘this is what I did, please help me talk to this woman, I want her back.’ And the woman was like, ‘no, no, I don’t want to come back.’ So, I went in as the intercessor for two of them. Just last Saturday, they got married and I was the special guest of honour. During the toast, I narrated the story and people were just looking as if I was just telling a story, but it’s the truth.”
Though she has lots of awards in her kitty, including the recent African Voice Award as the Most Outstanding Radio Presenter in West Africa, for the use of an African language, reuniting both couples is one of Matse’s cherished achievements in the job.
“I think that’s one of my greatest achievements, not the awards; those ones, they use it to recognise you. But when you see lives changing, you see young ones coming to meet you, you hear people calling you saying, ‘my daughter is going to bear your name, what’s the meaning of Matse.’ Those are wonderful; they are even bigger than the awards.”
As for cheers and praises from fans, these do not get into her head.
“Shocking as it may seem, it doesn’t affect my person; maybe it’s my upbringing. I don’t let it get to me because if you do that, you will fail. So, each of those accolades I get from people, I take it as commendations; sometimes, I don’t even know I’m Matse, I just see myself as me.”
FOR those, who thought that being a presenter is all about sitting in the studio and speaking through the nose, here is a lesson from Matse.
“No, there must be show prep; before I came to meet you, I was doing my show prep. When I talk on air, I don’t just talk; my hands are always on google, browsing for information. For instance, if we are talking about high blood pressure, I take time to go online and get information about it and give to the people. What’s the cause of this ailment? How can you handle it? I don’t just sit down and talk, I’m working; my head is always busy; I spend so much time in research,” she sings.
I don’t know what you expect as challenges of broadcasting, but for Matse, mood swings seems to be the most difficult.
“That’s my biggest problem,” she quips. Sometimes, you don’t feel so good, but you have to be fine because you cannot bring out from a sack, what you didn’t put inside. The beauty of radio is that, it has helped me to know how to change mood; so, you don’t see me get sad for a long time. If somebody say something bad, some people can feel bad about it, but not me! I’m a very positive person; you don’t have to be rich to be happy, it’s about your mind.”
Funny enough, some guys call into Matse’s programmes, asking for her hands in marriage.
“Like some will call and say, ‘oh, Matse, I love you, I want to marry you.’ This is somebody you don’t even know and I just laugh over it. I’ve learnt something in life; when you don’t want to answer question, you just keep quiet or you laugh. You know, radio is about psychology; I have a lot of psychology books I read,” she says pointing to her small shelve.
But of all those calls, have you ever got to the point of meeting any of them one-on-one?
“Well, most of them are girls, the guys, no; I end it on the radio. But for the girls…there’s one, Chichi, she came to see me; in fact she was here few days ago just to see me. She was like, ‘I just like to see you.’ I get people stay outside here for a long time, just to see me.”
Are you in a relationship?
“That’s somewhere I don’t want to go into.”
You never can tell; somebody might need this information?
“No, that’s my personal life and I don’t want to go there at all, I won’t.”
Aside broadcasting, what else will Matse love to do?
“That’s another thing I don’t talk about because I have a lot of things I want to do. It’s good to show little by little what you want to do; it’s not good to show all your card.”
Meanwhile, some of her colleagues in Wazobia FM, such as Ehidiana, whom I’ve chatted with, seem to have so much respect for Matse.
“Oh, wonderful girl; I’m like mother to all of them. Call any of them and they will tell you the same thing; I believe women should be strong and can do anything. So, when I have younger women around, I try to encourage them. if I can do it, then you too can do it. I read a lot of books about management and it helped me a lot. I’m not an authoritarian, but I know how to manage people.”