FROM ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA
SUNDAY January 31 will remain a milestone in the life of Sonia Aimiuwu otherwise known as ‘Aimy’ by her teeming fans and admirers in Italy and across Europe.
For the actress, culture activist and now singer, it was a most befitting day to celebrate a dream come true, which has spanned over 14 years in an industry where one can easily remain in the fringes without making any recognisable impact on, or impression in the eyes and minds of the critical audience.
After years of working up the stage and art circuits of Torino in Italy, and major culture centres of Europe, Sonia’s musical career (and in particular, her devotion to the culture industry as an ‘Afro artiste’ has indeed blossomed.
The last occasion, however, was a musical concert that was staged to formally present her debut album, ‘Mother’ to the public.
From the early hours of the night, the crowd had begun to gather in the otherwise modest and historic Maison Musique (Folk Club) in Rivoli, outskirts of Torino Centrale (centre). And with almost a full capacity audience, the show went underway at about 10pm and for close to two hours, Sonia and her band regaled the audience with songs from her 10-track debut album.
It was an electrifying but creatively exerting performance filled with songs, rich costumes, story narration, drama and dances. It was a true presentation of total African theatre, extolling the cultural heritage of the people of the continent. The Bini-born actress and singer drew heavily from the rich repertoire of her culture, and went aheda to tap from other parts of the continent of Africa — Senegal, Gambia and Ghana and others. She anchored the artistic journey, however, on world musical culture.
The combination of rich vocals, choreography, and heavy rhythmic percussion made the entire presentation easy to listen and followed with the audience, which was made of mainly whites, actively involved in the performance.
At the end of the day, it was a highly satisfied and appreciative audience that rose in ecstasy and ululations to applaud Sonia and her team for an enduring and memorable performance.
With her new album, Sonia has announced her presence on the world music stage as an artiste to keep an eye on. This fact was expressed by a legion of her fans and admirers with the Artistic Director of Maison Musique (Folk Club) Davide Valfra and her booking agent, Luisa Parrelli, rating Sonia’s new work world class.
For Davide who had known Sonia for several years, ‘’I think this album is a very good mix of the root she has in Africa — her cultural heritage and musical culture, the rhythm and instruments of Africa and mixed with funk and more of pop, which is easy for European audience to appreciate.’’
Parrelli, who on first contact with Sonia years back, said she noticed that “she was very tied to the root, very opened to the future, pop-rock, to the sound of the Western world; so I think she is a great combination of the heritage of the African and the modern music,’’ and decided to work with her. She described Sonia’s new venture as very “nice, captivating and easy-listening (easy to listen to)”.
According to her, ‘’everybody can enjoy the show of Sonia even without knowing her music. This is very difficult in the world of music because in the world of music you have to know it to get inside the groove but in her case no because it is very strong, open and nice with a lot of rhythm.’’
Rating her as a ‘great artiste’, Parrelli says Sonia can go the distance: “Potentially, she can get anywhere because her product is a business wise product that can easily go in radio or on the TV. It depends on how we can go with the promotion but at the moment the business is bad.’’
However, the booking agent believes that with the right combination of network, it would be easy to “spread the word and captivate a large audience. She can really go anywhere in Europe and the US and wherever, she is an international product; she can’t stay local.’’
Davide pledged the the commitment of her organisation, Vertiage Music, to make the dream of the artiste possible. “My role is to try to book her in many shows as possible. So, I am trying to do this with the festivals, the clubs and with promoters but it is not the easiest moment to sell a show but we will try. This is what we do.”
Of the 10 tracks (Africa, Ise Iya, Mama Africa, Dia Leme, Ase, Bobele Yo, Iye, Fraternal Feeling, Distance and Mbegel), seven of the songs are written by Sonia while one ‘Mbegel’ was co-written by her and another songwriter; and ‘Africa’ and ‘Ise Iya’ written by another songwriter.
Five of the songs have been made into video clips – Ise Iya (eulogies motherhood – filmed in Nigeria and Europe, Mama Africa (English and Yoruba), Africa, Mother and Fraternal feeling (both are combination of studio work and live performances).
The video clip was produced by Paolo Rapalino, an Italian producer who had worked with Sonia for some years on many of projects in Europe.
Prior to the formal presentation on Sunday, Ise Iya had notched two awards in Europe – ‘Vaisusa Film Festival 2009 in nella sezione ciak con gusto and Riace Film Festival 2009 nella sezione and about four nominations at the Lampedusa Film Festival 2009; Visionaria 2009 Siena; Mestre Film Festival 2009; and Rivi (Premio Italino Video clip Indipendente).
It was an obviously an elated and fulfilled Sonia after the energy sapping performance who sat down for an engaging and racy conversation with this reporter on on her new work and career issues.
Coming home... ‘I Am Scared’
Says Sonia of her work, “I am a songwriter and I know that it is not so easy to make your work have so telling an impact on the audience. They are used to certain songs and taste but appreciating what I have done I think is very good for my career. You don’t just go on stage to sing but you have to give the people a message, a value and cultural feel to hold on to. They understand me so well, my expressions, my movements and sensations. It is strange though but it is nice as well because they feel the energy, soul and spirit of my music.”
On how she intends to break into the local Nigerian market, Sonia who is currently in the country for two months to promote the work, says she is was going home February 6, to “launch her work, go on concert tour round the country and then sit” with her Nigerian promoter to strategise on how best to launch her musical career in her fatherland, where she is not too known, having been away in the past two decades.
However, not knowing how she would be received back home, she says scares her. “I am not too confident — to be frank with you. I am quite scared because I have had some horrible experiences before but I can’t stay back here because of that.
“I just want see how it works out. The Nigerians here (Italy) see my music and they encourage and challenge me to go out there. So I am going out there to feel and taste the market. It is my motherland and fatherland but I am a stranger there.’’
Even as she rues her not-too-surefooted reception in motherland, her appeal to the critical mass of Nigerian musical industry is to be given the opportunity to present her work and see how it goes from there. ‘’I am not saying appreciate my music but at least listen to my work and then decide whether to appreciate it or not.’’