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Ugoccie: I Want to Be Among People Holding It Down for Indigenous Music

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“Onome dey do hookup o/ she come tell me sey na because of condition/ Without hookup, some girls go suffer/ Whether na for road or for Lekki Garden, she must to hammer…” anyone familiar with the megacity of Lagos would have surely observed the mega business of commercial sex silently booming across town.

With ambiguous laws surrounding its legality, as well as weak law enforcement, Nigeria’s commercial sex industry continues to thrive in plain sight. It is even scarier when one realises the chunk of young women – over 100, 000 according to the United Nations – who are currently involved in the trade.

For people like the 25-year-old chanteuse, Favour Anosike, professionally known as Ugoccie, these fears are more closer than we imagine. When one considers the lethal risks involved with the ‘hustle’, it is easier to understand why such advocacy becomes the heart of the beat for her latest single, Hookup. 

Ugoccie’s rise to stardom has been one of the most beautiful things to watch in recent times. With a clearly audacious hit-woven discography, the Abia State born singer and rapper has become one of the finest additions to the league of female musicians in Nigeria. After seizing the spotlight with her hit singles, Breakfast featuring Phyno, and Obi Cubana, last year, the singer has already scored her first nomination at the Headies, for the Rookie of the Year category. 

Like in Hookup, Ugoccie’s artistry continues to stand out for its neo-highlife flavour, its rich storytelling and catchy instrumentation. With Ugoccie’s groove, it is always an impressive and exciting encounter with the world. And, as we sit down to chat with the independent singer for this week’s Guardian Music Special, we step into her own world, discovering the stories behind her hit records, her roots, her awe-inspiring idiosyncrasies, as well as her vision to become a beacon of hope for other young female singers and so many more. 

What are you up to right now in your career? 
TODAY, I am doing a studio session in the next hour; I haven’t even had anything to eat all day. I am trying to get my EP together; so I am doing a lot of studio sessions today. Generally, I am still promoting my new single, Hookup. I am trying to start a new campaign letting people know I am in Lagos. It is called The Ugoccie Lagos Experience. 

How long have you been recording this EP?
I actually started in February. I just want to have a lot of options to pick from. I want to have like 50 songs to select from. I currently have over 30 songs; I want to pick out 6. 

How often do you make new music? 
I am always making music; I don’t really wait until I need to put out a project. This is my debut project and I want to give it my all. I have always been putting out my freestyle and singles. I have my own studio in my house. I could do like two songs in a day. In a week, I always record new music. 

Your new song, Hookup, is quite controversial, what’s the idea behind it?
I put out the song as a tribute to a friend that I lost in 2019. I didn’t even know that she was dead, until this year. In 2019, there was a guy who was on a rampage killing girls in Port Harcourt; his name is Gracious David West. He killed over 15 women. My friend was a part of them; she was a sex worker.

It was around September 2019, the guy murdered her. When I went to do my Eastern Nigeria radio tour, I found her mum and she told me that my friend was dead. I was very hurt when I found out, because my late friend and me had been out of touch for a while. I thought she didn’t even want to talk to me again. I didn’t know what had happened. It didn’t get enough media coverage, because the girl was a sex worker. None of the women who died got any justice.

When you go to the police to report sex crimes, they dismiss it saying, ‘Na Ashewo (prostitute) she be.’ I just went back home and recorded the song. I didn’t even know that my friend was into hookup (sex work) and all that. Her mum told me that things had become very hard for them and she went into all that. Eventually, she was able to fend for her family; they moved into a new house. It gave them some money, but still, she got killed.

So, putting out that song was I saying that this line of work is very risky. There is an organ trafficking ring secretly operating in Nigeria. People are going missing every day; people wake up and disappear. Apart from my friend, a lot of sex workers go missing. It is just very risky. That is the goal for me.

If you listen to the song properly, I am not judging anyone in the song. The government said that he was going to be sentenced, but someone was telling me recently that the case was dismissed. He targeted girls. It just hurts. That was why I wrote Hookup. 

Are you always making social commentary with music? How do you draw inspiration for your songs? 
Things around me inspire me; I get inspired by lists, stories or stuff around me. I could go to the club and want to talk about the person I see popping 1,000 bottles. Most of my songs are story-based; I like to tell stories. I want you to relate to what I am talking about. Even if you cannot relate directly, you would have heard it somewhere.

My EP is going to have a lot of different vibes. There would be chill music and there would be storytelling. People would see the versatile side of me. 

Your sound is very neo-highlife. Have you always been that way?
I grew up listening to oldies. My dad always played Ikem Mazeli, Paul Nwokacha, Onyeka Onwenu, Osita Osadebe. For me, it has always been storytelling. I feel like, if I jump on an Amapiano beat, you would still know that it is Ugoccie. I still have my Igbo vibe; it is very original to me.

I like adding a piece of me to everything, and that piece of me is the Igbo flavour I have. I have not been able to say what my style truly is, because I am fluid. I just like adding my culture to any beat I find myself singing on. I feel like it is what sets me apart. 

Are there other contemporary influences you have on your music?
I have a lot. I feel like every type of music works. Everyone has what inspires his/her genre. I listen to Whitney Houston, Lucky Dube and Doja Cat. I listen to Fireboy DML. I am obsessed with Doja Cat; I can relate to the fact that she is spontaneous. I love Imagine Dragons, I love Pentatonix; I admire their real sound. I love Phyno a lot; having him on one of my songs was a big deal to me. I love Flavour, I love Darkoo… I just feel like music for me is about culture.

When I listen to music, I want to tap into the culture of the singer; I blend with literally anybody. Every sound is an influence for me. I even listen to Zaazu and I see where Portable is coming from and what he is trying to communicate. There is an influence in every kind of music. 
So, tell us about how you got into music?

I am from Abia State; I am from Bende Local Council. I started music back in school; that was in 2015. I was doing my IT. I used to go to a studio in Oyigbo back in Port Harcourt; I used to be a backup vocalist for some secular acts. I was doing it without the knowledge of my aunt who I was staying with at that time.

I just started putting out some covers online. I enjoyed the art of remaking people’s songs. I remade a lot of Davido’s songs, even Duncan Mighty or 2baba. When I started radio in 2019, I did a cover of Kizz Daniel’s and Davido’s One Ticket, and it went viral.

I made my first record with Duncan Mighty. I was still going by my radio name, ITooTok. I put out my first song under my new name in 2021. I started music in 2019 and I haven’t stopped since then. 

How would you describe your experience breaking into the industry?
I am enjoying every lesson; I didn’t have any prior knowledge of the industry. I am just glad that I am getting recognition. I recently got nominated for the Headies. I used to vote for other artistes too at awards, but now I am being nominated. I was nominated for NetNg awards too. It means the world to me to see that these people can actually see what I am doing.

I am an independent woman trying to make it work in the Nigerian music scene. It is just you doing stuff. I am grateful for the reception. I tell everybody supporting me that it means a lot to me; the fact that people actually like my music means that the industry is good to me. I am wading through. It is a step-by-step thing. I am discovering things, making mistakes. I am not in a hurry. 

You grew up listening to singers, why did you delve into rap?
Rap wasn’t something I started with; it was a one-time trial thing, but people liked it. For me, it was just talking; it was something I always do. When I started to rap, people were impressed. In fact, in my upcoming EP, I intend to have some rap songs in it. 

We have fewer female rappers in the industry today. Are there any second thoughts about rap?
I have always known music is what I want to do; I would always infuse rap into my music. People love it; it is not a one-time thing. When you sing, you can’t fully express yourself, but when I drop 16 bars, I can say much more. If I don’t put it out in music, it is going to come out as content and I can still push it out. 
Take us through the stories behind your popular hits, Obi Cubana, and Breakfast, what inspired them? 

I would start with Obi Cubana. It started out as freestyle; I saw the whole buzz on the Internet when Obi Cubana was burying his late mother. I had a friend who went to the burial ceremony. However, the person she went with, who was meant to be a chaperone for her, left her and she was stranded.

When she narrated how she was beaten by bouncers and even robbed, I was just struck with inspiration; I knew I had a song right there. People liked the freestyle and I made it into a full song. Obi Cubana himself loved the song and he even supported the social media challenge. It became one of my biggest songs. People from across the world were vibing to the song. I even shared some of my revenue from the song with her.

Meanwhile, for Breakfast, I got my heart broken last year and that was how I made that song. Having Phyno on the song was unplanned. He was in Lagos and a friend reached out to me. I didn’t even know it was Phyno. He asked me to come over and I went immediately. I played my songs for him; Breakfast was the one that caught his interest. That was how we made Breakfast. It was born out of a true story of a relationship that was heading nowhere. He had enough of me and I had to go. 

What are you going to title the EP?
I am still thinking about it. I lost my mother last year, so the project would be dedicated to her. I would figure a name out. 

2So, what is the vision for Ugoccie? 
My vision for me is to be a huge household name in Nigeria. I want to be among people holding it down for indigenous music; I want to be mentioned. I am estimating two years.

I also want to inspire other young ladies to believe that there are no limits to how much you can go as a lady. As a woman in entertainment, I want other women to know that there are no boundaries. There are so many women coming up right now. There are not a lot of ladies where I am from that are into music or entertainment; I want them to see me as a beacon of inspiration. I want to be a beacon for other girls back in the East. I hear a lot of them reference me already and it makes me happy. 

Finally, tell us three things people don’t really know about you. 

I write with both hands. I cannot swim. I also do not like plantain. 

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