Debbie and I are sitting across each other in a co-working space in Yaba. She’s on a virtual call, her voice silently muted so our exchange won’t be heard by her other colleagues also in the meeting but she’s cautious enough not to mute what’s been said so she can faintly follow the conversation and won’t be caught off-guard when she’s called upon.
Few hours back, we had engaged in a convo on Instagram, with her inquiring if I wouldn’t be stressed coming over to her working space from where I reside. Seeing her now, she’s the perfect description of that person who cares just enough, the passionate professional navigating a career in the music industry, as a drummer and also in the corporate world, as a banker.
When I ask Debbie about her journey into the music world, like most artists, she ascribes it to church, playing a major influence. “I started in my local church then,” she calmly recollects in a low soothing tone. “My parents were active in church, we used to go to church a lot.”
Even while being regular in church didn’t mean she aspired or always wanted to be a drummer. It was all as a result of a rare opportunity. Debbie remembers how the main drummer was absent on a Sunday and with how awkward worship sessions would sound like without drum beats, Debbie was prodded by her mum that fateful sabbath day and she stepped onto the challenge. “It was because I used to beat a lot of things at home.” It won’t end there. Debbie would remember been motivated by that performance and would develop a fondness for YouTube, endlessly watching tutorials and in church on Sunday, she would learn from other drummers by studying their technique and drumming patterns.
Debbie’s virtual call is still ongoing, and out of the blue I ask how she does it—coupling a 9-5 job with a career in the music industry. She says “it is crazy,” recollecting periods where she has to go to work but there’s a show she has to play at, later in the evening. “It means as I’m coming from home, I have to pack some clothes in my bag and head straight to the show after close of work.” Sometimes she admits taking a break from work, “I’ll tell them I’m coming while I just run off for a show,” she jokes about it. Yet, she has understanding colleagues who are also followers on Instagram and amidst all this, she can’t pull up a lazy attitude. “I’m always at my A-game at work.”
After Debbie left school, her first opportunity to utilize her drumming skills came through BOUQUI, the gospel rapper. The artist had put out word on Twitter. And it was specific: She was looking for a female drummer. Unknown to Debbie who didn’t see that tweet at first, she noticed her notifications piled up with people tagging her handle in the comments box of that tweet. Later, BOUQUI would call her, requesting her presence the next day in Lagos. Debbie, serving in Abeokuta then would travel to Lagos the next morning. Getting to the venue where she was to showcase her skills for BOUQUI, Debbie recalled it wasn’t all smooth that night. “Trust me, my audition was trash because it was my first time playing Hip-Hop,” she says. “But BOUQUI took it upon herself to train me.”
From BOUQUI, she would soon become “in-demand,” been Frank Edwards’s drummer for a while and in between that there was a rare meet with Mavins Head, Don Jazzy. She sums up all these “feats” to result of the videos she regularly posts on Instagram back then, chalking it up to consistency. “Even with this 9-5, there’s a passion I have for music,” she starts speaking on her consistency. “So I keep playing, I keep putting out content online. If I post a video today, my old followers would see it, but not only them. New people would see it also and maybe follow.”
While to some, Debbie’s career has been on a steady growth, the challenges she encountered at the beginning was stifling. Slightly raising her head up as to remember a year when she met Frank Edwards, she recalls how her parents stopped her from going on a tour with the gospel singer in 2015. It began from a little exchange from Instagram and then Frank Edwards who had something to do in Abuja at the time, came to her place of worship to meet with her for the first time. One of the things that was talked about was Debbie joining Frank on a tour outside of the country. Debbie was in, joyously, but her parents—she was residing with them at the time—refused, disagreeing with the idea of her going on a tour with a male artist. Debbie had to succumb, leading to her missing out. “It was one of the reasons why I had to leave home in Abuja to stay on my own in Lagos.” Later, she did a few shows for Frank Edwards after moving to Lagos.
Before I throw the next question, it seems Debbie’s attention is being called upon in the virtual call. She answers a few questions before the coordinator moves on from her and another colleague’s name is called. Her eyes move from her phone back to me, a signal of “so where did we stop.” I was about to ask her about the Don Jazzy story so we resumed with that. “How did that happen?” I was curious. Again, “Instagram”
she says. She tries to remember the exact year, but she leaves it between 2013 and 2014. The Mavin head had stumbled on her through Instagram, following her. That notification would make her ecstatic for the whole day, not until she saw a DM from one of the record’s label producers, Babyfresh. An invite to the headquarters followed. And then on the appointed day, she paints that scenery of how she conversed with Don Jazzy in the studio, in his usual funny tone. What marked that day as one of the most memorable days of her life was when Don Jazzy asked her about how frequent she practices, “I told him I rehearse in church and he was like ‘ah ah that’s not enough’ and he asked me how much would it cost me to buy drums? We were just talking and then when I was leaving, he handed over cash to me, with the instructions “make sure you buy your drums.”
Debbie’s past is punctuated with experiences of playing for some of the nation’s best artistes. In her, there’s that bubbling excitement when she talks about what and who she’s worked with. So when I inquire, “But what made those things happen, what abilities or skills helped you get to where you are right now?” She holds her chin up, her eyeballs rolled up as if she’s looking inside her cerebrum for an answer deeply enclosed within that compartment. “Consistency,” she blurts out. Relationships she says has helped a lot too, telling me about how it helped with an endorsement gig she nicked last year from a company in Turkey. She ultimately whittles it down to those two factors.
Before Covid-19 took full effect, Debbie went on a multinational tour with Rudeboy. I had to stop her and ask, “tell me how that happened
too.” She can’t exactly say what year it was when she met Rudeboy but she had become friends with the singer before his split from the group “P-Square.” Officially they began working together in 2018 after the split and he wanted an all-female band. With Debbie, being a friend, he had reached out inquiring if she had female friends who could play other instruments. Calls were made to her friends, a session scheduled and they would all go to his studio for a meet. They vibed and ever since then, she’s become his female drummer, traversing continents with the singer.
That would come to a brief halt due to Covid. Shows and concerts are the main source of revenues for artists, especially for those who play with a live band. With Covid disrupting it all, it means artists and their bands are without their primary source of income. Debbie however holds a different view. After not being able to tour since last year, she began learning more about the music business and to her “shows are just one out of 40 ways creatives can make money from their content.” She admits a knowledge gap exists with many instrumentalists lacking the knowledge on how to monetize their craft fully. During the lockdown, she was involved in a lot of online meets where she conversed with others drummers and instrumentalists and she noticed a trend: “many believe that as long as they’re putting in the work to develop the art, it will sell itself.” Debbie counters that with her self-knitted belief: “it’s one thing to develop a product, it’s another thing to sell that product.”
With time running out and more people crowding this lounge we’re seated in, I ask Debbie how she feels about women not being given much opportunities in the Nigerian society. Currently there’s no female Nigerian governor and in some spaces, employers prefer to hire males than
females. “Those organizations who do that are the ones losing.” Still, she says women have to work twice as hard if they want to get to where they want to
be. “It’s what I’ve done too, making sure I’m on top of my game so I can be seen.” She goes on to share some of her thoughts on issues but our meeting is close to 2 hours now and when I stand up to leave, Debbie is actively following the discussion on the virtual call.
This article was written by Olabode Otolorin; connect on Instagram with him here