A week before our hour-long conversation over Zoom, Cece was hunkered down in her house in New York reeling from a snowball of varying emotions. Within that period, she had sent out word to her team—she wasn’t interested in releasing her debut project, one she’s spent over two years recording. But what could have happened? Cece had lost her beloved father that week.
Who Is Cece?
Before our conversation, I had switched over to my Apple Music app to have a listen of the two songs on her artist profile. The new single is a love-soaked record, featuring versatile Nigerian rapper, Dremo and US artist, K camp. She tells me the record is getting a lot of love on streaming platforms, a result of the song’s affectionate feel and her being adept at strategy. “Apple Music, last week was like 90k streams,” she discloses. “Spotify isn’t really big in Nigeria, so I understand when I release a song I know where to promote it, I know where it’s going to buzz.”
Cece born Chinasa Nwokocha isn’t just an artist. She’s a boss and she acts that way. Owning two franchises all with the name Ataria—Ataria Entertainment and Ataria Clothing—she’s learned quite a whole lot from doing business. Speaking from her base in New York, working a 9-5 at SONY Music and managing artists together with proffering advice and A&R services to upcoming talents, I wonder what her day would be like. Maybe a bunch of back to back mails and loads of messages and unanswered phone calls. It’s the business of being a boss.
Navigating the music space as a female
Asides from those business-oriented minor issues, there are ones that emanate from a gender disadvantage. I shoot a question on if she’s had challenges being a woman oscillating in a sphere dominated by men. I expected a different response. She’s in New York, not Nigerian music industry where either a record label guy or a prominent industry “el chapo” is asking for a session, not in the studio but elsewhere. She disagrees. It’s the same everywhere even in New York. “In America, we are maybe just two steps ahead but it’s not completely different from Nigeria,” she says. “The only thing is, the way America is set up, a woman can go and do it on her own, which is like what happened with me. When I first started even with my clothing brand, it vexed so many men, they won’t admit it.”
She goes ahead to tell me a story of how she invited Mr Eazi to one of her clothing shows and this was a time in 2016 when the Banku singer was on a wave. That invitation made people glow in hate towards her. They wondered how she was able to pull that move off and next thing was the same people started making plans to take Mr Eazi to other states in the US. “Because I don already cover New York so it made a lot of people vex.”
Cece goes on to talk about her experiences in the industry. But this time it comes with a feeling of fear when it comes to dealings with men. The sensual demands are there, the rumors continue and the non-display of respect. It’s tough in the industry already but it’s more tough when you’re a woman. Cece acknowledges men are at the forefront of the music industry and one of their duties sometimes is to assist women also scale up the ladder of their musical journey. “Men are the gatekeepers. Davido signing Liya and all that stuff, that’s what has to happen in order for those conversations to change and women just also have to understand they’re also the assets, they’re also the prize, you can get where you need to get to in life without your legs open. And I hope that I can be that example and be able to bring more women on board.”
10-Hour Studio Lockdown with upcoming talents
Earlier in 2021, Cece made one of her ideas happen. She called it “studio lockdown”, an idea that sprung one morning, brought to life on Clubhouse and facilitated by some music execs. “One day I just woke up and said it will be so dope to see what different artists will do in the room together. There’s this app called Clubhouse, so I just went to a Clubhouse room, and I announced that this is what I wanted to do, there were some execs in the room, the execs really like what I wanted to do, they gave us free studios that we can work at, a bunch of artists I’ve never met, a bunch of producers I’ve never met in my life just came together, producers sent me beats, I had my beats as well, and whatever artist came and it was free.”
There were over a dozen artists in the studio that night, Cece tells me with her joyful voice. She’s humbled owing to the fact that these were artists, producers she’s never met before. And they all displayed much enthusiasm, wanting to impress her. “At the time I had four songs from my project that I hadn’t finished, that I had ideas for that I hadn’t finished. I didn’t have any expectations, but I saw that as an opportunity for me to connect with new artists, give some upcoming talents some opportunity, see what everyone can bring to the table. The turn out was amazing, the vibe was amazing, these artists were nervous but once I spoke, everyone wanted to do well for me, and I felt so humbled. The guys were like ‘yo cece, what do you think about this’ it was amazing to see all these men show me so much respect.”
Frustrations as a music executive
Like any creative or entrepreneur, there are times when frustrations seeps in but we have this wall of resistance that enables us to push through. But sometimes that wall can come crashing down one day. Cece experienced this a week before our conversation. She had lost her dad and it isn’t something to just ignore or move on with. “There’s been countless times when I wanted to give up. I don’t think any of it compares to like last week,” she solemnly says.
“Last week I was on the finishing line of my project and usually when you’re on the finishing line, the devil just comes, trying to figure out a way to stop you from completing what you want to complete. It’s a lot of complications. It really discouraged me because I’m working full time at Sony, I’m managing artists full time, I’m working on a project that has 19 artists and I’m dealing with the loss of a father planning a funeral, so it was really a lot. I’m only one person and I feel like anyone my age shouldn’t be going through all these things and it took a toll on my spirit. I really sent a message to my team, and I’m like I’m not releasing this project, I can’t. And I just went MIA for the rest of the week.”
Her debut album
It was a gloomy period for Cece. Her project however offers hope, like an assurance that better things are on the way. She says it’s almost done and has a couple of trendy Nigerian acts on it. There’s Ayo Jay, Badboy Timz, Bella Shmurda paired with some upcoming talents from the US and the UK. “The vibe is a mix of my background. You’ll get the hip hop record, you’ll get the trap record, then you’ll get a trap record that has afrobeats on it. It’s like artists you’ll never guess will be on a track but their different expertise made it a hit. Like Afrobeat but still relative to my Uk and American sensibilities.”
When I ask her what we should expect from her in 2021, Cece’s headspace is all about her debut album. She talks parties, taking a vacation and uplifting more women. “After my project is done, I’m not going to lie, I wanna take a long vacation because it’s like a two year long coming, I think the rest of the year would be just focused around pushing this project because we have Xmas in Nigeria coming and things are opening up now and I’m getting prepared to have these concerts for everyone on my project, music videos, different events, different parties, like I have a whole year plan of events that I want to do but in terms of like making music again, I’m not going to lie, I’m taking a strong year off. I’m just going to push this record and help other people make their dreams come true. At the end of the day, I’m a producer and talent manager first before being an artist.”
This article was written by Olabode Otolorin; connect on Instagram with him here