That African Boy

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Okolo Miracle

In order to be the most valuable person to the world around us, we first have to know who we are, what we value and in effect, what we have to offer. This personal journey is a process that involves shedding layers that serve no purpose in our lives. It involves recognizing who we want to be and passionately going about fulfilling our unique destiny.

That’s Okolo Miracle Obiechina or Swazzi! Singer, songwriter, model, actor, fashion consultant, fashion entrepreneur with a Bachelors in Accountancy!

From seeking refuge behind his mother’s apron strings to humming numbers for record-breaking musical strings, Swazzi has indeed influenced the music scenario since he recorded his first song at the age of 16. His presence is palpable in tracks recorded across the continent as he continues to keep releasing awe-inspiring music. Hailing from West Africa, signed onto Thugluvin Records, Swazzi took the industry by storm with his hit track “Elele”, followed by “Skolo”, of which he also released a remix featuring “Windeck” crooner Cabo Snoop. The singer is well versed with Swahili, French & Portuguese apart from his Nigerian Languages and he uses them all for his songs.

Having featured in a movie titled ‘Mirage’ by Avalon Okpe alongside other prominent names in the industry; it is his fashion brand ‘Look Different Marque’ that seems to be creating waves. The dreamy eyed soft-spoken multi-talented singer has varied interests, all of which he shoulders with élan. A confirmed foodie that dribbles at the thought of spicy African food, a mental health advocate with the desire to work and spread awareness on the subject in the coming years, a wannabe author with plans in place – I admit, two hours were not enough to get to know Swazzi.

Let us begin with the oft-repeated question, yet an important one to get to know our guest better. Tell us something about yourself that your fans and followers do not know already.
In terms of business, not many know that I have a styling company, an agency that is into styling, consultation and branding. We deal with some celebrities and prominent brands. I am also working on my personal fashion line along with my sister.
The other thing people do not know about me is that I am a ‘BIG’ foodie. I think of food all the time, ‘Jollof’ being one of my favourite dishes, of which I also made a song (drools). I make it a point to enjoy my meals, and look after myself. I am my priority, my health and well-being is my priority. I always try to find a balance around my work and my personal life. I spend time with people I love, I party (not wildly though – remember balance is the key word), go to a spa, basically do stuff that gives me peace. I take time off to read and reinvent myself.
I am a mental health advocate and even if I work seven days a week all 24 hours I will still find another 24 hours, to take care of myself, to pamper myself. There is a saying in my region that translates like this – there may be wood for firewood but if there is no fire – the wood is of no use.
Have you been to the UAE? What was your favourite part of being here?
I have visited the UAE twice – once I came on vacation and the other, I was there for an African music fest. I stayed for over a month and had a lot of fun. Things were expensive for Nigerian standards, but I had fun shopping.
The thing I liked the most about UAE was the co-existence of the old and the new. The beauty of the old is still palpable while the country has made so much progress in the last 50 years. I used to be mesmerized wherever I went because I love connecting with the roots of the places I visit. The people were so friendly and full of warmth. The country is a great host to its visitors.

In one of your Instagram posts recently, you mentioned seeing your mother after two years! Tell us about your family, a little about your background.
I am the first child in a family of four boys and two girls. While my sister and I run the fashion business, my other siblings are still young and studying. While I am living in Lagos at the moment, my hometown is on the outskirts of Lagos. Last two years have been very busy plus the lockdown. I have not seen my family in two long years and was missing my mother terribly. I usually spend Christmas with my family, which also did not happen the last two years. I had many work commitments.
Cutting a long story short – I got my mom to spend time here with me. All I do now is eat more, because she cooks all of my favourite food.
You have mentioned somewhere; your father was not supportive of your interest in music when you were a kid.
I mentioned that I am the eldest amongst the siblings. Being the eldest and a son over that, there are a lot of expectations and responsibilities. Like a typical father, my father too wanted me to have big goals, set on a high career path, achieve and do things he personally could not do. My dad actually wanted me to be a lawyer and it was hard for him to accept the fact, and imagine – my interests were different. Question was how would you make money by being a singer! He did not see music as a profession at all.
I still remember, as a child I would be writing songs (my diaries used to be full of songs), playing music or singing tunes. The moment I would feel my dad’s presence, I would stop and pick up a book. It was difficult to convince him, but my mother played a huge role in that. He agreed gradually but insisted I graduate and then I would be free to do whatever I wished. In fact, he gave me the money for my first recording – that was 3 million in Nigerian currency, a huge amount.
Once I used up my school fees to pay for my recording. But hey, I worked odd jobs and made up for it.

From denial to acceptance, how has the journey been so far?
Once I had my father’s support, things got easier. In fact he wanted me to go to the UK for further studies, but I persisted and stayed back to explore my dreams. One thing led to another, from music to fashion to branding. It has not been all smooth; I have had my difficulties in business, with the people I worked with; my team but also learnt a lot in the interim. When you start savouring success, you want to try more, you are not afraid to leap. I did that as well, by reinventing myself and trying out different things that I felt I could do.
I started looking into some other things apart from music as I started making some money. Two years ago I even opened a restaurant and a friend was running it until last year. We had our setback when COVID hit, but again it is up and running. My parents’ support has helped me build my confidence to try out what I want to do, including business. I am not scared of trying out something new because I know, ultimately the learning process makes you grow. And yes! I have made my parents proud.

Where would you say your inspirations come from?
I was only 10 years old when I realized my penchant for singing. I would listen to songs and be enamoured by the singers. In fact, things around me inspire me. In my new EP (Extended Play, a mini album), just released titled ‘African boy’, it is all about the years of doing music, things I loved, stuff I did while discovering myself. I do not just want to record songs because every other person is doing it. I want my music to last for years to come. I have had my share of vicissitudes, my struggles to reach where I have now. I had to undergo a complete breakdown to discover what I really want to do.
At what stage would you say your career actually took shape, where you felt – Yes! I have arrived!
That was 4 years ago when I recorded one of my hit songs and I became an overnight sensation. Everywhere I went people started recognizing me, people in Nigeria, the local TV stations and there came a point where I could not even go out alone for a walk. That was when I knew I had made it, and had made my parents proud. My mom called me after watching the video and that was such a good moment of my life. So yeah – that is when I had arrived.
You are a model, an entrepreneur, been in a movie, a singer songwriter – what do you like to do the most?
Oh yeah! What I like the most is being a creative entrepreneur. I love being in business, the business of dabbling in music, the business of creating fashion, the business of creating trends, the business of branding – all these and much more – come under one umbrella. Influencing gives me joy on different levels. Working on my own fashion label, helping other brands grow, advocating for mental health – they all give me a sense of satisfaction. I am so happy for being able to do so much and doing them so well. Each day I keep learning and growing. Meeting diverse needs of people, planning, problem solving, connecting with different kinds of people is a great way of exploring your creativity.
Is that how you got Miss Nigeria to feature in one of your albums?
Yes…yes…(bellows in laughter) That song also mentions Jollof (my favourite dish).
Sings the song:
“Love ni ni wantiti…My baby my chikalana wantiti…My love no be nwatiti…
What kind of love is this…E de sweet like jedi jedi…See girl you sweet pass Nigerian jollof o”

When I wanted to shoot the video, I just checked with her (Miss Nigeria) if she was in the country and had the time to join me. Because of the lockdown, she was unable to travel and was in the country. That’s how the video got shot, in the space behind my house. By the way, she was Miss World Africa.
Do you merge different genres of music or experiment with music?
Well, I do sing in different languages like Swahili, French, Portuguese and of course, English. I have over the years of making music, experimented a lot and have tried out different methods. In fact, I have collaborated with some Indian groups now. When you see my studio, you will know how much experimenting I have done. I am considering releasing a big space collection of all the experimented songs, so people can see how versatile our work is. My fan base is not just here in Nigeria, is not just here in Africa, I have an audience outside, including the Caribbean, Instagram followers. It is important to keep experimenting and be as versatile as possible. Your work should surprise you first, then you are ready to present it to the world.
Having said that, I understand not everyone loves African music, some find African music say – noisy. But the mindset is changing, and that thought gives me a lot of joy. When I see African songs on the top 100 billboard charts, I get a sense of satisfaction. When I see independent artists trying to make it to the mainstream, I can sense the struggle they are going through. There is R&B, hip-hop, rap – and it is so difficult trying to introduce genres to the world. Thanks to social media, the world has opened up and has accepted the ethnicity of Africa, because there is a lot of talent out there waiting to be discovered.
What is a typical day for Swazzi like?
From morning to night, it is work, work and more work. The one thing I am very particular about is my prayer time. Even when I don’t feel like praying, I play gospel in the background, and that lifts up my spirits. Each day is mostly about coordinating with my staff, planning, executing, consulting, creating, meeting my producer; discuss ideas on songs and so on. Most importantly, I am always working on a plan – there is no dull moment. So yeah that’s what it is – always work – no days off.
I also know how to take care of myself, so I would just go to a spa to rejuvenate, or pick up a book and go to the conservation centre, a place nearby that is full of greenery and serene. I will switch off my phone and focus on my book, and when done reading. I devote a lot of time to reading about successful people and draw inspiration from that.
Nevertheless, the most important thing any day is connecting with God, with the almighty. I feel that the wealth everything we have comes from God comes from Allah, and we need to take that time to express gratitude, irrespective of whatever we are doing.

Is there something you haven’t done so far and would like to do?
Yes. Two things.
One – write a book. The book will be about the entertainment industry to help struggling entertainers. A lot of people out there go through tough times trying to build a brand for themselves. In my journey, I have discovered a lot working for myself, for my personal brand and while working for others. All this experience can be put to good use, not just for myself but also for the new artists into this industry. I really want to write a book that will inspire young entertainers, while letting them know the good, bad and the ugly.
The second – work towards creating an awareness towards mental health.
I had been through a couple of difficulties, including a breakup. My song ‘Baby don blow’ was about my last relationship and it is like a breakup song I made at my lowest moment. That song helped express myself through music but there was a time when I did not want to finish the song and my producer pushed me to do so. I was low and extremely depressed. I do have family, friends and well-wishers. The point is, I had a way to vent out my feelings. I also sought help and got over it.
In future, I have plans of having maybe like a foundation that would work towards creating an awareness on mental health. People in this part of the world are not open to the idea of seeking therapy or external support; therefore, problems such as these often go undetected. A large number of people are undergoing depression, large number of people die of suicide large number of people die of different things because why did happen they don’t want to reach out to anyone they feel like not talking to anyone. They are afraid of the stigma attached to it.
Mental health is very important and people need help for healing. I want to do that.
What are you currently working on, what is your next project?
I am working on my own fashion brand, launching my fashion line with my sister. I am planning to join a fashion school (mostly in Dubai) because I want to improve my knowledge.
Most importantly, I am working on my music videos. I feel that music is not just about dancing; it is about expressing yourself, expressing how you feel and expressing how other people are. The music I create must elevate them. I have two or three songs that I am working on currently; based on things I have been through.
You have a huge fan following on Instagram, 108 K followers! So what does this number mean to you?
Well….I am a big fan of the belief that if I don’t inspire you don’t follow me! If my work is not liked or appreciated, then it is bad energy for me as well as for you – the audience. I wish to be better each day and I think this number of people follow me, perhaps because they appreciate my craft. It is my job to give them the content they deserve, stick to my originality and do things right. These numbers matter, I have worked hard towards achieving them, and would continue to work hard.

Your message to all your fan followers, people that look up to you…
Thank you so much for all the love bestowed on me. And for those that dream big – keep your dreams alive, never give up. If you fail ‘A’, try ‘B’…or ‘C’. Do not limit yourself – keep trying. There is no age limit to success, there should be nothing like ‘impossible’ in your dictionary. Learn to invest in yourself because when you invest in yourself people will want to invest in you.

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Photo by: Dabibi

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