Born Joy Eseoghene Odiete J’odie Is a soulful vocalist with an exceptional ability to communicate her deepest emotions and perceptions using very simple, yet symbolic words. Her style borders on soft, mid- tempo, colored with string instruments that give her sound an overall sweet and soulful appeal.
Joy Odiete J’odie was born into a Christain home – her father being a pastor,naturally skewed her towards church music. J’odie came into the limelight after her participation in the maiden edition of the West African Idols competition and came top 10 alongside Nigerian musicians such as Timi Dakolo and Omawumi in 2007. She released her first debut single Kuchi Kuchi (Oh baby) in 2007, which grew to be a hit song, as both young and old, within and beyond the African continent came to know the song as an anthem in both family and romantic gatherings.
J’odie toured countries such as The Gambia, serenading African Women in Leadership Organisation (AWLO) Conference, South Africa where she also shot one of her music videos “Sugar Coconut” Sierra Leone and Liberia among others. She took a break from music to cater to her special needs child, and has since become an advocate for parents with similar lived experience.
Joy Odiete J’odie went viral recently when she shared her story online and asked Nigerians to support her . The songstress shares her inspiring story with Esther Ijewere in this exclusive interview.
If you mean what I do in the musical part of my life, I’d say a big “Yes!” I sang almost everyday, because I grew up a pastor’s kid, and we all (nuclear and some extended) have the musical talent in my family. In the area of advocacy, which was born out of my becoming a mother to a special-needs kid, I would say “No!”
My passion for music
It felt like the natural course of nature for me, though I never knew I could choose to make it an actual profession, because of my religious background. However, after many years of being stuck in the triangular routine of home-church-school, I got tired and wanted something else out of life.
After my first degree in Unilag, I stumbled upon an advert on television – the West African Idols! I didn’t know there was a show as such – I wasn’t even familiar with the American Idols show prior to that advert, but it was catchy and also gave me the idea of an “escape”. I was afraid at first, as I thought my dad wouldn’t let me go for the auditions, but he, surprisingly, did.
Singing on that “bright” stage made me realise, for the first time, “I want to do this!” “I want to sing for the rest of my life!” “I want this to be my profession!” The experience also gave me the audacity to start; because, I met many faces – I only used to see on TV, in real life. It made me believe my new dream was possible. Sometimes, you already have what it takes, but it could be a huge boost to meet or interact with people you perceive to be “high-up-there” to give you the courage to try.
Why I took a break from music
Lots and lots of reasons. But before I give any reason, every artist isn’t going to have a long professional life span. It’s really okay to go on a hiatus or retire early and change profession – if it’s best for you. Artistes are humans too and go through challenges like everyone else. In fact, the challenges could be aggravated due to public attention. Art requires time and patience among other factors.
That being said, being the mother to a special-needs kid required more of my time and so I gave it. It’s like I’ve been to a different “school” for six years and I am still learning; hence, I see life differently, compared to life prior to this phase. I dare say this special “6-year program” has made my life more meaningful and I would not change it if I were asked to relive my life again. Tough, Yes! But the depth is nourishing to the soul.
Seeking for support publicly
An accumulation of pain, anger and frustration!!! Being the parent of a special-needs kid in Nigeria is not easy – especially if you are not very wealthy in finances. In fact, I’ll be blatant: being the parent of a special-needs kid in this country is super tough. The problem is not the child. The problem is the lack of societal support. When you have a special-needs kid, especially the severe cases, you need support – no matter how tough you think you are, else you break down.
I have some support – family, but I found it difficult for six years – in spite of my support system. It’s expensive and emotionally draining.
A lot of fathers run away (few mothers do), leaving only one person to handle a task that is already overwhelming for two people. There is stigmatization – some people would call the mothers “witches” and avoid any contact with a child with special needs. It may not seem a big deal, as I say it, but it is emotionally crushing when you are being accused of something you do not even understand.
The general healthcare system is poor for an average citizen: you can imagine what it feels like for families that need “special” attention – especially considering that hospitals are like a second home. The roads make it difficult for mobility – even if you could afford wheelchairs, how do you navigate? Many schools do not embrace inclusion, while the ones that do are very expensive. Feeding the child is also very expensive and a tedious physical exercise: some of them can’t even eat through their mouths.
Diapers usage, for some, are for a lifetime – yet, diaper companies celebrate only “normal-looking” babies – even though special families are their enduring customers. I took time to mention this point, just so you see that every person or organization in this country can play a positive role in order to change the narrative concerning kids with special needs. The list is long, but I’ll stop here.
I had the audacity to speak out not just because of me and my son, but because I thought about people who don’t even have any support system. It is too much pain to bear – your ability to earn is threatened or crushed, yet your bills are higher than an average citizen’s.
Inspiration behind my song “Kuchi Kuchi”
I wanted to write about love in a different light. At the time, I wasn’t romantically in any relationship with anyone, hence writing a love song, which my producer suggested, felt like a lie to me. I needed to feel and imagine it before expressing it. I, however, was able to imagine myself as a mother and what I’d think of my baby, hence the song. The term “Kuchi Kuchi” represents baby language. It’s conventionally spelt “Coochy Coo”.
Other projects and activities
I run an online shop for hair care products that are great for African hair via www.kuchikuchi.shop or @kuchihair on IG. I am very creative with my hands, hence I craft accessories on @spiceandcharm on IG.
Presently, I’m gathering knowledge on how to help other special mothers like me – I believe, for the first time, I have found my purpose. I did what I could do on a humble scale by doing giveaways for special mothers and organizing an online competition, titled #SpecialKuchi on my Facebook, Tiktok and IG platforms @JodieGreat. In this competition, special mothers dance with their special-needs kids using the new version of my debut song, titled “Kuchi Kuchi (Special Version)” – now available on online stores and platforms. The winner’s prize was N50,000, while other participants in the top 20 list got consolation cash prizes as well. This was to encourage women to openly celebrate their special-needs kids – many are ashamed, because of the stigma. I also galvanized singers to sing a theme song, titled “Special Mothers” (yet to be released) to create awareness and to celebrate families on this journey. These were made possible by donations that Nigerians, both at home and in the diaspora, made – and I’m grateful.
I’m working towards more sustainable ways to help. I think when you find yourself in certain challenges, it can open your heart to have a strong yearning to pull others out of the difficulties you have faced.
My coping mechanism as a special-needs mom
I am blessed with a supportive family, a capable nanny and a gifted doctor; hence, I’m able to focus on providing for my son’s needs. It’s still not a walk in the park, but my consolation is that his priority needs are being met.
How the industry has supported me since I called out for help
The idea behind my outburst wasn’t for people to help only “me” – it was to direct attention to the challenges of special mothers. It turned out that people started offering to help – I initially rejected it, but it became a turn off. When I eventually accepted help, I was glad I listened, because it gave me the strength to sing again; to take some rest, because my health was fragile for a long time, due to stress and trauma. It also gave me HOPE: I am truly grateful.
Having said that, this would be excellent support from the entertainment industry: to promote my songs henceforth and to give me choice platforms to showcase my talent, ensuring I am well paid. This is a form of empowerment, because I do not see myself as just the mother of Chinua, I represent countless parents who have kids like my son. My financial empowerment would positively affect the lives of many families, because I understand the pain.
How my participation in West African Idols impacted my life
I mentioned earlier that being on the West African Idols platform made me realize I could make a profession out of my musical talent. I’d like to coin it this way, “Being on the West African Idols platform helped me articulate a dream”. The “articulation” was indeed for personal clarity; because, before then, I had not defined a pathway for myself.
What I wish to change in the Music industry
Talent should be appreciated. There’s this popular statement, “Talent is not enough”. It’s factual! However, the industry has taken it too far, creating an imbalance. Over the years, it appears talent has been relegated: it’s mostly more about connections and network. Life’s not fair, but more value should be placed on talent too, so that we would have much more qualitative art masterpieces in the public domain.
To Special-needs mom with no support system
Don’t give up! Years back, the topic of “special-needs” was more silent, but now we are talking about it. While talk is not the solution, it just tells us there’s a gradual mindset shift. It’s super slow, but it’s taking place. Just keep doing what you can do for now – therapy sessions, seek help from people around and be in touch with NGOs that have your challenges on their agenda… look for other special mothers like you- this is for emotional reasons.
Also, instead of focusing on magical “cures”, focus on managerial care for the affected child, this is because many people are out there, who would take advantage of your vulnerability and desperation; and extort you of money that you don’t even “have”. Accept that some of these health challenges may be for life, but with consistent managerial care (therapy, nutrition, etc), the child’s condition would likely improve, no matter how slow. But you already know this, so the challenge is to stay positive as you go on this long journey. You’ve come all this way… don’t stop now!
The society and its reception of special-needs parents
Societies can get used to concepts through media influence – the concept of embracing special-needs kids and even adults can be artistically and gradually infused in our films, musical videos, etc. More people now embrace albinism (compared to how it used to be), because of the power of the media. I have never seen someone with vitiligo, for example, but because I’ve been seeing cases online, it feels like I’ve known people with the skin condition for a long time.
That can be replicated in this case. And I enjoin every person of influence to take a chunk off this task – we mostly don’t plan to be special parents, but one’s offspring may become a special parent and this “help” (societal acceptance, support, world-class institutions of free care facilities) I keep talking about would be life-saving to them.
Also, schools need to be more inclusive – this would help youngsters grow up feeling natural around people living with special needs, and likely be more helpful adults – not just stare or stigmatize affected individuals.
Being a Woman of Rubies
I represent the mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and aunties and uncles… of the special-needs children of Nigeria. My dream is to ensure that every state in Nigeria has free world-class facilities (day or boarding), where special-needs kids can be cared for, so that special mothers can have a fighting chance in life.
Follow Joy Odiete J’odie on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to know more about her work with special needs kids.