Mercy Ngozi Alu is an award-winning singer, songwriter, author and researcher. Her music has won several awards including the Hollywood and African Prestigious Award (HAPA) for 2021, Best Upcoming Female Artist, Africa. She won the best independent female artist in Africa in November 2021 for the Global Peace Song Awards in the United Nations. She is also a Pan-Africanist and her music reflects Nigerian culture. Speaking to Oyinkan Somorin in this interview, she talks about her music alongside reviving the reading culture in Nigeria.
I have had a calling in the aspect of singing and composing songs since early childhood. I have an extensive history in the entertainment industry although I travelled out overseas in my early teen years. But I have been very active in general within the industry as a passion and natural calling. I started as a toddler in the village when the older people would stop to listen to me sing for them. I used to lead in traditional dance groups including in primary school. Of course, I sang in church. I later joined the Urbana High School concert choir, and also recorded with Michael Day of the Champaigns, a band out of Northwest Chicago Suburbs, when I moved there for some time. I was invited to Voice of America and hosted by a former host of the Africa English-to-Africa service program. My initially recorded songs were aired in 23 countries. However, due to academia and other aspects of balancing other demands on my time, I really came back to writing and recording music in 2019.
Encounters and Challenges in the Music Industry
As a female African artist here in Nigeria, people may compare my music to Yemi Alade’s, or those outside Nigeria compare to Lira, the female lead in the South African group Mafikizolo, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, the late Brenda Fassie, etc. I think being unique and soulful, whether I am singing inspirational Afro-pop/Afro-beats or Gospel, requires a bit of independence which is hard to sustain in the industry. I think female African artists have to be strong and well developed to sustain their work so that when working with managers, agents, record labels or others in the industry, the authenticity is not swallowed up trying to please others. As for this challenge, I think I have done well keeping my uniqueness while also blending.
I think connecting with the right record label at the right time has also been a challenge for me. For example, as a university student, the BMG music and Def Jam records had both offered a contract, but I was afraid because my parents were not yet on board with the aspect of music then. My producers at the time were Oga Otumala and Grammy-winning producer Slam Jimmy Jones. I don’t know how far I could have gone in music if I had moved in that direction. Finding the right agencies/people to work with, sponsorship for projects etc., can be challenging in the industry.
My music represents African culture in many ways. So my genre is considered Inspirational Afro-pop and Gospel. My voice has been c o m pared to some Afro artists like Tracy Chapman, Brenda Fassie, Tina Turner etc., for voice texture. I do write my songs, and even when I redo older classic songs, I modernise them for DJ mixes, and add my original lyrics, beat arrangements, vocals, melodies etc.
I like taking walks and dancing, I like to write, and of course, I have a passion for singing. I enjoy listening to good music, watching movies, cooking etc. I do volunteer for a few organisations for instance; serving as an ambassador for Global International in alignment with UN objectives in Africa; serving on board of directors in charge of research for the International Association of African Authors and scholars.