I've been trying to get Lami to do an interview for a while but I've not been lucky with the pursuit. Every time I've scheduled a meet with her, something would come up. For some reason, I thought she was stalling and acting busy because of her duties as an artiste and a UN Envoy on the Millennium Development Goals. As fate would have it, one of the personnel I assigned the role of tracking her down called to inform me of a project meeting/ session going on with Sound Sultan at a location that will remain unnamed. Of course I abandoned everything I was doing and was there before you could say Jack Robinson. Three hours later, a tired Lami, still wearing that radiant smile, sat down to chat with me for fifteen minutes (she had to dash back to the Island for another appointment). You might think that fifteen minutes is too short a time to address every topic you'd want me to speak with her about, but when you're through reading the excerpts of our conversation, you'll know different.
Enjoy my conversation with Lami.
You recently put out a video for Ori Mi Wu with Ice Prince. The last we saw of you was the video for your song, Ere-Ife, with eLDee back in 2010. What have you been up to?I've been doing a lot of travelling, recording, working on the next album and some of my charity initiatives. I've also been working with the UN and Oxfam on the "Africansact4Africa Initiative".
We are aware that you were appointed an Envoy in 2010. Can you shed some light on your UN work?We are still in the early stages, still attempting to prioritize the crisis areas for the Millennium Development Goals. I am very determined to repair the mindset that Nigerian artistes pursue such 'titles' as publicity stunts. I am working with other African representatives, primarily my colleague in Kenya (Sara Mitaru) so as to get a blueprint for what needs to be done in West Africa.
What exactly were the criteria for selecting you as an Envoy?
I honestly haven't got the foggiest idea. (Laughs). I'm just kidding. It happened through a series of different conversations initiated by a BBC interview and then a long discussion with a fellow UN envoy Sara Mitaru; a Kenyan musician and activist. Afterwards, we were invited to Turkey to perform at a UN Conference. I was signed on soon after.
The truth is that I am very passionate about making a difference. I have strong opinions about the state of
affairs in most African countries. I believe that my visibility as an artiste should do more than sell records. Being Lami is a vehicle for other relevant issues to be discussed and, right now, one of them is making sure that we have no more famines in Africa.
Talking about agriculture, what's the UN doing about the famine being experienced in the Horn of Africa?There was a twitter campaign late December 2011 tagged #lastfamine #act4africa. We got people, especially decision makers around Africa and celebrities, to hashtag 'Last Famine'. This was especially done to grab the attention of the various governments to what is happening and make this a priority at the African Union summit in January since it wasn't even on the agenda of the AU. Right now we are pushing through an awareness campaign with myself, 2Face and Sultan recording a song, shooting a video for this song, having a press conference and basically creating as much awareness as we can on the subject. Hopefully that would serve as a launch pad for intervention.
Through early action in the Sahel we can prevent needless deaths, help thousands of families maintain their livelihoods and use precious aid money most effectively. Waiting will simply cost too many lives and waste too many resources. A dangerous delay should be avoided so that we don't have a reoccurrence of the full-scale crisis of hunger and livelihoods that occurred in the Horn of Africa.
How well did the campaign do?It trended on twitter. But here is the thing about trending though. Sometimes something doesn't necessarily have to trend. The right person just has to take note of it. If it trends, fantastic. We are trying to get the right people to notice what we are talking about.
Talking about this project, is it directly orchestrated by the UN or is there an organization in charge of directing the proceedings?The UN is involved but what we are working on in Nigeria is an Oxfam project. Those are the people we are talking with, who chair or direct proceedings in Nigeria. They work out of an office in Abuja and have been in touch with myself and the other persons on how to go about getting this done.
Tell us a bit about the famine in the Horn of Africa?We should not let history repeat itself in West Africa. By acting early, the West African region does not have to relive the tragedies of 2005 and 2010 and we can avoid the images from Somalia being repeated in the Sahel.
Recent evaluations suggest that more than 13 million people are vulnerable to the crisis and in need of assistance. The UN estimates that at least $724m is needed to respond to the crises - a figure that could rise as the crisis progresses and only about half of this money has yet been raised.
We have enough resources in Africa to make sure that everybody is taken care of. It's just the equal distribution of these resources to make sure that people understand how to feed themselves. It's a shame that we have enough resources in Africa to guarantee that people don't starve but we are not taking care of our resources; we are not doing things right. Our agricultural industry is not being run effectively. This is not something to observe casually from a distance and say 'it can't happen over here, it's happening over there alone'. It can happen in Nigeria. If we look at our statistics and reality, there is a threat that five years down the line, it might happen if we don't get our acts right. It is a problem that affects everybody so if you say 'tell me a bit about the famine', so long as someone has died as a result of the famine, that's enough to get my attention.
Can we get an overview of how you intend to raise enough awareness on this subject?
We are looking to exploit the reach we have, that is myself, 2Face and Sound Sultan; especially the other two. I'm a baby in the industry. We all have various charity projects we engage in. We are working on a song which can go anywhere. It can go international. If we put this song online, you never can tell who will stumble across it. We are going to go one further by shooting a video for this song and push as humanly possible as we can. We are going to have a press conference sometime this March and perform the song. We will try to get as much decision makers as possible involved. I've never done anything of this magnitude before but I'm never scared of trying new things. We are not thinking about how difficult this is, we are just putting one foot in front of the other and saying we are ready.
Did you have any form of influence on the selection of the other two personalities?(Laughs) That's a very good question. The UN and Oxfam decided on the three of us.
Who are the people whose attention we are trying to get and to what end?
Primarily the government and its various arms and tiers because I don't think these people really know what's going on. And if they do, they probably just brush through it when they see it in the newspapers. Also it is important to reach people like you and I because dialogue is very important when trying to figure out what to do. When we dialogue, we come up with different ideas.
What's the next phase after recording this song, shooting a video and getting the awareness upbeat?
That would be getting the issue on the agenda of the next AU summit coming up in June. If we can do that, there's no stopping the project. We need to get people that can give us an action plan to avert such an occurrence in other African countries. Also rehabilitation of people that have already been a victim of the occurrence so, to an extent, it's a prevention and cure approach.
Have you been on ground to the horn of Africa to have a firsthand experience of what is really going on there?I was booked to go in November but unfortunately, it coincided with some important issues I needed to tend to in Nigeria. In January, I was scheduled to go there but again, fuel subsidy issues had the trip cancelled. It's been one thing or the other and now, we are in the middle of the project. J. Martins actually came up with the idea of going down there for that firsthand experience. Going there is definitely part of the plans. We want to put in work and get our hands dirty.
Besides the responsibility vested on you by your role on the project, what have you done in your own personal capacity to effect what's happening there?Thank you. What I am doing is the most important thing because I'm spending my time and my mind on the project. If I wanted to do it by myself I wouldn't be able to do much. Oxfam is experienced in handling this sort of thing and we have a joint venture arrangement. It's teamwork. I'm just another tool.
I can deduce from all you've said that you are really passionate about this project. Will your career take a back seat to this project?Not at all! I'm learning. If you know anything about me, you'll know that I can be very stubborn and determined. I'm also learning to manage my time and prioritize. I'm a very passionate person and I talk about love in my songs. This is one of the ways I can show my perception of love. It's not a 24 hours thing; it's all about balance and priority. This is a priority right now though I'm still working on the album, performing and shooting videos for the next album. If I'm claiming to be busy right now, imagine what a 2Face or a Sound Sultan would have to do to make time for this!
What can Lami fans expect from you this year?There will definitely be an album but I can't say when. The album is titled 'Pieces of Love'. It's more of me than my first album Intuition. After Ori Mi Wu with Ice Prince, you may have heard Baby featuring Kel and Mo'Cheddah. We also have Yago the video for which we have shot and hope to release soon. I'm thinking about sharing something new in a few weeks on my birthday. We'll see how that goes!