To Omotoyosi Kayode Iyun, popularly known as Saint Janet, singing vulgar lyrics in Yoruba and the controversies that come with doing so have become a part of her life, as she reveals in this interview with ’Nonye Ben-Nwankwo
I can’t really say how I cope. It is just the grace of God. It is not by my might. It didn’t start today. I have been doing this kind of job right from the beginning.
When was the beginning?
It was 14 years ago. I have been in this business for a long time.
In these 14 years, have you never felt like quitting?
I enjoy what I’m doing. If I weren’t enjoying myself, I would have felt like quitting. But since I am happy, that issue hasn’t come up at all.
I learnt you were a chorister. Which church was that?
I’m a Christian. Anyway, I’m a member of a white garment church. I was a chorister in the white garment church I was attending.
So you moved from being a chorister to a highlife/juju singer.
I didn’t really move like that. I was a back-up singer at first. I had a boss. His name is Los Kenge. He was very popular in Abeokuta. I spent about three years with him before I went solo.
Why did you go solo?
My master (boss) felt I was very okay. It got to a time both of us became the lead vocalists. Nobody could differentiate between us because we were doing same thing; so he decided it was time I went solo.
Why did you choose ‘Saint Janet’ as your stage name?
It was this same boss that gave me the name. Those days, I was and of course, I still am a very shy person. Then, whenever we weren’t doing anything, I would just be on my own. I would sit quietly and not bother talking to anybody. People would be complaining because they knew I wasn’t like that on stage. They would say I usually behave like a quiet person but would turn to another thing on the stage. My boss would tell them to leave his ‘saint’ alone. He would call me Saint Janet. So I decided to stick to the name when I left him.
But somebody who hasn’t seen that quiet side of you might just conclude that you are very wild. Doesn’t it bother you?
It doesn’t bother me that much. It shows that I am very good at what I do. It means I am entertaining people greatly. I weigh my level in the industry with what people say about me.
You used to play in private parties alone…
Oh yes. But I now play at public gatherings as well. You cannot sing songs for a wedding at a burial. I know the songs I have to sing on different occasions. I know what to sing at different times.
But all your songs are lewd. You are basically known for singing lewd songs…
(cuts in) Not all my songs are vulgar. I know that more than 70 per cent of the people who have listened to me feel that way. But it is not true. I am talented. I am gifted. I am an all rounder. I give you what you want. There are some shows where you will not hear me sing lewd songs. It all depends on what the people want. I give them what they yearn. I do gospel as well.
You? A gospel singer?
(Laughs) Of course, I sing gospel songs. I know it is unbelievable, but there is no singer that will say he/she did not sing gospel at one time or the other. My case is not different. And like I said, people ask me to play the lewd songs, especially at private parties. They invite me especially because of such songs and I play such for them. I also play lewd songs at clubs. But I wouldn’t really sing such at open parties.
You must have had many advances, especially before you got married…
Oh yes. I have my talent, I have the ability to sing. But what I sing is entirely different from my way of life. I am not a loose woman.
Can you allow your child to listen to your songs?
I can only allow him to listen to them when he comes of age. My baby is just four years old. I will not allow him to listen to it for now.
You are also known as the General Overseer of Sinners’ Chapel, Saint Bottles Cathedral. Where did that come from?
My fans made me their GO. When I am about to start a show, I start with slow songs. My fans say I always put them in the mood to drink more. They said my songs make them to feel okay.
It was reported some time ago that one of your colleagues, Yinka Ayefele, said he was praying for you. How do you feel about that?
I have not heard about this. But I played for Yinka Ayefele two weeks ago. But if anybody is praying for me, I am grateful. So it makes me know that I am in business. If people don’t like me, they will not pray for me. I am not offended.
Your CD was banned…
That was long time ago. I was able to weather the storm. But the banning of my CD made me popular. Now, virtually everybody knows Saint Janet. The same government officials that banned my songs listen to my music. I don’t want to mention names but I play for them. They invite me to private parties and I perform there.
You haven’t come up with another album yet?
My album will soon be ready. It is coming out very soon and I titled it ‘Surprise’. I want people to sit back and ask themselves if this person is really Saint Janet. I want them to wonder how I was able to sing like this. That was why I titled it ‘Surprise’.
It was rumoured that you caught your husband in bed with your daughter.
I say it again, there was nothing like that. It didn’t happen. I don’t want to talk about it again. I don’t know who came up with that story. It was actually the reason I moved from where we were staying. But I ask, who is this daughter? I don’t even have a daughter. I see it as the work of detractors. I felt so bad initially. But then, when the rumour was on, that was when I was getting a lot of invitations to come and perform. So I had to immerse myself in my work. I have put the detractors to shame.
Why did you get married to your manager?
(Laughs) He was never my manager. That was the story that was going on as well. My husband has his own studio. He plays the guitar. There is nothing bad in your partner assisting you once in a while. He was never my manager. He was never a member of my band. He is a sound engineer who has his own studio.
Does he complain about your lewd songs?
My husband doesn’t complain at all. Back then when I would be performing, I would look back and he would give me a sign to ride on. He would see that people were enjoying the music, so he would encourage me to go ahead.
What of your parents, especially before you got married, were they in support of your kind of songs?
They said the same thing as my husband. They reasoned that if people out there were enjoying themselves and feeling happy because of my songs, who were they to stop me? They were okay. My parents were disciplinarians. My father was a school principal and my mother was a headmistress. But they know that people love me. Initially, they didn’t support this, but they saw how people love me and they had to give their support.
Tell us how these lewd songs came about? What really gave you the boldness to sing like that?
I have been doing this with my boss. But when I started, I thought I would start with gospel songs. However, I decided to start with something more challenging. I wanted to do basically juju music. I wanted to perform like the male musicians. People used to commend me that I don’t perform like a woman. So, when I realised that my boss’ fans were like my fans, I decided to give them what my boss was giving them. And as we would be recording such shows, if it got to the point where I would need to start playing vulgar songs, I would tell my sound engineer to pause and not record that bit. But somebody noticed me and he came to me and told me that I should record that song for him because that was his best. And just like that, I realised that people really love it and I started doing it more. I don’t have any regret. I know that people are criticising me because I am a woman. If I were a man, nobody would complain that I am singing obscene songs. But I was determined to sing like a man and I got it and I am not bothered.
Do you know that your songs do put the men, even women, in a sexual mood?
I know. But that is not bad. People tell me that when they are troubled, they play my CD to relieve tension. I think it is better to be in such a mood than to be worried and think about life.
Do you practise what you sing?
In this life, there are people who ‘say and don’t do’ and there are people who ‘do but don’t say’. I am in the group of people who ‘say but don’t do’. I can only sing, but I don’t practise what I sing. I told you that I am very shy in real life and that is not a lie. I am so reserved. I never knew I would get to this level that I am now. Many years ago, there was this album that I did, but the person who would have been the marketer (I don’t want to mention his name), was asking for what I couldn’t give him.
What was he asking for?
He was asking for sex before he could market my CD. But this is not the first time such is happening. It happens in every industry, including the film industry, and even the banking sector.
Why didn’t you sleep with him? Would it have been a big deal?
Ha! I couldn’t have. It couldn’t have been because I sing vulgar songs that he suggested such. In fact, there was nothing lewd in that album. Immediately he asked for sex, I left his office without saying goodbye.
As much as you are known and appreciated by your fans, don’t you feel bad that we are yet to see a younger person who wants to sing like Saint Janet…
Everybody wants to sing like me now. Initially, it wasn’t like that. There was a time it was so bad because of the stories flying around me. But it has changed. People want to be like me. But then, I am not advertising sex. I am not calling on people to come and sing like me. I am not telling people to come and learn how to sing lewd lyrics. But when people see that somebody is doing great, they want to be like the person.
Do you have friends?
I have lots of them but I really don’t go out much.
Can you tell us categorically the status of your marriage?
My marriage is intact. My marriage has not broken up. Detractors know how to ruin and tarnish peoples’ images. They have their reward. As for me, I am doing what I know how to do best and I am getting the reward. I am okay. I may not be rich, but I am very comfortable. Let them continue.
Can there ever be a time when we will see a transformed Saint Janet who will never sing lewd songs again?
I don’t think there will ever be such a time. In this world, we are all sinners. I am not the first person to sing this kind of songs.
People do see you as a lover of sex. Some even tagged you a lesbian at a point…
Oh yes, when I was in the UK, it was rumoured that I was sleeping with a popular female promoter. But I didn’t know where she was staying. I got to know her through a friend of mine. There was nothing sexual in the relationship. It was the same way they said stuff about my husband. Such stories fly all the time. That is the cross I have to bear as a celebrity. Like I said, I don’t have any regret that some people do criticise my songs. Even if I sing gospel, some people will still criticise. Some people out of jealousy and envy will always find something bad about my songs.
Do men still ‘toast’ you?
It is very normal. My uncle used to say that if men don’t toast his wife, it means his wife is not sociable enough. Men ask me out a lot but I know myself. It is left for me to refuse or accept and I always refuse.
What if your husband wants you to stop singing lewd songs?
If he didn’t want such songs, he would have stopped me long ago. But now, I am unstoppable.