Sexual advances won’t kill my music dream: Neetah Baby

Sexual advances won’t kill my music dream: Neetah Baby
Neetah Baby [Photo: courtesy]

In a tell-all interview, South Sudan Afro-dancehall star Angaika Annet, aka Neetah Baby explains to Sarah Osman her journey in music, why female artists are seen as sex objects and her dream of unifying South Sudan artists.

The binia wewe hitmaker is establishing the Neetah Foundation, which will focus on women’s empowerment.

Sarah: Who is Neetah Baby?

Neetah: Neetah Baby is a South Sudanese national, born Angaika Annet until 2014, when I started singing. Most of the time I love doing Afro Dancehall because I also like wiggling while on stage, but that doesn’t limit me from doing other genres.

Sarah: Tell us about your inspiration in music…

Neetah: Growing up, I kept listening to Jackie Chandiru’s sweet sensational music that drew me closer to loving everything she did though she’s off the scene now. I owe my music career to her. She shaped it.

Sarah: What’s the most challenging thing about being a female musician in South Sudan?

Neetah: The most challenging thing as a female artiste is being seen as a sex object. It is hard to find someone who wants to support you wholeheartedly. But those who want to take advantage of you sexually are out there and in large numbers.

They set tough conditions that you, as an artist, will have to abide by, and failure to do so will be the end of your career. These people come in the form of promoters and managers who want to exchange their support for your body. This is killing morale and talent. It’s always something for something. So you must stand your ground and really continue working hard. At some point, somebody will spot your talent.

In this age of social media, put your work out there on the internet even as you follow conventional channels for publicity and support.

Sarah: Binia wewe is the song that brought you to the limelight. What does it mean, and secondly, who is the producer behind this hit?

Neetah: most of my songs are based on true stories. I don’t just sing for the sake, I see what happens around me and in the community and sing about the situations because I am a voice for the voiceless.

That song – Binia wewe – was my very first release that was produced by Jehu the war- Lord at Cornerstone Studios. This song was borne out of a very bad experience I had with police officers who harassed me thinking I was a Ugandan national masquerading as a South Sudan national.

Well, I was from Uganda and came to South Sudan alright, but this was not supposed to change my nationality. I kept telling them that I am a South Sudanese, but to no avail. That is why I decided to immortalise the bad experience in a song complete with a video for people sharing my experience with mistaken identity.

Sarah: In your music career, you have collaborated with other artists… Do you think more collaborations between artists in South Sudan would make the music industry more robust?

Neetah: Well, I have not really done a lot of collaborations in my music journey. There’s one I did with Ginuham. I have also done one with Hard Life Avenue Stars but this is still in the pipeline. What I can say is that you need to gauge the kind of person or group you are doing a collabo with, but not just for the sake of it. Collaborations are good because they help in connection. In the end, courtesy of the synergy between the different artists, the song reaches a wider audience. I am assuring my fans that in the coming months I intend to do more collaborations.

Sarah: Let us shift gears to the international music scene… Who would you love to collaborate with and why?

Neetah: That must be Rosa Ree from Tanzania. I love her energy on stage and I have a feeling that we match. I will work tooth and nail to make sure that it happens inshaallah!

Sarah: You are among the leading female artists in South Sudan. You have performed before dignitaries at events within and outside the country. What do you think has made your music stand out?

Neetah: First of all I love giving back to the community even if it simply means sharing messages and information. Secondly, I am a humanitarian worker who sees and comes across the day-to-day challenges people in different communities face so naturally, I have to put all these in a song. That way, people from all walks of life will relate to my songs as the songs will be speaking directly to them.

Sarah: COVID-19 pandemic shattered nearly all sectors of the economy. The creative industry was most affected because of the closure of bars, restaurants, and cinemas. What is your story?

Neetah: As an artist, I was never spared by the COVID-19 pandemic. Things were not easy. But regardless, we still worked so hard and tried to pass messages across; messages that would put a smile on people’s faces. As musicians, we are not only meant to entertain. We are the voice of the voiceless and messengers of peace.

Sarah: As a versatile artist, what’s your favourite song to perform?

Neetah: Out of all my songs I love “ibira wo ket’’. It loosely translates to “needle and thread’’ till death do you apart. Whenever I perform this song, it brings goosebumps in lovers. This is a song I did for people to always listen to whenever they are madly in love with each other.

Sarah: What is this about Neetah’s Foundation? Who do you target in this charity work?

Neetah: First, I have learnt a lot musically as compared to when I started. But now apart from music, I am working on my foundation – Neetah’s Foundation – a charity organization which will focus on women empowerment and related issues. It has not been a walk in the park setting this up. I am happy that it is now 85% complete.

Sarah: Have you ever had a really embarrassing moment?

Neetah: The most embarrassing moment was one time when I was arrested in the night even after identifying myself as an artist. So the police asked me to sing! As embarrassing as it I had to sing to them “binia wewe” before they could let us go. That was not cool at all.

Sarah: What’s your dream place to perform at?

Neetah: Wow! Afrima Awards it is! That is the All African Music Awards that celebrates musical works, talents and creativity. I would love to share the same stage with the likes of Diamond Platnumz of Tanzania, Eddy Kenzo of Uganda and Burna Boy from Nigeria just to mention but a few. I know with hard work I will reach there.

Sarah: What’s the best advise you have ever been given?

Neetah: To be always down to earth, patient in everything I do and don’t poke my nose in affairs that do not matter to me. I can’t remember who told me this, but this has really kept me sane and going.

Sarah: So how is art important to society?

Neetah: Art helps in co-existence and peacebuilding. We as artists can speak to someone who can’t see but hears the message in the songs, we also can write down lyrics for people who can’t talk to help and communicate. We are generally voices of change in our respective communities. Art has done more good than harm.

Sarah: If you could change some things in the music industry, say as president of the South Sudanese artistes’ union, what would these be?

Neetah: If there’s anything I could change, then that would be the disunity and division amongst musicians in the country. We need to stick to our roots and embrace the love for one another and have our own musical identity that will bring us together irrespective of the tribes we represent. My thinking is that if we are to represent the nation, then it has to be South Sudan, not our different tribes.

Lastly, I will address the sticky matter of inequality between foreign and South Sudanese artists by harmonizing pay disparities. It is time South Sudanese artists were remunerated just like foreign artists that is when they share a stage.

Sarah: What’s next for Neetah Baby? 

Neetah: I have released a new song titled “you make me’’. Kamba the Baddest is behind the audio and video is still underway. I have like 25 songs being listened to. 15 are in the studio. It is a bit hard juggling between being an artiste and managing my music at the same time.