Xerona Duke, the first daughter of former Cross River State governor, Donald Duke, is taking after her father. Not only in the realm of law but also in music, specifically jazz. The 27-year-old who is a trained lawyer and musician recently performed in Lagos at the Runway Jazz Concert.
Here are excerpts of her interview with Joe Agbro Jr of THE NATION…
Did you attend any music school for formal study?
Yes, I went to a few music schools. I started admission here in Lagos when I was five with the piano. And then, when I went to boarding school, I started studying the guitar. I carried on studying the piano and started studying vocals as well. I did ABRSM, it’s Associated Board of Royal School of Music. So, I did vocal lessons and exams in that. I studied musical theatre as well. I did a summer in a school in Houston for the guitar. But mostly, for the guitar, I taught myself then I go to school to brush up what I learnt. Aside from law, music is the other thing that I’ve studied most extensively.
Were you influenced by your father?
Definitely, but I think I’m moving in a completely different direction from my father. Musically, we have different tastes. But at the core of it, because the kind of music that he likes, the ‘old stuff’, The Temptations, highlife, all of that – that is what I grew up with. So, it forms the foundation of my music but I like to expand and grow.
Even now, if you ask me what genre my music is, I couldn’t tell you. All I can say is that I just make music and you can translate it however you want – If you want to play an Afrobeat Instrumental on it – I have no problem with. If you want to put a jazz beat on it, no problem. I just make music and I think it’s because of partly my dad’s influence whose music style is also very variated, it goes back and forth. He enjoys some of the new things but mostly he’s very much old school and I’m very much new school.
What has been his feeling about your music?
I think he likes it. (Laughs) Well, he’s not going to tell me if he hates it but he’s been very supportive of my music. So, I’ll take that to indicate that he thinks I have some talent.
Did you play at the Calabar carnival?
Years ago. I think I was still maybe this high (points to about half her current height) when I played at the carnival. I think I was maybe in my early teens. I played at one of the Christmas concerts.
Have you taken to music professionally?
Yes. I’m working at releasing an EP. So, it’s an extended playlist. It’s about four or five songs. Just put my songs out there and get a feel of what I do. So, I’m working on releasing that in a few months.
You said you can’t place your music into a particular genre. Do you think that’s a plus?
It depends on how you see it because on one hand, it can be a negative because people don’t know exactly where to box you in or how to see you. But on the other hand, I think it can also be a plus because you’re not boxed in. The very thing that can be limiting you is also the very thing that is also freeing you. Right now, what I would say is that I’m Indy. I don’t know if you’ve heard about the term Independent Artiste. I write music, I produce it how I feel. At the end of the day, I want people to listen to my music. I want them to just go on a journey with me.
Aside music, what else do you do?
I’m an entertainment attorney.
What’s your take on sanctioning those caught infringing on copyright in the entertainment sector?
I think it’s education that it’s needed. You know, more people need to realise exactly how bad it is. When you buy that pirated DVD, it’s the same thing as an armed robber coming into your house, stealing everything that you’ve earned after working your behind off for a whole month and then going and selling it to someone else.
If you were that person that bought the stolen property, you’ll feel bad if you knew where it came from. I don’t see why people don’t feel bad for doing the same thing with piracy. Also, people have to understand what they’re doing. First of all, know that you’re doing something wrong by buying it. And then people actually making that decision not to buy it.
Did you get your parents’ express permission to go into music?
I wouldn’t say I got their express permission. My mum sat me on a piano stool when I was five years old. She was like, ‘you must learn to play the piano.’
Does your mum play music too?
My mum isn’t a musician herself. We like to call her the choir conductor in the family. But she was definitely a massive influence. Each time each of my two sisters, because I have two sisters; once we turned five, we started learning the piano.
At the school we went to, when we reached a certain age, you can pick another instrument you want to play. I picked the saxophone because my dad plays the saxophone. My immediate younger sister picked the clarinet and the youngest picked the flute. So the guitar was the one I picked when I decided I was going to push on with the music. So, I don’t think I got the express permission. It was more like they told me to do it and I happened to love it.
Do you appreciate street music because you don’t belong there?
Most definitely. I love all music at the end of it. No, let me not say that. There are certain types of music I don’t like, like Metal Rock when it’s like, bang your head up and down. It gives me a headache. I think that’s the only kind of music I don’t like. Every other kind, I have a personal appreciation for. Certain music, I gravitate to more than others. But Afrobeat is in my blood. You can’t help but be like, ‘yes, this is my jam.’ I would say I definitely like Afrobeat. I will go to the concerts, dancing, rush to the front of the stage.
Your favourite Nigerian street music?
I really like Korede Bello. I know he’s probably not what you’re talking about. But I really like his music. I think he has a nice mix. I like Olamide of course, Davido. I don’t know who produces his songs. I have to go and look into that but they know how to get a person on their feet. Who else do I like? Tiwa Savage, Niyola, Omawunmi.
Which of the songs get you to your feet?
Off the top of my head, ‘see Gobe’. As soon as that song comes on. Let me try and think of songs this year. Try to be current. ‘Pana’ by Tekno. I did an acoustic cover of ‘Mad Over You’ by Runtown. It’s on my computer. Maybe I’ll take my hands off my eyes and actually release it. I love that song.
Does everyone in your family play an instrument?
Except for my mother. But it’s okay, because she’s the conductor.
How did you get the name Xerona?
Actually, it came to my dad in a dream. Funny story. I don’t but it was just before I was born. This is what he told me. So, it came to him in a dream that I should be called Xerona. And years later, I asked him what it meant and he said it meant ecstasy. My mum was like, ‘no, no, no. it means God’s delight,’ which I like. And even more years later, I said I should google the name and see if something comes up. And I did and I found that in the game ‘Dungeons and Dragons’, Xerona was like a character from the game but it was the star that was guardian to the celestial heaven.
So, I was like, it’s pretty cool. But to answer your question, my dad is from Cross River State and my mum is from Rivers State. My Efik name is Arit and my Kalabari name is Lelia. But I go by Xerona. I was also actually named after my grandmother – my father’s mother – Genevieve. But most people know me by Xerona.