Sórósoke Downtown: Lauretta Cookey

So many people are involved in the production of the songs we all love and heavily consume. However, the spotlight doesn’t shine equally on all contributors. This week’s SoroSoke Downtown features a background vocalist with a captivating voice. Having worked with seasoned musicians both locally and internationally, Lauretta Cookey takes us through her world as one of the nation’s leading background vocalists!

How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a singer?

I’d say maybe around when I was 16. That’s when I was sure that I could sing, when I knew there was something there.

Was it the typical chorister story? Did you start from the church?

Well, yes. I started from the church because my mom used to sing in the choir and then we had a children’s choir but even at that, it was more like an activity that we just loved as kids. I did some work for people way before I started doing my own work.

Who are you inspired by?

Internationally, I would say Brandy because of her tone. I think that’s what drew me in; her tone and how she’s able to make simple songs sound so nice. There are some people that are on the crazy side of singing that have inspired me like Karen Clark Sheard because of her pitch as I’m a soprano singer. Lastly, there was Whitney Houston, of course, just because I wanted to be on stage and stuff like that.

Who are some of the biggest artists that you’ve worked with?

In Nigeria, I’ve worked with Sammie Okposo, Cobhams Asuquo and a couple of other gospel artists. Internationally, I’ve worked with Donnie McClurkin and Kierra Sheard. I’ve also worked with several secular artists too like Rema and Tiwa Savage. I’m forgetting a lot of names right now.

Of all of the artists you’ve worked with, who do you say has the strongest work ethic?

I would say the two people that have drilled me the most are Donnie McClurkin and Sammie Okposo. Working with Cobhams is so easy, he knows what he wants to hear; he just tells you and that’s it. For the other ones, you have to keep going at it, sometimes sing for hours. I didn’t always enjoy it but it has shaped me into the singer I am today.

What’s an average day like for you?

Before the pandemic, we were busy, we would have a couple of events every weekend. We had talent shows and the stuff that I was working on personally. I’ve been on Project Fame, Rhythm Unplugged and several musical shows.

…In what capacity? Were you a vocal trainer on the shows?

I was part of the band and we made the music sound good for the contestants basically. So usually, my rehearsals can be eight hours a day, sometimes four hours a day, in a week. Then the pandemic came and I had a baby, things slowed down. However, I’m doing some work with an artist but for now, I can’t talk much about it but we’ve been rehearsing for four hours a day on Mondays and Tuesdays. On the other days, I get to stay home, be a mum and do other businesses like I recently started an organic skin and haircare butter line called Lauretta Cookey Beauty.

What would you say is your favorite part about being a background vocalist and what is your least favorite bit?

My favorite part is usually the music. Thankfully, I get to work with really seasoned musicians that know what they’re doing and it make it easier for us singers to put in our best and make the music work. In contrast, what I don’t like sometimes is how much we get paid for the job. Some artists don’t pay what is due. They want the best of singers but they don’t necessarily give you back the value when they pay you for the work. I don’t know if it’s the artists or the management, but it usually boils down to the money and sometimes it’s not encouraging.

Since you’ve had your own project, do you have a favorite backup singer-to-artist story?

Some of the background vocalists I know are still doing BGVs; however, a popular one is Tiwa Savage because she used to do BGV for Mary J. Blige and a couple of other international acts and she’s now an artist of our own and I think she’s doing great.

Speaking of women in music, let’s talk about your relationship with the gospel singer, Nikki Laoye.

Nikki is one of my best friends, she’s a sister. She was my senior at FGGC Sagamu and we sang in the same choir but we found each other through music and became friends ever since. I work with her from time to time on her philanthropy and of course her music.

Have you ever participated in any music competition?

No, and I don’t think I ever want to.

…but you worked in a lot of them.

Yes, and I feel for the contestants a whole lot. Some of the really good ones don’t make the cut for a lot of reasons. Sometimes you go there and the judges or whoever’s looking at you wants to hear Celine Dione or Whitney Houston come out of your mouth, not minding that there are different genres and vocal textures. I’ve been asked to contest many times and I’ve turned down all of those invitations because the pressure that comes with being a contestant on these shows is a lot.

Your son Zane was born into a lot of musical influence. Do you think he’s developing an ear for sound or showing early musical abilities?

To be honest, I wouldn’t doubt it because I’ve been watching him without even trying to teach him anything. He watches TV ads, beatboxing to them and just keeps going. I can’t wait to see how he develops and of course, I will help him push it out.

Last week was Mother’s Day; what was that like for you? How has the journey been so far, being a recent mom?

Well, it hasn’t been funny. Nobody told me it was gonna be like this. It’s the joy you get watching your kid grow, knowing they’re healthy that keeps you going. Mother’s Day is every other day for me.

The Grammys happened last week, and with March being the month for women, if you were to nominate a woman for Grammy consideration in Nigeria, who would it be and why? The person I would have nominated for all the right reasons is Waje. I think she is a fantastic vocalist of international standards.

Who is an artist that you’d like to collaborate with in the future?

In Nigeria, I’d like to work with Tiwa Savage because I feel musically, she and I come from a musical place I’m familiar with and I can connect to. Internationally, I’d pick Brandy any day. If it happens, man, I’m blown *laughs* even if it’s just to do BGVs for her, I’m blown. I can pack my bag and call it a day *laughs*.

Lastly, what advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps? Well, I’ll just tell them to keep at it, make sure it’s something that you really want to do. I’ll tell them to not be discouraged. If you love and want to pursue music, just keep at it. Whatever level you find yourself, put in your best. That’s how people recommend you for bigger things. Don’t give up. Eventually, we’ll get there.

You can follow Lauretta Cookey on IG @MissCookey and listen to Perfect Choice her latest single on all streaming platforms.

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