Walking towards Tonto Dikeh at Radisson Blu, the sun bounces off glimmers of golden hue from her light skin. Cropped blonde hair, perfectly plump lips, eye-popping sunglasses and a surprisingly shy demeanour, Tonto is about to have lunch. She urges me to order something “exotic” for myself, but I am in no mood for food. The ambience is a happy shade of blue and silver and Tonto seems at peace – far from the controversy that surrounds her brand like a cloak.
The waitress is exceptionally nice and detailed, and I assume her pleasantness made Tonto order more food than was necessary.
“I can’t finish all of this!” she laughs when the food arrives; “let me share my meal with my fans…” and gleefully she brings out her phone and takes pictures of the colourful plate to post on Instagram.
“Joy, you have to eat!” she insists then shrugs when I shake my head for the umpteenth time.
Beyond a thriving career in Nollywood and a burgeoning music dream which she isn’t ready to let go of no matter what anyone says, Tonto is feeding off well from the constant debates about her lifestyle. But she isn’t too worried about that at the moment. She is celebrating her new single, “Sheba” –a dancehall track with youthful appeal. She says she’s getting good feedbacks and shows me tweets from fans as she holds on to a smile. “They’ve been very supportive.”
Tonto doesn’t need to try hard. If she sneezes, it becomes breaking news on blogs. It would have been difficult if she gave it any attention but many times she simply moves on and away from any subject that isn’t intended for good purpose. But one she didn’t let go off too quickly was the latest issue on marijuana.
Pictures were everywhere- wrapped hemp beside a passport and sunglasses; and the substance used to form the words “HBD POKO”.
“It was from a fan,” Tonto tells me; “I put the original picture up on my Instagram…”
From Instagram it made its way to blogs; newspapers online picked up from where the blogs stopped; soon it was trending on Twitter and by this time NDLEA was making a statement and dangling possible 15-year jail term for marijuana offenders. But Tonto insists the pictures had been tampered with – photo-shopped for the aim to malign.
“How do you charge me to court for a picture that was gotten from a parody account? The original pictures are on my original Instagram account and the exact facts can be obtained from my original account. Obviously the information on it had been manipulated to suit ill-intended purposes.”
But Tonto is not shaken. She only cares for her true fans and getting the right information to them. “I had a dream and I pursued it; I am grateful for where I am; I am striving for more and hungry to do bigger things. I find the distractions very amusing, but beyond that I am interested in building something that would last beyond the moment.”
Her music is part of her future. Her first sound trended for weeks! The mixed reactions were the spice. It seemed there were more hateful comments than good; but it was her first attempt and even though it would have broken someone else, it only made Tonto stronger.
After three songs and a brilliant video, we are slowly getting used to the sound of Tonto Dikeh.
“Life is in phases; this is a new phase for me: music. And I am ready to give it a good shot. I am not backing down; it always gets better after the last try.” Daring, passionate and with a sense of commitment that would make even naysayers think twice, Tonto comes with an endearing desire to get it all!
All of it is wrapped in staying true to herself. “As much as I hope to build something for myself in this world full of dreams, I do not wish to meet up to anyone’s standards on what they think I should be. I am living my life on my own lane and my own terms; building my own strengths, becoming a better person every day. I am in no hurry to impress anyone; I live to make myself happy and I hope my happiness touches the lives of as many people as possible. We can only enjoy happiness if we stop being judgmental.”
Tonto plans to do more than just movies and music. She has been talking about giving a voice to issues on domestic violence. “It’s everywhere. You flip the pages of newspapers and you see the heart-rending stories of many women. Love shouldn’t hurt so bad; and the sad thing is that not much is done to protect people from such abuse. I am interested in listening to the stories of these women and bringing their issues to the forefront so that it can be addressed.”
She hopes to put some of the pain of domestic violence into her songs and her movies. “If I use the platforms that I have been blessed with to push this, then maybe I would be able to reach these dark homes and help a woman escape the wrath of domestic violence.”
She has a plane to catch. “Work beckons,” she smiles. She’s heading to a remote location for a movie, away from the turbulence generated in the last week. “I’ll be inhaling rustic air; and when I get back it’ll be all about my music.”
She’s heading somewhere, one blithe step at a time.