‘I am blessed with good and rare fortune’
Sabina Umeh-Akamune was crowned the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria in 1990. Since ending her reign, Umeh-Akamune has used the pageant’s exposure to pursue a career in modelling, singing, acting, dance and choreography. Now based in Atlanta, United States of America, the mother of four who is married to fashion designer and former actor, Kese Jabari, shares with Adetutu Audu her life after the crown.
WHAT really motivated you to contest the MBGN? Again, show business. Right after obtaining my degree in theatre arts, I felt that winning the title of Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria would be a great springboard for my career in entertainment. That was the singular reason I did it. Anybody who knows me knows that I don’t really consider myself as “so beautiful”. That would be grossly self absorbed and in fact a little crazy, because as we all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, besides there are a million other definitions of beauty that have nothing to do with the physical. That’s another day’s story. By the way, I often joke that “I was the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria that happened to be on that stage on the night” (laughs). It all worked out though, right?
Let me take you back; the night you were crowned, what was the experience like?
It was amazing. It’s always a great thing to be in a position to thank God for a prayer answered. Right there on stage, my very next thought was “wow, I get a chance to travel around the world representing Nigeria in Miss World, Miss Universe and so forth.” You see, deep down I have always sought the honour to be that Nigerian export that helps show the rest of the world see how great a people we are and this is something I thrive to reflect in my music and the rest of my career even now.
As a beauty queen, what is your view on proliferation of beauty pageants?
The more recent beauty pageants and beauty queens are doing a pretty good job. These days, advancement in technology has afforded pageant organisers and beauty queens alike more resources to better define their image and message. As in everything in life, though, one must strive to improve, as I am sure we will. Let us, however, not count out the vintage queens, as I like to call us; the likes of Lynda Chuba Ikpeazu, Omasan Buwa, Regina Askia Williams, Bianca Onoh Ojukwu, Nike Oshinowo Soleye, and, of course, my humble self who have gone on to have continued successes both personally and professionally, and hey, we are still kicking it (laughs). More importantly, though, it is not your year of reign that determines if the crown is a blessing, it is what you do with the crown thereafter, your legacy, that defines you. Time will tell.
No doubt, the crown came with pains and gains. Can you share some of it with us?
Honestly speaking, apart from the pains of countless hours in high heel shoes, I recall no other pain at all (laughs). Everyone has been so very gracious to me, even the media, and you know how rare that is. Besides that, though, I must say that I hardly have regrets because I believe that regrets are lessons learned that only the experience of it can afford us. I sought the crown, I should therefore take the good with the bad.
You are multi-talented, a dancer, choreographer and a singer. How do you juggle all these?
Everything in life is about balance plus a sense of priority. I am thankful for the opportunity to practice all these facets of my career but I must, however, say that my first and most important job is that of being a mother. Whatever time is left of that I divide accordingly to my career depending on what is most pressing. As we all know, when it comes to time invested, it is not so much about quantity but quality and when one has only a limited time to accomplish a certain task, one tends to work smart, not necessarily hard. Most importantly, though, I must give some major credit to my SabinaWorld family who help me keep it together and have stood by me all these years through thick and thin. They know I love them. No one should ever take credit for a goal that is accomplished by many.
At what point did you decide to establish JuicyGroove and Sabina World ?
JuicyGroove was established by Jude Umeh, Gerard Finn and I, in London, in the mid-nineties. The idea is to export Nigerian and African arts and talent to the rest of the world. This gave birth to the ‘Afrogenic’ brand, which simply means ‘of African origin’, as arguably all things are, right? As things progressed, there came a need to establish SabinaWorld to manage Sabina affairs. SabinaWorld has gone on to launch Sabina For WE (as in Women Empowerment). We also have a television lifestyle programme in the works which promotes Africa and the arts.
You were into Public Relations. Why did you dump it for entertainment?
Well, entertainment is the ultimate public relations job, right? I have actually been into entertainment since I can remember. My very first role was that of a child ghost in ‘The Sudden Return’, a play directed by my father when I was just about six years old. I also have bachelors degree in theatre arts from the University of Benin, so, for me, show business is a calling, first and foremost, after which comes the ‘business’ side of it. I was in show business before I became a woman, a beauty queen, a wife or a mother. It is who I am.
Can you share your childhood fantasy with us?
Like almost every child, and even some adults, my fantasy was to become a big star, in music especially, and then acting, modelling and so on. I am blessed with the good and rare fortune to claim my dreams, and hereby proclaim major glory to God for blessing me with the ability and capability to live in a reality that is my dream. I never took for granted the huge privilege of having and raising my beautiful children and still having the bountiful bonus of a fun career. Show business is my calling. Music is my ministry. My children are my life. The lesson here? Follow your dreams but always remember what really matters.
Your hubby is your favourite designer. How do you feel?
I feel good about it. I play a huge role in my image too because I have a very clear idea of who I am and how I want to be portrayed. I have worked with the US-based Closet Consults and Fiskani Wardrobe Consultants, who have styled the likes of Akon, Nelly and Chilli of TLC. I have also worked with various Nigerian designers through the years like Funmi Ajila of Regalia, Frank Oshodi, Mon Ami, Nobel and, of course, my dear friend, the late Remi Lagos, a lady of absolute class
You are a mother of four, yet you don’t look it. How do you manage to keep your shape?
I owe that again to the grace of God. My genes may also have a lot to do with that. Plus water. Lots and lots of water. That’s the best medicine and the best skin care product. The only thing I may take credit for is my attitude to life. I am bubbly, childlike, fun-loving and thanks to maturity, constantly training my mind to be content and appreciative of many things in life that may otherwise be considered as basic. I seek joy, not necessarily happiness. I believe that it is not what we see but how we look at what we see that determines what kind of day we are going to have. Having said all that, though, I must acknowledge the fact that I am awesomely blessed and for that I am indescribable thankful.
Once a beauty queen, always one. Do you still see yourself as one?
Every woman is a queen. We are the mothers of our time. We bear the world and are therefore the queens of our times. We are the backbone of our families, support system for our spouses and the cradle of strength for our children. Every woman is beautiful. As for me, I try my best. I do not roll out of bed looking like a movie star. I do put in the effort as a woman ought to, especially after becoming a wife or mother. We must not lose a sense of who we are. I have to be the best ‘Sabina’ I can be before I can be a good mother or wife to someone else. Besides, it does amazing things for one’s self esteem; so to all my fellow women, we have to keep representing for life. Don’t be caught slacking o! (laughs).
Your definition of style?
Style is an external expression of one’s spirit and personality. I do not believe in trends. Style should be as diverse as there are people. If it looks good, feels right and is appropriate, it is my style.
What fashion item is hot for you now?
I love my huge totes and handbags because I am always on the move and I like to carry my ‘joy’ with me (laughs).
In the era where marriages are packing up like a pack of cards, how have you been able to sustain yours?
The grace of God is number one. Also as I get more mature I have learned that love can make you marry someone, but in order to sustain that relationship you have to add tolerance to that love. We must also learn to accept our partners for their strengths and limitations. Oftentimes we try to negatively redefine the very qualities that attracted us to our partners in the first place. For example, ‘intelligent’ becomes ‘over-sabi’, and ‘patient’ becomes ‘mumu’. One should also try not to change oneself because in the process we may lose the very person that our partners fell in love with. I am blessed with a marriage that one hundred percent encourages me to be myself, and I appreciate that because that is the best environment one can thrive in. After all that ‘preaching’, though, it begs the question “do us women try to change our spouses?” and my response is “No comment” (laughs).b
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