A few weeks ago, a major flood came in and affected many states in Nigeria. Many communities are yet to recover from the devastating effects of the flood. One young Nigerian, Nyenwe Sam – Woruka, who also sings and produces music under the alias Xuzia, decided to do something about it. The music that Xuzia, pronounced [exousia], shares with the world provokes thought and inspiration and his voice is sultry and wonderful to listen to. We got a hold of him and chatted about his life, his interests, his education and career as a practicing architect, his music – including new song, ‘Stand Strong’, and the amazing organization (Relief Ark) he founded to help Nigerians in their times of need.
“We’re checking temperatures and even if you’re warm, please, jump on the truck” – Nyenwe ‘Xuzia’ Sam – Woruka
Once we heard about the work you’re doing, we knew we’d want to have you featured on Bailiff. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I was born in Port Harcourt and grew up there too. My family is pretty big; we’re ten kids – three boys and seven girls. We lost one of our sisters to cancer some years back.
I’m sorry to hear that.
We’ve seen much of the Relief Ark Project around since the recent floods in Nigeria. Tell us about Relief Ark.
The Relief Ark project was set up not just for the floods but since that was what happened at the time, it is our main focus for now. Initially, when we started, we were helping those around us and giving school books to children. Our main goal is to provide relief for people around us and help them gain their lives back when disasters like these happen. If we could rebuild their towns for them, why not? But for now, our capacity is food, clothing, medication, support and as much inspiration as we can provide. We’re nowhere near the capacity of helping rebuild a town, a city or a lifestyle but we would like to go as far as that eventually. A lot of people don’t have homes to go back to even after the water recedes. It is more than just giving them food and clothes, it is about giving them their lives back, especially since they were barely managing before the floods.
So, what inspired you to set up the Relief Ark Project?
I had a project a while back where I and a couple others were trying to save a young lady who had just finished school and needed a transplant urgently. She had a donor but no money for the transplant. We eventually lost her because we couldn’t raise enough money for her and we started to question whether we were doing the right thing. After that happened, we went back to our normal routine of helping children around us. Then, in June, 2012, we amplified our efforts and shortly after, the floods came so we focused on the floods. Many states in Nigeria were affected by the recent floods from the middle belt down to the Niger Delta. People lost more than just homes and money; their lives were taken from them. At the same time, I got to meet people who have similar goals and visions but were just looking for a channel. So, I built a team and that’s why Relief Ark is unique because it is a collaborative effort. We said, we’re going in here, and we went back into active duty. People who had lost everything became angry and started stealing. The government came in, churches came in, private organizations came in and we were just one of the people doing our own bit. It has not been easy but we’re here.
You call this a collaboration of youths? Who are you collaborating with?
We spoke to musicians, actors, churches and youth organizations. We’re working with anybody who understands the vision and wants to be a part of it.
Where have you gotten funds from since you launched this project and how do you plan to sustain the funding for relief?
Fundraising is tricky. Nigerians are typically concerned about what people are doing with their money when things like this happen. So, we had to work on our incorporation properly so that there is a structure and a set-up that is properly built. We also contacted already existing NGOs and LGA chairmen’s wives to give us some leverage. But in the meantime, we tell people that we don’t want money, we want supplies and services that we would have used the money for. If we need a truck to transport clothes and food, give us the truck for the day. We give them drop boxes and asked for clothes, food and other direct things that will provide relief to the people. We also found people in the entertainment industry who wanted to give back and they jumped in. we’re currently planning a charity concert to raise funds for the people affected.
What has your coverage been like?
We’ve been able to reach parts of Bayelsa, Anambra, Abua and Ahoada in Rivers State, some parts of Uyo as well. Wherever we gain access to within our reach, we try to go. The problem is we’re facing logistic issues since we’re asking people to instead donate the services that we need to achieve our goals. However, we’re working on them.
Does your team have any plans of exploring preventive actions in addition to providing relief after floods have happened?
Well…apart from listening and adhering to warnings…
Were people warned though?
Yes. It is true that the warning was not as extensive as it could be and evacuation measures were not there but I remember listening to people who were making mockery of the forecast. They were laughing, saying that this was not America where people will be asked to leave because a tornado was coming through. When we heard there were going to be rises in the tides, there were some warnings and we all missed them. This is not the time to blame the government or the people but we can’t influence much of what the government does about evacuation procedures neither can we influence the people’s response. So, at Relief Ark, that’s not within our duty call and we can only help them rebuild but we hope both forecasts and responses improve drastically. We’re focused on reacting to the events that have already happened. We just want to help them cope for now, do what we understand now…we’re not at the government level yet. If the government comes up with support systems for prevention, we will definitely support them.
Are there any projects you plan to work on after this?
Of course, yes. There are projects we plan to jump on but for now, we’re focusing on the floods. It will not be easy to end the effects of what has happened so we’ll take it step by step.
You’re also very much into music production and singing. Tell us about your music.
For as long as I’ve known myself, I’ve loved music. I was on stage first at 6 or 7 at a church programme and my mum was in the crowd going, “that’s my baby, that’s my baby” (Laughs). Music for me is more about doing something useful with the ability to sing because anybody can sing but not everyone has the drive to make music that will change lives. So, I decided to use that as a tool for what I’m doing now. I run the company called 2WJ Media, where we do everything from music videos to television. The Relief Art Project is something I got myself involved with and I thought it would be a good idea to spread word about it through my music as well. I get to do what I do, in my own little way, to make the world a better place.
What does 2WJ mean?
It means, Walking With Jesus.
I like that. Alright, I’ve listened to ‘Stand Strong’ and I’ve had it on repeat all day. What’s the story behind the song?
Oh yay, you like my song. (Claps and laughs). Stand strong was scribbled as the floods happened and I was just describing the situation. We had gotten camera people to go and take pictures and I had seen the devastation. I was just trying to describe in words what was going on. There was actually a meeting I went for and they were asking me if I was listening and I was nodding but really I was scribbling the words to Stand Strong. Well, I’m a little different from most singers I know.
Would you call your music conscious music?
Oh yeah, there you go. Words like inspire, support and encourage would be in there somewhere.
Should we expect more songs from you in the near future or a video for ‘Stand Strong?’
I’m working on a 16-track mixtape and I’m done with my part. An album will be next year. I tend to go backwards and pick up my old songs as well as good, old music and try to re-do them. I have a couple covers on my mixtape and my songs as well. I just want people to hear my take on a whole lot of issues. I already have different video makers who would love to do a video with me for Stand Strong so once we’re all ready, I’ll start working on the video, even though I am usually the guy behind the camera, not looking directly at the camera.
Do you plan for this to be a career or was this just for the Relief Ark?
Well, I’m an architect. I studied architecture at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) so music may not be full time. I spend a lot of time working on my media outfit so even if I’m not singing full time, I’m still very involved in media.
How can Nigerians help your vision for relief for the Nigerians affected by the floods?
Unite. Love God, love humans and try making someone else happy and it will always come back to you. If we’re not working together, we’re not going anywhere. We’re checking temperatures and even if you’re warm, please, jump on the truck. We don’t want to have to spend so much time, effort and money on the details. If we have a few soldiers who speak to secretaries and PAs and go through grueling protocol, that’s great. The rest of us could go from street to street asking every shop for one packet of Indomie and that’s the spirit we want to keep at Relief Ark. There is no time for us to waste; things like floods don’t knock on doors and ask for permission so our response has to be in good time also. Stop complaining about the government until you’ve done the little you can do. Be a part, not a problem.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
I need to make an impact…the kind of impact that Fela Durotoye is making now. I want to go to children on any side of the road and they know the same thing. We’re tired of a situation where the government offers us the same thing every year…so many years later they are still offering us light and water. On October 1st, every year, we call ourselves the greatest country and yet we still have so much to get done.
Tell us something about yourself we did not know.
I love sweet things. If I’m sad, all I need is something sweet –cake, ice cream, whatever – to get back in good spirits. Thankfully I don’t put on any weight.
If you were an ice cream flavor, what would you be?
I will be all favors. I can’t choose.
You have to choose one. Or…you can choose two.
Okay, dark chocolate and vanilla. But then, I feel bad because there’s strawberry and there’s raspberry and… (Laughs)
Xuzia, you’ve been a pleasure to talk to. Thanks a lot for your time.
Thanks a lot, it’s been fun.
Facebook: Nyenwe ‘Xuzia’ Sam-Woruka