You see, I began this interview with my questions all mapped out; I had a script and I was sticking to it, or so I presumed at the time. I should have known, however, that when you have conversations with people who are a perfect blend of creativity and intellect, conversations never quite pan out the way you imagine. This interview left me with a lot to consider and no matter your sphere of life, you only need to let her words and outlook on life sink into your mind deeply to feel the same effect I did.
Today, SHE Is Eva Johnson
Photo Credit: @stringphotography
Eva Johnson is a 24-year old lawyer, actress, singer, dancer and spoken word poet and performer. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria where she practices her legal profession after being awarded a first class degree in law from the University of Liverpool. At her core is a desire to elevate the common man through insight, introspection and education and through her art she pushes these themes. Speaking with her was one for the books.
(You should definitely watch this!)
Thank you, Eva Johnson, for taking time out of your precious Saturday to have this talk with me 🙂
So, you have three jobs – lawyer, writer, and performer. Essentially, there are more than three, as your performing involves various genres like dancing, singing, acting etc. – Which are you really? Which do you identify with the most? Or identify as?
I consider myself a conservative creative; I am not a trapped lawyer, I actually do enjoy certain aspects of the legal profession but I think at heart, I am a creative. I am just a creative who has another side to her. So all those things you mentioned (singing, dancing etc.) come naturally to me as I have always done them since when I was a child. So at heart, I am a creative, but not just any creative, a conservative creative.
On the other spectrum, there’ll be liberal creative. Is that what you’re saying?
Conservative Creative is more of a term I’ve coined myself, so I’m not sure there is an opposite. What I am trying to say is that as opposed to being only a creative, the other side of me is legitimate as well – the conservative side.
Do you ever feel you’ll get to a point where you’ll have to pick one or the other?
For now, I am just taking things as they go. People always tell me that I will have to pick and they certainly can’t all be lying. Both the law and the arts are time-consuming and require attention. I mean some people are actresses and that’s all they do, some people are singers and that’s all they do, some people are lawyers and that’s all they do and I’m here trying to do and be everything at once so I think inevitably I’ll have to choose. But more than the way people say you’ll have to choose in the sense of stopping one entirely and becoming the other fully, I think that not so much now but after a while, I will have to pick one at each point in time and focus. So let’s say for like a period of a year, maybe six months or however long I have to focus on one and then move forward.
Are you looking forward to that period? Or dreading it?
I am the type of person who likes to have everything at the same time so I am not really looking forward to it but I am preparing myself for it because I know it will come.
Can you tell me about your ideal audience? When you create, music, dance, poetry etc. Who are you targeting? Who do you create for? Who’s at the back of your mind?
So, two tiers – I create for all people who will appreciate my pieces and I try as much as possible to create for everyone and I have education, social activism or sometimes even religion as an underlying layer of whatever piece I do because I’m hoping everyone will be able to connect with it. But the people who connect with me the most are soulful people so it could be lawyers, musicians, anybody but people who like to think – I like to force people to take a step back and think. The people who like my work the most are introspective, lovers of music because I’m a music lover as well so I’m particular about what music I use, what music I dance to, what music accompanies my poetry, what I sing.
What drives you to create?
It is not always the same but I guess as an umbrella would be: education, enlightenment, and entertainment – Those three things, at the same time. But it changes – sometimes I just want to share an emotion in a way people can connect with it in an interesting form, sometimes I want to address a social issue that people are afraid to talk about; I’m not afraid to talk about things that most times people and particularly, Christians are afraid to talk about. Education, enlightenment and entertainment – I think that sums it up. It’s generally to get people to think and to force people to face the things they don’t want to think about but it’s not always that serious. Sometimes it can be lighthearted – about love, for instance.
How important do you think one being passionate about the work they do is? Has passion helped you navigate your work?
Passion is what keeps me going because the truth is I work some ridiculous hours as most people who work in law firms do – but my passion still keeps me up at night and wakes me up in the morning. It is so crucial to me because if I did not have the passion I would not be doing this. If you look at the circumstances, I simply do not have enough time to do the things I do but I’ll rather be tired than not do them.
I can’t ask the question ‘when exactly did you enter the creative field?’ because I know you’ve been in it since forever. That will be a weird question to ask. But, I’ll ask when did you begin putting your work or yourself out there? What do you consider the point you began delving into the industry?
Like you said I have been dancing since I was in the womb probably *laughs* – dance is my first love so I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. But I think when I first started acting stage plays professionally was during my A-levels, so that must have been when I was around 16 or 17 years old. For poetry, I wrote in high school and then stopped but I started performance poetry of my own pieces when I was 18 in university, which was in 2012. I took a break in law school but I went back to it all in 2016.
How do you get gigs?
Most times, people call me. I have done a lot of shows for friends and friends of friends. I get people call me up afterwards and say that was really beautiful and would like me to do it for them as well. I have some really good friends who are always looking out for me and throwing my name out there and saying ‘I have someone who can do this for you’. But, for the most part, it is referrals and people seeing my work and being happy with it.
What do you love the most about the creative field and what do you like the least?
I like that it is natural – to me anyway. Being creative and expressive is natural that is why you see that children are so expressive and then of course life teaches us to close up. But when you are in the creative industry you get the chance to revert to your childlike self and express yourself and be yourself and in doing so you can change people’s lives – music has changed people’s lives. That’s what I like the most. What do I like the least? Let me speak about Nigeria specifically – it is still not where it needs to be. People still see a creative job as second fiddle i.e. if you can’t get a job then you can be a dancer. In Nigeria, it is still not seen as a proper career path in itself and it ought to be because the truth is the gifts are there and the talents are put there by God and are to be used and I do not mean only in Church on Sunday or the Mosque on Friday. I do not like the fact that the creative industry in Nigeria is so unstable and not as appreciated as it should be, but that is changing.
How do you handle rejections or disappointment as a creative?
The thing about creation is that it is subject to taste for the most part. You can go into a store and all the shoes are Michael Kors for instance and you are not going to like all of them. There will be some you hate and someone else absolutely loves, so as a creative do not attach your self-worth to your work, at least that is what I do – I don’t attach my self-worth to my work and two, I do not expect everyone to like my work because I do not like everyone’s work. Sometimes, I see a piece and I think this is a very well written piece of work but it’s just not my thing. I think if you are a creative and really in any field as long as you’ve done it to the highest/best possible standard, don’t expect everybody to like it – it’s not a prerequisite to the work being good.
“I think if you are a creative and really in any field as long as you’ve done it to the highest/best possible standard, don’t expect everybody to like it – it’s not a prerequisite to the work being good.”
I think asides work; it really could be applied to any area of life – even personality wise. Different people are drawn to different types of personalities. Some people like extroverts, some people introverts. I think it’s being comfortable with yourself and understanding diversity and that everyone can’t like the same thing.
Yes, I mean people can like what they want. It’s just ensuring your work is done to the best possible standards so it is not that they do not like your work because it is shabby – they don’t like your work because it is not for them and that is fine.
What do you consider your grandest moment as a creative? Highlight? Most important?
I haven’t had it yet *laughs*
I perform a lot so I believe I’ll be performing on the world stage.
Someone I like a lot, Dr Maya Angelou – she was the first or second poet to perform at the inauguration of a US president and I believe the world stage I will play on will be bigger than that so I definitely haven’t had my grandest moment yet.
So, we’ll be looking out for you on a global platform
Look for me oh! Cause I’m ‘gon be there!
What other art forms do you wish to delve into?
One thing I’ve never been able to do is painting and drawing. I mean I can trace if that counts *laughs* but I don’t think it is meant for me. Something I’ve started learning is graphic design, so that’s one thing I want to improve on now because I think I have a flair for it. And another is crafts. I like little cute books and I’m a stationary person so doing little crafts, things people can put on their tables at work that can just be inspirational, little fancy bookmarks, sort of like a craft shop. I think there might be some in Lagos but not many. So I just want to create different types of art that you can’t just find anywhere – anything creative and unique to me.
What are you currently working on?
It’s kind of a secret I don’t know if I should go ahead and tell *laughs* well, let me just tell you – I’m hoping to put out a spoken word album this year. I am very much at the inception stage but it should be happening this year.
Looking out 3 to 5 years, beyond the obvious trends, what do you think will be the next big change in your industry?
I think spoken word poetry will become a mainstay in the Nigerian creative industry. I think dance too. I also think creatives will have to step up their game and be ready to perform at international standards if they want to stay relevant.
I find that people consider poetry or even music more educative or even relatable – you could listen to a piece and it sort of helps you navigate an emotion or issue you’re going through at a specific point in time. But dance, it’s not considered as powerful. Do you think dance has the ability to do that as well?
Yes, I think so. I mean dance will usually come with music. But apart from that, I have seen some people dance and it has actually evoked strong emotions. It can also be that the way a dance interprets a song changes the way you consider that song. If creatives are ready to dance at the international/global standard then definitely it has the ability to create connections. It is also a way of identification of a particular type of person, a particular culture, and historical connections. Dance is ingrained in Nigerian culture, for example. I think it has the ability to evoke emotions but because of the nature of dance, it has to be done to a particularly high standard for it to have that effect.
How do you balance time spent on all these crafts and time spent on leisure?
People ask me this question a lot and what I simply say is I’m always tired. * laughs* I guess sleep is the person who loses the most in this. Because by the time I give all my time to work, to family, to my art there just isn’t enough time in 24 hours, I just have to cheat on sleep.
What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered?
I want to be this force that made a dent in the universe and carried people along with me. So to make that less abstract, I want to impact as many people’s lives as I can. I want people to say that through my pieces they were able to get out of depression, they were able to get healing, that they were able to reconnect with their families – whether it is my music, my poetry, my graphic design, even in my legal work I want to make peoples lives better and let them go from one level to a higher one even if its education or whatever form. I want to give people liberation and give people freedom. I am very big on education – I have a plan to set up a performing arts institute for children in the future to train as many children as possible in creative arts.
Do you think that impact is something every performer strives for?
Some performers only strive for entertainment, which is not a bad goal but I just personally do not think it is enough. Some people just want to make people feel good but the truth is life is not about feeling good all the time and we don’t feel good all the time. My own work is about making people feel good sometimes and sometimes challenge their own beliefs so it’s a bit more than entertainment. Enlightenment and education are very crucial for me.
“Life is not about feeling good all the time.” What do you mean by that? Isn’t everything in a way connected to feeling good?
What I meant is that it will be a fallacy and a shame if you believe the only thing to do ever in life is to feel good. Why? Because if there was no evil you would not recognize good, if there was no sadness you would not recognise happiness. There are both sides of the coin. If you think it’s only about feeling good, there will be a problem because inevitably things that bring sadness come and it will cause so much unease for you. The bad side allows you appreciate the good and I believe as we all go through the bad things, we need to discuss and tackle them. When we run away from bad things or suppress them, after a while they come back and eat us up in the future. It is like someone going through a bad breakup and goes out to drink themselves to a drunken stupor, the truth is tomorrow morning you’ll wake up with a hangover and still be broken up.
You’re a new addition to the crayon box, what colour will you be and why?
I like this question and being a creative I cannot just say the first answer that came to my mind which is yellow. I will call my colour ‘prism’. Because a prism refracts light and when it does so it then changes into so many different colours. All the colours of the rainbow are contained in one colour – white, and then the prism shows all the different sides. The reason why I’ve called myself prism is because I have so many different sides and apart from the sides everyone knows or even I know, as much as I’m colourful on some days, I’m not so colourful on other days. Being a prism is what enables me to diversify into so many different colours and become all things when I need to be.
Basically, you can be all colours in the box – that’s your trick way of saying that *laughs*
Lol…yes! You got me.
What are 3 things that make you, you?
My God – the fact that I’m very grounded in God. I am not super religious but I’m very aware of the God factor and how it helps me through life.
My passion for people – especially children
My talents – the things I am gifted with including the talent of perseverance and reaching for excellence, attention to detail – which are not as obvious as dancing and singing.
Where does your passion for people stem from?
I am still figuring that out. My parents are passionate about seeing people succeed as well, so maybe it is from them. I strive for equality, for people to have better opportunities. Maybe because I know someone succeeding is not really about them most of the time but the opportunities they have been accorded. I am passionate mostly about children because they did not choose their circumstance of birth and they can be anything at all if you give them the right opportunities
What are the top 3 activities you indulge in to recharge? Asides creating?
Sometimes reading a good book
Sometimes a nice bath
Watching something – a movie or documentary
A day in Eva Johnson’slife… Tell us, what’s your typical day/week like?
- Read my Bible if I have enough time before I leave
- A short workout
- Take a shower
- Drive to work
- In the car, I listen to the news, music, audio bible then I write. Not with a pen but record bits on my phone
- Get to work and do the work I’m paid to do. That goes on until quite late 9pm/10pm sometimes
- Go home, stay with parents, and spend some time with then
- Go to bed
- Sometimes I write again before I go to bed or in the car on my way home
- That’s a typical weekday
- On weekends I usually get a chance to go perform, visit people, do some stuff at home, write, a bit of office work
- I guess my weekdays and days aren’t that different just different proportions
- Oh! I get to catch up on sleep again, on some weekends
Tell us your list of best-kept secrets. Activities, Books, places, etc.
Places to go… one place I really like is The Jazzhole on Awolowo road – it has such a great vibe once you go into it. It’s quiet, has so many books, records, their coffee is so nice, their cakes too. You’re just surrounded by many interesting people and it’s not like pretentious like some other places you go to in Lagos. So yes, I like and recommend The Jazzhole. Another thing that’s not really a secret but exercise. I’ll advise everyone to put exercise into their routine. Another is eating vegetables; It’s really important to live a healthy lifestyle for you to have the energy to do anything. Spiritual life as well – everyone has their own spiritual journey but you should find that part of you
What’s the best place for our readers to find and connect with you and your work online and offline?
Online – @msevajohnson on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I post my work and information regarding where I would be performing offline on there. I have a website coming soon but I currently have a blog – msevajohnson.wordpress.com
Thank you so much
Thank you too my darling