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Ebenezer Obey.

     Ebenezer Obey: I passed through hell to become a star
by Charles Adegbite

Veteran juju turned gospel musician, Evangelist Ebenezer Obey Fabiyi, has come a long, long way. Having spent well over 50 years in music and distinguished himself, the man popularly known as ‘Chief Commander’ has risen to become a Professor Emeritus and Visiting Artiste at the Department of Performing Arts, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State. In this interview with TS Weekend, Obey speaks on diverse issues, sharing his experience about life and music. Enjoy

Having spent over 50 years in the Nigerian music industry and distinguished yourself, what can you say about the industry looking at lots of things happening today?
The Nigerian music industry is a very good one, because we have quite a lot of talents. Numerous talents, people who are well gifted are all over Nigeria, playing different types of music. So, the potential of the industry is quite high. And the nation, Nigeria is so blessed because of diverse languages, cultures and traditions. We have so many traditions within the 150 million people that are in this country. The music industry is a very good business.

Having been in the music business for quite a long time, if you are to compare both the gospel and secular music, what can you say about the two?
Like I said, both the secular and gospel music are highly blessed with so many talents. So, Nigeria is a country of talented musicians both in secular and gospel music.

Looking at your early days and considering the quality of music then and now, would you say things are better or worse now?
Going back to my early days in music will bring back to memory… talking about my early life is talking about the 60s, 70s and 80s, the experience then cannot be compared to what we have now. One, the technology then was different from what we  have now. In the 1960s, we didn’t have the technology that is much more advance as we have now. Now we have digital recording studios. The recording studios that we had then weren’t technologically advanced to the extent of having something that can record a demo. Then we had to look for a recording company to record. We had to prove ourselves to the recording company by going there to play. We would play the music for them to hear, I mean we would take the band there, play the music for them to listen to. That is what we called audition. We had to go for audition, which means practicalising what you want to do so that they can listen and pick your songs if they feel they are marketable.

And after finishing recording, they will now fix a listening day for all the marketers to come into the studio and listen to the recordings of the artistes. They will announce the name of the artiste and say ‘this number we are going to play is by Ebenezer Obey, he is a new artiste, listen to the first side, listen to the second side’. They will play it and then say ‘order’. Those who have listened will begin to book their orders. This one will say ‘I book 20’, that one will say ‘I book 50’. Then they will calculate the order, if we get up to 500 units, that’s when the artiste will go to the factory, to the press. And that is how the record will be put out for sale. That was a lot of work and a lot of time in those days. That was what I passed through. Today, the technology allows you to record in a demo and take it to them to listen to. But then things were much better, it allows for hard work. If you are not a hard working artist, you cannot get anywhere. That also calls for seriousness; you want to do music, you want to record, you have to be serious. It is when you start singing that you gain acceptability or acceptance by the public; then you become a star and the public loves your music, they will be waiting for when the next album will be out. So, we had a good time. I, in particular, had a good time because I became a star. I was well accepted, though it didn’t come easy.

You have a lot of evergreen records…?
Yes. The meaning of evergreen is something that people can relate to, records that have been released over 50 years yet the younger ones can still relate to it. That is the difference from what we have now. We have moved from two minutes forty five seconds for a single to EP (Extended Play) of six minutes to LP (Long Play) that is from 20 minutes upward. We had a transition from records to CDs. Before CDs, we had cassettes and others.

Look at the musical content, the message being disseminated to the public now, what actually went wrong? Why can’t we have philosophical songs that one can learn from as it used to be during your time?
I like the way you put it, ‘what went wrong?’ It means what caused the difference? Something might have gone wrong. To me, what went wrong is the time we committed into our works, the older generation worked so hard, we committed so much time into what we were doing.

Nowadays, everything is fast. I mean people are living fast life. If you want to get money quickly, you can get it. Everything is fast, fast. They cannot sit down to construct like we were doing. Anyway, the youths are communicating to their own generation and their generation understands what they are saying. So, we cannot condemn what they are doing because what they are doing is widely embraced and accepted by their own generation.

What was your source of inspiration at that time? From where did you get your inspiration because anyone that listens to your music would know that it’s philosophical?
My source of inspiration was that I had things that I wanted to communicate. I had messages that I wanted to pass. I didn’t want my content to be ordinary. I wanted it to be meaningful; I mean lyrics that will teach people wisdom, prayerful lyrics.

What will be your advice to the young ones?
My advice to the young ones is that they should take things easy. For instance, we have lost so many young musicians through accident. That is the kind of fast life we are talking about. It is good to become a star but you have to take life easy, you have to take everything easy, you have to know that it is an opportunity to become a star. And the opportunity that you have been given to become a star should not be wasted.

I am talking to the younger ones. They need to be cool-headed. Thank God for the younger ones who are cool-headed, they are enjoying the fruits of their labours. Let them be closer to God, all these will help them to attain greatness in life.

Today’s musicians are crying about piracy, did you witness such a thing during your time?
I started as a recording artist for DECA West Africa. I didn’t record for any other recording company other than DECA West Africa. I understood what they were saying, and they understood what I was saying. They maintained the agreement between us, so I didn’t see the need to go to other recording company. Other companies were coming and offering me more money, but when I was looking for a recording company, nobody was ready to sign me but DECA.

So, from the word go to the end, I stayed with DECA. When they became a Nigerian company, I was there; I was sincere with them till I became a director. And at the end of the day I bought the company. Anything they wanted to do, they would ask for my opinion and I told them my candid opinion, just as an artiste. But they found out that things that I told them were true. I didn’t tell them lies. I told them the truth. Whenever they compared what I told them with what others told them, they saw that in everything my ways were different. But when piracy came, that was when I began to have problems. Piracy affected every good work; they pirated all good works so I had my share in that. The war on pirates is there. We have fought our own part, but I know that by the grace of God copyright owners will win one day. There is no way a thief will continue to get away with his loot; one day, the thief will be caught. That is it.

If you are to quantify what you have lost to piracy what will it be?
I have lost so much to piracy; artists generally have lost so much to the pirates. It is unquantifiable because they have eaten more than the owner. I can’t deny that, because anywhere you see Ebenezer Obey’s CDs, when you look at the quality of the production, you will know that this one cannot be directly from the original.

What are some of the mistakes you made at a particular time that you won’t want any of the young ones to ever make?
I want to thank God Almighty for my life. By my next birthday, I will be 74-years- old. And within the 74 years that I have been on earth, I thank God that the Lord has been so good to me. He has given me a profession, he has given me a career, he has given me fame and I am well respected. Everything that the Lord has done for me, I need to thank Him. Every matter I take to the Holy Spirit, He tells me what to do. When I make a mistake and I go to Him, He tells me what to do. When I pass through pain, He tells me what to do. So, life has become a life of experience and I thank God that I have been able to surmount troubles of life.

So, the real thing is that yes, I want to live longer. If He says I will live up to 90 I’ll thank Him. If He says I will live up to 100 years, I will thank Him. He owns my life; I have committed it to Him. He has been so nice to have even seen me to this age. I don’t have any worries. I am still working for Him and I will continue until when it pleases Him to say ‘come home’.

Your son also sings. He sings just like you…?
Ha, which one? Okay, Tolu Obey, that’s Tolu Obey, that is my son.

How do you feel when you hear him sing?
The Lord is good. All of them are blessed with good voice, but everyone has taken to different professions.

How many of them are into music?
I have many of them who are pastors. Four of my children are pastors; two of them are musicians. Tolu plays juju music, Lanre is a pastor and he is a musician too. And he also deals in musical instruments. All of them are doing very well. I have grand children and I have a great, grand daughter, many are about to follow.