Ebenezer Obey: I Had My Share Of Drinking And Womanizing

by Tope Adeboboye

Me and Fatai Rolling Dollar

In those days, names that made immense waves on the juju music scene included those of J.O.Araba, Ayinde Bakare, Ojoge Daniel and others. At that time, Obey said he had already mastered the art of playing several instruments, and was at an advanced stage in his guitar classes. Every time an artiste released an album, he would pick up his agidigbo, a popular local instrument, and attempt to recreate the sound in the record. At that time, J.O.Araba released an album, but as much as he tried to play the agidigbo in the record, Obey discovered he was unable to. “Throughout the whole day, I was still on it. Adeolu’s records would take me less than ten minutes. So I was curious to know the person who could have done that complex composition on the agidigbo.” He started asking questions, and soon realized that the artiste who played the agidigbo in that record was called Fatai Rolling Dollar. “I had never seen such an expert on the agidigbo,” confesses the man of God. He eventually met and struck a friendship with Rolling Dollar who had just formed his band. He instantly became the old man’s assistant.

“I was running that band for him,” recollects he. “If you look at his albums of those days, my name was there. I even have a number of photographs that we took together. If we were in Nigeria, I would have shown them to you.”

I made money from juju music

Eventually, Obey moved on, becoming a very successful celebrity and a revered force on the Nigerian entertainment scene. With his fan base extending far beyond the shores of Nigeria, the juju singer travelled the world entertaining lovers of his music. “Music made me very, very successful,” he confesses, a faraway look on his face. “We made money. My band was always booked from January till December. On many occasions, I had to look at my schedule and fix dates for my fans who wanted my band to play at their parties. We would look at our schedule and fix a convenient date for them. That was to show how much influence one commanded.”

By the time fame and fortune came after the singer in great proportions, did his mum still retain her initial apathetic stance? “Ah, by that time, we had already crossed that stage,” he replies you with a smile. “All she wanted from me was the assurance that I would not become a bad boy, drinking and smoking my life away. As soon as she saw that I kept my part of the bargain, she had no problem with my career.”

Yes, I drank and womanized

All over the world, those in the performing arts are perpetually attracted to ladies the way bees get attracted to the flower’s nectar. And for many artistes to keep themselves at ease on stage, a cocktail of weed and wine is hardly absent from their daily menu. But Obey’s case is believed to be different. Ever before shedding his singing costume for a cleric’s cassock, Obey has been widely regarded as the odd one out among other musicians, one who never drank, smoked or womanized. How was he able to overcome those temptations?

“My mother’s warning kept me on my toes,” he tells you, throwing a few peanuts into his mouth. “Every time I remembered my promise to her, I made sure I remained a very good guy. Her warning saved me from those temptations for a long while.”

For a long while? Would that indicate that he eventually succumbed? “Oh, I had my fair share of drinking and womanizing,” he says bluntly. “But I never allowed them to overwhelm me, because I was able to heed the warning of my mother.” He pauses a little bit. “But frankly speaking, women and music go hand in hand. That is why it takes the grace of God to prevent a musician from womanizing. Anyway, as I said, I had my own little share of drinking and womanizing, but I never smoked.”

My juju days are over

Looking back now that he’s been ordained, does he sometimes feel nostalgic about those juju days? He ignores your question, his gaze fixed on the instrumentalists on stage. You repeat the question. And he turns around to face you. “You know what, I will answer that question. But right now, my mind is with those men on that stage. You will excuse me while I go and find out what is happening with them. This is my main reason for coming here. These people (the church) paid my first class ticket from Lagos to Minnesota. They lodged me in a top hotel and are responsible for my well being here. So their business is top priority.” That’s quite understandable, you let him know. He then walks to the platform for a two-minute chat with the men on stage. The conversation over, the man of God walks back to his seat. But he remains on his feet. “I’ve been sitting down for too long and I intend to stand for a while,” he explains. “What was that your question?”

You repeat the question. His response comes in measured tones. “Let me put it this way,” he says contemplatively. “It has been a wonderful time of playing music. As a person, whatever I am doing, I do it with all my heart. I played music to satisfy my audience to the best of my ability. So your question brings me to that passage in the Bible, Ecclesiastes 3; 14. It says whatsoever God doeth, it shall stand for ever. So because it was God himself that brought me out of the music scene to where we are now, there shall be no regrets. So my juju days are past. The past is past. Now my concentration is right here and I am enjoying every bit of it, just as I enjoyed every bit of the stage. You know God never makes a mistake. Even when we pass through storms, it is for our own good.”

The man of God however says he still monitors what goes on within the secular music scene. “The songs I recorded in those days are still selling even now. And don’t forget that my son, Tolu, plays juju music, and I didn’t discourage him. So I still have some interest there.”

Juju singers are lazy

These days, it is glaring that juju music is no longer what it used to be. With only a few juju artistes still active in the music business, a lot of people are petrified that the genre might be on its way to extinction. You wonder if this man who bestrode the juju music scene for many decades is concerned about the gradual death of the music genre he helped popularized.

“It is true that juju music is no longer developing,” he admits. “And that does not make one too happy. Sometimes I wonder if one of the factors responsible for the stagnancy on the juju scene is the fact that I quit. Because nowadays, even my friend and brother, King Sunny Ade releases albums only occasionally. There is no competition anymore. The young ones that are playing juju today are very lazy. They can’t write good songs anymore. These days, it amazes me that fuji artistes have taken over. They even play the guitar, piano and other musical instruments now. It is unfortunate.”

Me and Ayinde Barrister

“Let me tell you what I have never told anybody,” continues the preacher. “I can tell you how fuji music developed. When Sikiru Ayinde Barrister was in the army playing music, I sent for him. I sat him down and advised him to quit the army and face music squarely. He said he never thought of it. Anyway, he took my advice. And since then, he has never regretted it. That is what has drawn him to me. And as you know, Barrister’s success led to the development of fuji music. Now, fuji has an advantage. Unlike in juju, you don’t need to be able to play any musical instruments before you start singing fuji. You don’t even need any instruments. Once you have a few drums, that’s all. That is different from juju. So, it’s easier for people to sing fuji. But now, because of the laziness of these young juju musicians, all the guitars and the piano that juju artistes used to play have been taken over by fuji musicians. They even sing juju songs in their albums. So what are the juju musicians doing?” He however harbours no fears that juju music will eventually peter out. “Juju can never die,” he tells you with certitude.

How I struggled with God

Obey says he struggled with God for eleven years before he finally hearkened to His call. Apart from direct contact with God in his dreams and through other media, Obey said God also sent to him a number of prominent ministers, including the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa and Bishop Odeleke. He eventually obeyed the call and says he’s had no cause to regret ever since.

What would be his advice for upcoming artistes? His response comes immediately. “First they should move closer to God. They should be more committed and dedicated to their calling. And they should be very hardworking too.”

A pretty young lady, donning the white blouse and dark pants uniform of the hotel ushers approach your table. “Sirs, can I come back in five minutes to arrange this table,” asks the white lady. “Sure”, you tell her. You then help the man of God pick up his things still sitting on the table.

Nigeria’s future is bright

Does he see any hope for our country, Nigeria? The minister glances at his watch, gazes at you for a while and begins to walk towards the stage at a leisurely pace. And as the noise emanating from his session men virtually drowns his voice, you pick up your recorder and follow him. “Nigeria’s future is bright,” he prophesies. “The country will be better. Good days are ahead. I will just want the government to take care of the Niger Delta people. It pleases God to put the oil in their region. So let them enjoy the wealth from that oil. Government should also realize that oil, which they have concentrated all their attention on now, will not always be there. Government should develop other sectors that can bring more wealth to the nation,’ he concludes, climbing the stage. And as he engages his men in a conversation, you bid him farewell, while you prepare to take the escalator to the hotel entrance, to commence the not too short drive back to Brooklyn Park

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1 comment

OMIDIRE KEHINDE DAVID October 19, 2010 - 9:56 am

My name os Omidire Kehinde David, bases in Lagos, Nigeria i just read your article/interview on Ebenezer Obey. I love your writing style, i am an intern in a media org. My number is 08075609848, can i have your number sir? angelsongs2001@yahoo.com is my email add. I am on facebook also.


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