Abuja, Saturday the 4th of April 2009:
The rains came with a thud on Abuja’s patched landscape and I got stuck behind the walls of British Council’s library where I had gone to feed my mind. As the rains waned in intensity, I quickly rushed to Arcade Suites – a few poles – from the Transcorp Hilton to meet with my public health mentor, career and research adviser, Dr Tarry Asoka who has been a great inspiration since I left clinical work as a physiotherapist to branch into public health management. I usually treasure every moment I spend with him. His out-of-the-box thinking style and deep insights on health issues have broadened mine. We shared views on integrated health systems and performance management in health and the need for novel thinking in the planning and management of healthcare systems in Nigeria.
Though the pull to stay longer with him was strong, I had to take a break from our seminal discussion for some reasons. I had promised to join a friend at a wedding dinner at City Park (garden) along Ahmadu Bello Way. The pregnant clouds had conspired to disrupt the ambience of the evening dinner and guests scurried to the few tents around for shelter while many made for their cars to drive off in the rain. Though I contemplated going back home to rest, another promise I made earlier constrained me; another dear friend I respect so much, Jeremiah Gyang had been waiting for me in a music studio downtown, where he’s been recording songs for his new album. The volte face I made turned out to be one of my most cherished evenings in recent times.
While lounging together with him and Blast (a music producer) at Transcorp Hilton sometime in 2007, Jeremiah had told me about his plans to release a sophomore album ; a follow-up to his maiden album, ‘Na Ba Ka’ which had come as a breath fresh air to so many of us then. He took me to his car so I can sneak-listen to excerpts of songs from the album titled “Love Album”. Blast was almost certain the album would ‘disappoint’ so many fans who saw Jeremiah Gyang as a ‘gospel artist’; a categorization he had vehemently refused to adorn as a toga, while not planning to decamp from the Christian faith. He has a passion to reach those who would ordinarily not listen to a gospel song nor deliberately walk into the bowels of a church where gospel songs are sung by believers.
Yet God has so many other children that he loves so deeply and passionately, and they hardly enter the church to sing and clap. These precious children of God had filled Jeremiah’s mind for too long and he had to dig deep into his soul to bring out this classic album. He inadvertently had put into use that ‘beneficiary doctrine’ espoused by John Argenti which Dr. Tarry Asoka and I had discussed minutes before I went to the studio. People are meant to benefit positively from every creative enterprise of our artists rather than be negatively harmed. Jeremiah’s heart wails as we all helplessly watch our political and economic leaders loot and impoverish our nation that was built by ‘the labours of our heroes past’.
But his heart bleeds more for the moral mis-education of our youths by Nigerian hip-hop artists who have brazenly churned out lewd and sexually-explicit songs in recent times. Like a prophet, he fears the dire consequences of this pervasive moral decadence on our nation and posterity. His ‘Love Album’ is a redemption project of sorts aimed at re-educating us on what true love is between man and God, and between a man and woman, and how best to express it to God and others. To him, true love can be expressed or given within the bounds of moral purity and selflessness.
The album aims to celebrate and value women; the unfortunate objects for the gratification of men’s sensual overtures and exploitative love. The songs are bereft of ‘booty calls’ and bared cleavages and the hour-glass curvatures of women. Neither does he denigrate women as those bare-stripped and pitiable ‘kokolets’ who gleefully ‘wind am well’ to the delight of well-dressed male artists. The “Love Album” is truly a celebration of pure and untainted love at both the vertical and horizontal dimension: man-to-God; and man-to-woman!
Tears glistened my eyes as I listened to him sing into the microphone, the 1st track titled ‘God is Love’ -translated ‘Kauna Allah’ in Hausa- while I sat behind the mixers and computer monitors that displayed the digital output. It wasn’t just his sweet-textured and crooning voice, or the metallic feel of the infused rock guitar strings alone that evoked the tears. I wasn’t sure if it was the alluring voice and sleekly-delivered accompanying rap by 19-year old rapper, ‘Skales’ that stirred my innermost being. If the English version sets you ablaze, the Hausa remix will get you into a celebratory mood that will at least make your legs shuffle and tap in tune with its African rhythm enriched with chants and the ‘dumdum’ sounds of the traditional clay pots used in our folks songs.
Certainly, my heart resonated as he expressed his love to ‘His Father in Heaven” who had brought meaning to his life. The One who is the personification True Love and to whom he had dedicated the song; and the album entirely! I couldn’t sit anymore and had to raise my hands in worship to God, whose love has been a benumbing reality. Only a few songs have in the past broken the tears sacs at the corners of my eyes: Bebe Winans’ “Love me anyway”; Don Moen’s “You make me lie down”; Ben Okafor’s “God you too much”; Darwin Hobbs’ “We worship you today” and a couple others. Not wanting to enjoy the privilege of previewing and enjoying the song alone, I had to call a friend in Lagos, Odunoluwa -who loves Jeremiah’s songs so much- and she was so excited to hear Jeremiah’s voice sing and speak into her phone!
He also dedicated a track titled ‘Daddie’s Song’- a Hausa rendition of the popular hymns, ”Rock of Ages cleft for Me” to his late mentor and dad under whose feet he learnt to play the piano and strum the guitar as a 6-year old boy. He is yet to fully recover from the emotional trauma of the death of his beloved mom who left this world on January 1st, 2009 while he was performing in Abuja to usher in the New Year. That a young man (now an orphan) can overcome the painful loss of his parents to still be a blessing to the world with classic songs is a testimony of his versatility and strength. A song for his mama will come someday after he’d fully absorbed the death of his mom, whom he still tries to ‘call on phone’ only to be reminded of the void she’d left in his heart.
I was engrossed in the studio for 3 to 4 hours listening to several other songs in the 15-track album. ‘In Love with you” which celebrates marriage will be sure to displace some of the reigning wedding songs we have today. Women looking for the right reasons to accept a man’s engagement ring would need to listen to ‘My proposition’ in which he promises on bended knees to love a woman right, and the be the only father of her children. The song, “You are my Fire”- a beautifully delivered ballad – reminds me of how Solomon was ravished by his beloved. Like C.S. Lewis had scripted in a verse, “Love is fierce as fire, Love is fire: All sorts-Infernal heat clinkered with greed and pride, Lyric desire, sharp-sweet, laughing, even when denied, and that empyreal flame, whence all love came”.
Other songs in the album include “Ke ce Kadai”- You’re the only One- which celebrates monogamous love for the one he loves. Another song titled “Guitar” has a Latino and rock infusion that gets you off your seat to the dance and sway, while the strings he played live in ”With You” will be sure to tease your soul.
As the true son of a pastor and preacher that he is, he mounts the pulpit not to promise miracles and breakthroughs but to caution and plead with women in the heart-touching song titled “keep it’. Having observed what happens in nightclubs and the dating scene, he exhorts and begs women to ‘keep their body’ only for the ”man that has the guts to walk them up the a
isle and able to stick with them for life”. He cautions girls against casual sex with ‘guys who feign to love them and are keen on taking advantage of them. In this song, he extols the sacredness of a woman’s body so that women won’t allow guys to ‘sleep and mess around with them’. He reminds women to reckon the emotional pain that outweighs the anticipated pleasure of illicit sex since most guys won’t share this secret with them!
Jeremiah doesn’t hide his love for this beautiful country Naija which he displays in the song, “Let’s Hold Hands” in which he makes a clarion call to all patriotic Nigerians to unite and build our nation so that we can truly realize ”Vision 2020”. He enthuses and shares the hope that we can become an economically viable society, hence should ‘keep hope alive’ knowing that we shall truly overcome all the forces that are impoverishing us as a people. Though many find it hard to see any reason to ‘love Nigeria’, Jeremiah wants us to see beyond the social maladies and setbacks. It was this sort of optimism which Winston Churchill stirred in the hearts of Britons during World War II that helped them rise from the rubbles of Hitler’s blitz Krieg and lethal bonds to become a strong empire till today!
He also played for me two unreleased songs (God’s Love, and Stuck all Alone) delivered silkily by a young and upcoming female artist, Lindsey- a student of University of Jos. Her voice texture reminds one of Sarah McLachlan and our own Sade Adu. He opened the music files of several other songs already compiled for release in the future; a reggae album; a jazz album, a worship album and so many others. Some of the songs in the Love Album are even older than some of the ones in the ‘Na Ba Ka’ album. This is a testimony to his hard work and countless studio output and even if he retires today, Jeremiah has cooked and served a lot more songs for the world to drink from his kitty.
We could have stayed up later than 11pm had NEPA/PHCN not taken the light. So I wait with bated breath for the official release of the album on the 15th of May 2009. At a soon to be convened press briefing and interactive session with arts and culture reporters that will hold in Lagos, he would share his motivation and dreams for Nigeria’s music industry. I am not paid sycophant and ‘oti mkpu’ for Jeremiah, and am certain his fans all over the world will not be disappointed with what Jeremiah is offering us. For I was in the studios with him, and the songs blared from the speakers and my ears heard them!