Tolu Obey-Fabiyi is the only child that takes after his father, Evangelist Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi as a musician. The musician, who is also the current treasurer of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN), in this interview with SEYI SOKOYA, speaks on the pressure that comes with stepping into his father’s shoes.
You are the only child that took after your father’s music career and you are also a cleric, how do you handle these two?
It takes a lot of sacrifices to take after my father. It took me a lot of sleepless nights and determination. To me, music doesn’t have an end. One has to be up and doing as well as work hard to remain relevant. Back then, I would use the door handle as a microphone to sing and scratch the surface of ruler as my guitar, but my late mother, family and friends would always laugh at me. I thank God that those memories have become a reality today. On the other hand, the entire children have also enjoyed the grace of the fact that our parents brought us up in the way of God. Virtually all of us are clerics, but I think I was lucky to have added music to it professionally.
Would you say you have all it takes to step into his shoes?
His shoes are too big for me. I don’t think I am ripe to step into them now; I still have a long way to go and I am glad that I have commenced the journey. I am still under his tutelage and I already have a legacy, standard to maintain and integrity I have to uphold. I am trusting God for the grace to sustain all these qualities.
At what point did you realise that you are gifted?
I was the worst singer in my family back then. I am always noticed whenever we were singing in the house because almost all my siblings sang well. Though I played a number of musical instruments, I was challenged as a result of this and I fasted for three days and prayed for a good voice and the Holy Spirit ministered to me on the last day saying, “son, is there anything I created that is not good?” I replied nothing; The spirit responded “…then you have a good voice.” Instantly, I keyed into the revelation and summoned the courage that I have a good voice; I later went for voice training. Around that time, my father’s American friend, Margret Ingharm, also gave me a voice training tape and the whole story changed after I went through the exercises in the tape in addition to the experiences I was able to gather at the training. Above all, the story changed for good and people are now willing to hear my voice; some people even said that I sound like my father.
Do you see this as a privilege?
To be candid, I see this as a privilege to be like him. I am still a learner; I listen and learn from him every day so as to be like him. It is not easy, but I know God will help me. At present, I do music for a living and this is what I am using to feed and fend for my family; it is the only source of my livelihood and I will not for once take it with flippancy.
Some have claimed that you are not visible compared to other young musicians in the industry. How would you react to this?
It depends on the kind of music they listen to. A lot of people who are familiar with Juju music will say that I am visible and relevant, especially with my current position in PMAN. I pray that God will help me to achieve more, just as my father, who is now a professor of music. As for me, I look forward to achieving greater things with music even to the extent of wining the Grammy awards.
It is believed that Juju music is not meant for the faint-hearted; how are you preparing to step into the big scene?
Every generation has its own challenges. Initially, I had such fears, but I have never encountered such since I ventured into Juju music. But as a committed and dedicated Christian, God has been faithful to me and will make me overcome any obstacle that comes my way.
Some people have also classified Juju music as a dead genre of music, what is your take on this?
Before I answer this, I will firstly assess the entire entertainment industry. I think the industry deserves to be commended because it is really doing well. My response is that there are lots of lazy people singing Juju music: those who prefer to sleep rather than work. I have discovered that one must work very hard in order to attain greatness. Some musicians get carried away when they see successful and celebrated musicians, forgetting the fact that they have gone through a lot of sacrifices and challenges before they could become what they are today. It is sad that there are people that are not ready to work but are expecting the goodies and fortune in music.
The rumour doing the rounds is that you are keeping a low profile because you don’t want to clash with you father. Is this true?
I want to state it here that I am enjoying myself as a successful musician in the industry and I have never seen myself to be inferior. People should not get it twisted. I am privileged to follow my father’s path and it is also a delight that my father also encouraged me to inherit his precious gifts; I am sure that it is the joy of every parent to see their children excel in their lifetime. I cannot imagine that I can clash with Ebenezer Obey, who is an evergreen musician of great repute. I am pleased to have had the privilege to share the stage with him. I havce never imagined meeting his standard not to talk of clashing with him. We should also not forget that we are in Yoruba land and there is an adage that says “Erin kii fon, k’omo re fon…” ( A child and a father cannot compete at the same time) So, I think it is even a rare privilege to raise my head when he speaks. It is ideal for me to take things easy; I am not in a haste because everything has its own time and I know my time will come. Meanwhile, he has also given me the leverage to excel as a great musician. In fact, some people mistake me for him whenever I sing.
What does it take to become a successful Juju musician?
Anyone who desires to be successful in Juju music must have a deep understanding of Yoruba language as well as the usage of words, proverbs and poetry. Music is all about poems and rhymes. Juju music is even more complicated than other genres of music. Anyone that desires to be successful in it must have a clear understanding of the terrain, culture and tradition of the land, which will also enhance the flow of communication because a Juju artiste must always be seen as educating, entertaining and making people happy. But if none of these qualities is possessed, no one will want to listen to you. Another thing that is very important is that one must be well cultured and be respectful. This is one thing that amuses me most about my father. At 74, he is still respectful and very humble. He would prostrate to someone who cannot even afford his fees. I tried to make a discovery on why he is used to that and I realised that it is from the scriptures and his upbringing. Honestly, I want to be more humble than my father because he is an epitome of humility.
What do you think about the new romance between Juju artistes and other genre of music?
We are colleagues and I don’t see anything bad in that. Gone are the days when recording companies would arrange misunderstanding among artistes in order to make money. Back then, some artistes engaged in real fight. I think this generation should embrace unity in order to raise the bar of the industry. In fact, most of us are educated and instead of fighting, we collaborate. We should also cultivate the habit of respecting one another.
If not music, what would you have become?
I would have been a pastor. Christianity is a way of life and it is different from music. I am saying this because I am from the family of the Levite and I believe that once you are from such family, the hand of God is upon you and one has to be called even before one answers the call of God. Asides this, I have also tried to diversify into printing business. I did this to find solutions to the copyright problems among musicians. I feel we (musicians) will feel protected if someone within the industry produces their work. I believe this initiative will help us a lot and will also boost confidence and trust. However, the initiative has even gone beyond my scope because other sectors such as churches and organisations have started patronising.
What is it behind your grey hair?
Contrary to rumours doing the rounds that it is a wig; my grey hair has been there since I was a little boy. I noticed this when I was 14; it used to be at the centre of my head before it eventually spread. At a point, I decided to keep it when I discovered that I was being impersonated and since I do not have a debut album in the market yet, I made it as a yardstick to strike a difference. I think it is a gift from God. Initially, I used to keep a low cut, but I felt I needed to have a trademark and also to reflect my father’s look in his early days.
You don’t have any album yet, why?
I have done series of albums, but they didn’t see the light of the day. This is because I believe anything worth doing is worth doing well and I have come to realise that if you do things like the other person, you will be lost in the crowd. At present, we are putting together things we believe the elders of the land will appreciate and will be embraced by the younger generation. We are working on something that will have a touch of relevance in the music sector, especially when it comes to Juju music and Miliki sounds. The baton has been passed to me by my father during his 70th birthday. and I am currently intensifying efforts to uphold the banner.
You perform both in Nigeria and abroad. How would you compare the experience?
Firstly, Nigeria comes first, while other countries follow. This why you see people like my father, KSA, Femi and Seun Kuti and a host of my colleagues who are projecting Nigeria to the rest of the world will go and come back because this is our root. I believe one has to keep one’s base firm. Secondly, the experience has been awesome and I see it as a privilege spreading the tentacles of my music career to the outside world.