Emmanuel Benjamin, popularly known as Eben, is a popular name in the gospel music industry. In this interview with SEYI SOKOYA, he speaks on relationship between secular and gospel music, among other matters.
What has been keeping you going all these years?
I have never been someone who is easily satisfied with achievements. In fact, once I get something done, I move on quickly to ask God what next. That attitude has been responsible for where I am today.
Can you tell us the turning point in your career?
I think my turning point would be when Pastor Chris Oyakhilome took note of me in 2006. I did a song entitled: ‘Iwo Ni Kan’ at our youth conference and it was a success. From then on, I started to get invitations from different places. The kind of faith that Pastor Chris has shown towards me and my work till date has been a huge blessing. God has used him to announce me to the world as well as open my eyes to the knowledge of the word of God. Even till date, whenever you sing a song that is not in line with the scripture, he will kick against it. This has helped me write songs from a standpoint of understanding. The result of this is that people are able to connect with my music irrespective of age, gender and tribe.
Your style of music comprises rock, hip hop and mid tempo. How are you able to do all these?
At a point, I tried to restrict my music to one genre, but the spirit of God told me not to limit His grace upon my life. In fact, due to this, I almost did not include my popular song entitled: ‘All The Way’ in my album at the time it was released. I felt like it didn’t fit into my genre of music which I named ‘Afro Rock.’ I would take credit for creating that genre in Nigeria at a time nobody was identified with it. I felt like if I released ‘All The Way,’ it would be a departure from my brand of rock music. But the spirit of God told me that I am permitted to express myself in any way that I want to. Of all the songs in my second album, till date, that song took my career to a whole new level.
At any point in your career, have you ever considered something different aside music?
I have never considered it. Music is not a career for me, it is my life. There is a difference between a job and work. Your job is what you do to earn a living, but your work is the full expression of your design or gift. You cannot retire from being yourself, but you can retire from a job. It has never crossed my mind. I have never been in doubt of the grace of God upon my life to be a successful musician. I didn’t grow up to be a musician, I wanted something more stable that I could plan with. I wanted to be every other thing but music. But God assured me. This is why I decided to cling to God. Everything happening now are just mere shadows compared to what God showed me.
Some people say your style of music is secular?
When you are called by God to do something, courage is an important virtue to have. That is why God commanded Joshua when He called him to be courageous. When God inspires you to do something and you are there considering what people will say, then you are not ready for great things. One must be ready to be misunderstood. Most people don’t have a clue about it and that’s why everybody cannot be successful. I welcome such opinions, I see it as an expression of people’s perception. Not everybody must understand one 100 per cent. Once this is settled in one’s heart, then one must celebrate those who understand and empathise with those who do not and move on. Once I check in my spirit and my music is consistent with God’s word, that’s just fine. I reckon also that we are the light of the world and not the light of the church. Music is not supposed to make sense to church people alone. As a gospel artiste, we are called to culture people with the lifestyle of heaven through our music and not people trying to streamline our music. If the people are not relating well with your message, then you are not doing a good job. This is why I do all the different type of music genres that I do. Gospel music has to be in the streets not within the walls of the church.
What does it mean to be married to another artiste?
It’s a huge blessing being married to an artiste like me. If I was married to a lawyer or doctor, we are in two different fields and will labour to find a meeting point. That could be a struggle. When your spouse is part of your industry, there will be areas that you are not paying attention to that he or she will see and cover for you. From my own angle, there would be things I can see as well and suggest. Many times, when I receive inspiration, two of us work on it together. In fact, we make music in the kitchen. She has been doing a lot. She has shot a few videos. As a mother, she took some time off to take care of our children who came in quick succession. That required a lot of attention and it was quite demanding. As of now, she is recording songs and very soon, her work will be out.
What should your fans expect with your concert?
The event is a special one. That is why it is tagged: Joyful Noise. In fact, its timing is happening within the period of my birthday. Also, I plan to celebrate God with my fans, friends and everyone who has been a blessing to me. Secondly, we want it to be an annual event that people can look forward to for celebrating God’s faithfulness. Similarly, it will be a platform where other talents can find expression. We don’t do anything except we are commanded by God. Being commanded by God every step of the way is the reason I have not gone down in a little over a decade that I have been in music. It is my secret and a game-changer for me.