Evangelist Toun Soetan is a legendary gospel singer. In this interview by OYEYEMI OKUNLADE, she shares what it takes to be a gospel singer, the correlation of music ministry and being an educationist and what has sustained her marriage.
What does your background look like?
I came from a Muslim background. I became born again in 1974 when I attended a 3-day revival service at Oritamefa Baptist Church. I went for the service on a Sunday morning, had an encounter with the Lord and I gave my life to Christ. Since then, I decided to stay put in Christ.
I was born 66 years ago. I had six elder sisters and a younger brother. My father had 28 children. I was born in Lagos but grew up at Beere , Oke Are area of Ibadan. I attended many schools including teachers’ training.
Does it mean you are a trained teacher?
Yes, I am a trained teacher. I taught for 16 years before the Lord called me into full time ministry. I did not teach in so many schools, just one, and that is Orita Mefa Baptist school. I was in line to be the head of the school when God called me.
Can we say then that your experience at Oritamefa Baptist school influenced the birth of Pathfinder College?
No. Where I am today, I did not have a mind of having it. In fact, the vision about the school is not mine, it is my husband’s so I am only a co-proprietor to the school. I am still into my full time music and word ministry. You see me in the school as the proprietress because I have to supervise what is going on; It is not that I sat down one day and said let me go into but because I was a teacher and my husband is an accountant, the Ministry of Education was not ready give him a free hand to operate the school but when they heard that I was a teacher, I had to use my certificate to obtain permission to start the school 10 years ago.
You are a popular gospel singer turned educationist. Would you say there is a correlation between the two?
Being a music minister, I teach people about Christ, it is still about teaching. Jesus was a teacher, preacher, prophet, so all these by the grace of God , I operate in. When it is time to go and minister in music, I leave the school behind and when there is nothing to do on the platform for Christ, I stay in school. But what happens is that we have merged the school and ministry together. My effect on the school has to do with bringing up children in the way of the Lord-in word, prayer and by the name of the school, Pathfinder. We teach them character, integrity, and how to fear God and still make it in life. They don’t have to be what every other person is on the street, they are different. It is like starting a church, the school is my congregation now and If I want to turn it to a crusade tomorrow, they are ready for me. I do a lot of counselling not only for students even parents, we reach out to preach the gospel to them and God is helping us.
How are you combining home and the ministry?
My team is still there. I run a ministry not a band perse. The only thing I don’t have till today is a church though some people said I have started a church. But I do everything a church does. I have a ministry with about 25 people. I have a school, Trinity School of Worship where I train musicians and we graduated another set of students on November 2. I have a recording studio where musicians come in to record their music. It is the grace of God that is helping me to know what to do at a specific time. We meet for Bible study every Monday here in the school. So everything about the ministry and the school go hand-in-glove.
Where do you receive inspiration, do you go to the mountains as some claim?
I get my inspirations through reading of the word and my mountain is in my room. You met me alone here but God is with me. My office is quiet enough for me to receive from the Lord. Check out on my songs, they are scriptural passages from the Bible and not lyrics I sat down and started to rack my brain. They are songs I receive directly from the word of God, through prayer and revelation even while driving. The song that brought me to lime light, ‘Iye ree,’ was gotten behind the steering wheel.
Some of the songs we have these days do not have substance, what do you have to say?
We started having this confusion when the professional musicians started migrating into the gospel, it wasn’t like this before. If what we call gospel music today is what it used to be in the 70s when I accepted Jesus Christ, I would not have changed. It has to be with communion and encounter. You have to belong to God before He could give you something to go and give to the whole world. Music must carry a message but once there is no message, it brings about mess. So most of the songs we listen to and we think don’t have message, are destroying lives rather than moulding them . When you talk about gospel music, it means orin emi which is a kind of song that would bring your soul alive, revive and would make a sinner to weep and turn a sinner from sin again. Such songs bring peace into homes.
As a gospel minister, can you recall an experience you can never forget?
I am privileged to stand before God’s people and He shows up everywhere. I don’t sing at parties though I started doing that. If you remember ‘Sese ninu mi dun, ayo kunnu okan mi and darling Jesus my darling Jesus,’ were sung at wedding receptions until after seven years when God told me that he had not started using me and that was not the assignment He called me for. So I withdrew from the platform of entertainment, going to sing at parties.
The experience that actually made me stop finally happened at a wedding reception in Ilorin, Kwara State. I told the family I would not be able to sing at the reception but only at the church and they said it was ok. After the church service, they lured me into the reception which took place on a field to sing ‘Sese ninu mi dun’ specifically for the couple’s entry into the reception venue. Being a field, the whole place was littered with well-decorated canopies because the couple were children of two professors.
I consented since they said it was just for the couple’s entry so we set up our equipments. Immediately there was a strike from one of the instruments to start the song, the cloud gathered though it was not a raining season. The next thing was that a powerful wind started picking the canopies and tore them to pieces; no canopy stood and everybody started running into their vehicles. By that time, ice started dropping. I wept.
My keyboardist came to me and said ‘mummy, you spoiled this party because God warned us not to sing at parties again.’ That was the end of that reception that day. I was soaked in the rain and I told God that I will never do it again. That family dare not call me again. You know what happened to Jonah, God told him to go this way, he went that way and God caught up with him. God knows how to handle us individually because He knows what he has given to you. I cannot take the gospel and throw it to dogs.
How old is your marriage?
It will clock 40 next year March but my ministry clocked 40 last year.
What has sustained your marriage?
Our background is genuine love and also built on solid rock, Jesus Christ. If I tell you no problem, I am a liar. Respect, patience, love, understanding, perseverance and contentment have all helped.
What is your husband’s best food?
He is from Abeokuta in Ogun state, so he likes eba and Ila soup. Whatever I give this man, he eats as long as it is in his house. He doesn’t raise eye brows because my food is not ready. We have never fought over that in life.
If you want to spoil yourself, what do you eat?
I told you that I came from Beere area of Ibadan. Food doesn’t appeal to me so I won’t say one is my best food so when I am hungry, I eat whatever is available. In fact I can say my best food is garri and groundnut.
What are your best accessories and colour?
I love shoes more than dresses because my aunty who brought me up used to travel to Liberia, Ghana, etc to buy goods. She brought me a shoe in my primary school days with heels and I so much liked it and the love for shoes remain till date. As for colours, I love all but I like ministerial ones. I like matching purple which stands for royalty with white which stands for purity.
How do you relax?
I am not used to sightseeing because my mind is always focused on God. I’m in the drama ministry too so I watch Mount Zion movies or musical clips which takes stress off me. I read books or the Bible as well. I know I have many invitations coming so I need time to prepare.
Your advice for youth, ladies especially
I want to beg every youth to discover his or her purpose. I also tell them to stay focused like Joseph did and deliver who you are through fervency because fame does not just come in one day. Fame is achieved when you put your mind in what you are doing by being zealous. Youth should also have mentors like Esther had. Stop rubbishing old people because we had been where you are today.