Punch - The ‘Obi mu o’ crooner is known as Obiwon. His real name is Obiora Nwokolobia-Agu. In this interview, he opens up on why he ditched R&B for gospel music
Why did you transit from R&B to gospel?
After recording some successes on my first album, I found myself right in the thick of a celebrity/ fame lifestyle. I wasn’t yet a practising Christian but I found myself often pondering if I could possibly end up well or ever lead a good life with the way things were going. Secondly, studying the personal lives of a couple of music icons, who were my role models at the time, was scary because they all had terrible endings. Also, things hadn’t exactly gone as planned in my career despite some successes. All these drove me to seek God and answers. Eventually, I gave my life to Christ and became born again. For me, it was first, a step of faith, as the answer to the kind of life I desired while pursuing an entertainment career.
Initially, I intended to carry on as a pop/R&B artiste, who is guided along by his faith. However, the closer I walked in the faith, the more I encountered Christ, and the clearer it was to me that He particularly desired to use my career and talent for the propagation of His gospel. I struggled a little because I had already made some gains as a secular artiste, but I did give in and I’m very glad I did.
How has the journey been since then?
It’s been a little more than five years ago. My second album, “The Rebirth”, was gospel although the success of the love song in it, “Obi Mu O”, almost eclipsed that fact. It was also the album that basically carried my transition and its effects, the process of trying to gain acceptance within the Christian community. I even had to leave my management team then and basically go at it by myself. However, like I always say, this wasn’t a business decision. It was about answering a call, and I’m glad I’ve received grace and inner strength to pull through.
It was not something you were prepared for?
I was totally not prepared for it. Due to my background, I initially used to imagine I will get to do one thing or the other sometime for my faith along the line of my career, but totally not like this. I discovered my passion for music through the pop songs I heard around me as a child. If I started early enough I would have been serving and preparing from years back…
Were you not scared of witnessing a drop in your fan base and do you think they have coped well with this change?
Yes, I was and that was exactly at the heart of my initial struggle. Surely, everyone will not understand it. I still get snide remarks about what informed my decision, but it’s all funny to me. It’s been more than five years now and I know where I’m going. Its part of my mission to let old followers know what happened to me and how real it is, as well as anyone else who will come across the music. I’m trusting God to do the convincing with the music.
Do you miss the kind of music you used to do?
Honestly, I think I sound better and make better music now than then. I think there’s been a whole lot of change in my musical skills, understanding and overall presentation. I believe that very little of it is by personal efforts. In addition to the ease that comes by inspiration, I’m also more conscious of the quality of music I put out now. Its part of my mission to change the stereotypes associated especially with Nigerian gospel music, within the resources available to me and God being my helper.
What’s the most fulfilling aspect of this new genre of music you have chosen?
Seeing lives changed, souls blessed and saved, certainly is most fulfilling. There’s no greater pleasure than being in God’s presence. This genre is all about the true essence of life and reaching out through it, is like saying, ‘look what I found, come experience it too. Take a step of faith and you too can discover the true essence of life and begin to walk in it.’
Your sophomore but first gospel album ‘the rebirth’ was released in 2009, why did it take you this long to come out with your latest effort?
It takes a process to grow fully into what I’ve been called to do; it does take a process to be able to answer boldly to some things. I would be half baked and wouldn’t be able to last long if I didn’t go through some faith experiences. For a season, it wasn’t about releasing albums, it was about learning and growing into my role.
What does the title of your latest effort, ‘Gold Water’ symbolise?
Water is symbolic for cleansing and restoration while Gold symbolises glory and elevation. A combination of both is the idea.
You are rarely seen in the social space, does this have anything to do with you new calling?
I only attend events invited to. My circles surely did change, so the events I attend mightn’t be all up in your face in the media like that. Definitely, I also only attend events now that I can either impact with my presence or that can impact me positively. It can be any type of event as long as it meets those criteria.
Will you do R&B once in a while if called upon and the pay is right?
R&B is a style of music; you can choose to sing either gospel with it or some other theme or message. If you are referring to ballads and love songs or other themes in my music, yes once in a while, it’s important for all to hear the faith perspective of issues in the world around us. Undoubtedly, however, the bulk of my music is God. I do have one love song in the new album dedicated to my wife, and like I already told you, pay is no longer a motivation for me.
Can you talk about the ‘Rebirth Band’ which you are the pioneer?
It is a bunch of dedicated young boys and girls and men who believe in my mission and principles and have come along with me to make live music as we journey on. The band first started in 2011, the name is inspired by the title of my sophomore album and I cherish their love and support.
Who are those you have modelled your career after in the gospel music ministry?
I do find myself in a unique position especially with how I plan to express myself in gospel music. My stronger role models aren’t musicians. However, I’ve listened a lot to Michael W.Smith, Christian Hip Hop artiste, Lecrae, Deitrick Haddon, Donnie McClurkin and Don Moen. I find their styles somewhat combining with styles of secular artistes that I used to model after while growing up in the music I make.
Is it possible you will surpass your hit singles like Obi Mu O and Onyinye?
Yes, but I don’t know when. They are just the beginning.
How is life as a husband and father?
Amazing and intriguing. I’m grateful for my home.