#TheYNaijaInterview: “I did not give Chimamanda permission to use my lyrics” – Obiwon

by Wilfred Okiche

OBIWON OBIORA

Obiora Nwokolobia-Agu, the singer better known as Obiwon recently released his third album ‘Gold water’. He stopped by the YNaija offices and spoke with us about the album and what it means to him, his transition from pop music to gospel and his relationship with everyone’s favourite writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

We bring you excerpts from our conversation. Enjoy.

Let us start with the album, this is album number?

Three

Why the delay in between, it has been a while since the last one hasn’t it?

Between the first and second was 3 years. this one comes 4 years after the second album. I don’t know why, it is just myself going through some sort of transformation and I believe those years add up to whatever experience you are hearing on the album.

In showbiz, a lot can happen in a week. If you are away for 4 years, what is really going on in that time?

I wouldn’t say I have been away unless you feel that releasing albums is the only way to be around. Because my focus is gospel and gospel is not so mainstream, the things I do like ministering the gospel here and there, releasing singles may not make the headlines beyond gospel circles. But when you put out an album like this, it become more obvious but between those years I have been growing in my new direction, following my path.

You found fame via secular music. At the risk of sounding repetitive, let me ask you why the transition to gospel music?

There is always a curiosity about that. When I first released my first album, I got introduced to the rock star lifestyle and uninhibited access to the parties and all that. And I participated  to some extent, maybe even enjoyed it. To me it seemed like there was a particular lifestyle you had to live if you were a secular artiste but that made me think and ponder what I wanted for myself and how I would end up if I continued down that path. It was also the time that some of my favourite icons; Michael Jackson and R. Kelly wer having some problems and it seemed like my own path was going to be uphill and a crash. And I know that some people’s stories are different but the whole thing drove me to ask myself what is my talent really for and my purpose on earth. I questioned the faith I was brought up in so I got born again and had a renewal of my faith. And I chose to start practicing my faith. Initially the plan was to live like that and still pursue a career in R&B and making sure the music stayed clean but along the line and the deeper I got, the more it became clearer to me that God was calling me to give everything to him and I did not find peace till I did that.

Obiwon
Obiwon

How has it been though? Are you fully convinced about this path or do you still have doubts?

I am more convinced now than when I first took the decision. It has been 6 years because my second album was my first album but the love song in it was the most popular. There was scepticism on the one side. It is not easy convincing christians and that is understandable. My then management and some friends thought that I was going through some phase but it has been 6 years now.

That is a really long phase.

Indeed. I think it is now that people are beginning to accept me as a gospel artiste. The transition wasn’t that easy but my convictions are more stronger.

How has the reception been both from the pop part of town and the gospel part of town?

It has been a process. What has happened is that I am getting invited more to christian events and less to secular events. As God would have it I won a gospel award last year. People find the story most fascinatng but then they listen to the music and they are mostly convinced that I know what I am doing. Some secular events still check me out when they need the love songs but the bulk of my work is on the gospel part of town as you put it.

Gospel musicians do not necessaarily practice what they preach. Was it extra hard for you to convince the christian folk?

Even while I was in secular music, one way or the other God kept me away from controversies. Whatever life you are living, you can only hide it for some time, it will definitely show up. Anything could happen and put you in a compromising position but I do not think that it is possible to communicate what I am not living and discerning christians can pick that from a mile away. Gospel music is the business of souls and you have to be living in the lifestyle to effect changes.

Do you miss your old lifestyle? Are there days you think that maybe you made the wrong call?

Do I look like I miss it? Come on. The only thin that would make me ask that question was at the initial stages when it looked like it was going to be really harder than I thought especially as a professional musician. I had to learn to walk by faith when it came to finances. But you learn to grow into these thing. I know for the first time in my life I enjoyed freedom.

So you don’t miss that life?

No way.

How lucrative has it been, financially, what is your story?

For me if you want to do gospel, it isnt really about the money. I have learnt how to totally depend on God for my livelihood. I have come to learn that God is indeed faithful. When you do gospel, you might not really be taken care of directly from what you are doing but there are other ways that amazing miracles happen. When the chips are down, someone will get instructed to bless you with something and from then on it gets better.

So you have been blessed?

Completely.

The new album is titled ‘Gold water’. Where does that come from?

It came from an experience I had, the whole album did actually. Water symbolises  cleaansing, revival, restoration and Gold signifies glory and elevation so a combination of both is pretty much the idea. The sound is very contemporary. ‘Pour your love’ is the latest single, a gospel collaboration and the elites ofcontemporary gospel, Eben, Kore and Frank Edwards are featured on one track ‘Praise my king’.

Are you aware that in ‘Americanah’, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie used the lyrics of your single ‘Obi muo’?

I haven’t read the book but I heard that she quoted the lyrics copiously.

Did she call you to take permission?

No she didn’t, come to think of it you are the one that is stoking a fire because the copyright is actually mine so maybe I should call my lawyer. Seriously though, I do not think that I will bother myself with that. Even after ‘Obi muo’ came out there are many other places I have heard the lyrics of the song but I am really not bothered. I and Chimamanda were in first year together at Nsukka before she left the country so from a distance we kinda know each other.

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