After ruling the music industry for over six decades, the music legend, Evangelist Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi, who turned 81 today 3, April 2023 spoke with a National Daily about life and other issues.
You still do rehearsals before any performance; how do you get the strength?
Honestly, music means another thing entirely to us whom the Lord has given the gift. A rehearsal is a core criterion of any responsible musician. This determines the preparedness of any musician and how he can entertain when it comes to real performance. Music is more than a blood tonic that gives one joy. It is not stressful. As for me, I have cultivated a style of music to always profess good things. All that is in me now are good things and my music makes those that are listening to it happy as well as give them joy. Mind you, this joy radiated from me and it became a message. Anybody will be happy with a good message. Even when I was young, God gave me a specialty, I know how to bring up good things that will make people happy; as those people that are listening to my music are happy, I, as the brains behind the music work, am filled with Joy.
Any musician that sings good music will reap the benefit and will have joy from within. For instance, before the rehearsal, I had some pains in my left knee for about three days, but when I trekked to the rehearsal and did my thing with my band, the pain disappeared and I was energized to flow beyond the rehearsal session.
You will clock 81 today, how do you feel about adding another year?
I just have to continue to thank God. I always take stock of the journey of my life. Just a year ago that my 80th birthday was celebrated in a big way in Lagos and Abeokuta, Ogun State, before we knew it God has done it again. He kept me alive and in sound health to witness another year. I will be 81 tomorrow (April 3). I appreciate God for his mercy and kindness toward me. So, I am led to mark this year’s birthday in a quiet and impactful way. This time, I want to put smiles on the faces of the needy. I will have a representative at the Hope Orphanage in Ilorin, Kwara State; I will also visit the Stella Obasanjo Orphanage in Abeokuta, Ogun State, as well as bless and perform at the Lepers’ Colony, Ogun State. Importantly, on April 9 (Easter Sunday), I will have a special thanksgiving service at our church, Decross Gospel Mission headquarters, Agege, Lagos State. As I said, It is just a quiet celebration this year to appreciate God.
How fulfilled are you turning 81?
Looking back, I am a much more fulfilled person and I am grateful to God. I became a professional musician at the age of 15 and I thank God because He has been so good to me. I will forever be appreciative of His goodness and kindness towards me. I want to sincerely thank all my fans and admirers as well as everyone that has contributed to my success story. The interesting part is that even the younger ones of today have become my fans and I am not taking this for granted.
Based on your early days and now as a music star, is there anything you wish to do differently?
I believe that God helped me to pass through every stage that I have passed through in life. So, I thank God for how He has planned my life. When you are young, you behave like a young person, but I thank God for being in me right from the beginning and have also been leading my path. Things became much better for me because I have God in my life. Anytime I go wrong, God will quickly correct me. So, looking back, God has shaped and handled my life as well as abide with me. I am so happy for this divine grace my life has witnessed in the last eight decades.
Don’t forget that the challenges of life are meant to shape our lives. We are meant to pass through some challenges that will take us to our higher height. So, whatever situation I find myself in, I allow God to take control. I have encountered many pleasant and unpleasant times. Life is not a straight way; there must be different seasons within the scope of time we live on earth. For instance, the death of my dear brother, General Oladipo Diya, who passed on days back, came to me as a shock because we are birthday mates; we were both born on April 3, though I was born in 1942 and he was born in 1944. We are close; our same date made us close. I remember when he was in the army; he sent a representative from Abuja to grace my mother’s funeral ceremony in Abeokuta and gave me a gift. Also, every April 3, we greet ourselves. So, I was deeply touched when I heard of his demise. He will be clocking 79 and I will clock 81 . I was touched because he was a good man, may his soul rest in peace. Life generally is a journey and God has the timetable of our coming to the earth and when we will return. We can only pray for God to keep and help us. For the remaining part of my life, I just want good things to come out of my mouth and also do good things. I pray that God will guide me.
We see more of you impacting lives and doing more evangelical works than music performances lately, is this deliberate?
Yes, what else to engage in than to impact lives positively? There are several ways to be useful to people. The younger ones are just experiencing what we have passed through in life, so we allow the younger generation to learn from our experiences. We can only advise and show them the right way. When you grow older, you become happier and everything changes. I don’t think I have any more rivers to cross. I just want to continue to thank God and do well for people and myself.
You seem to love properties and rumour had it that you celebrate your 40th birthday with 40 houses. How true is this?
No, I didn’t celebrate my 40th birthday with 40 houses, but I invested so much in properties before I clocked 40 and I was very happy because if you buy land or build a house today, in five years, the value will become unimaginable. But if you buy a car, it will depreciate. So, investing in properties is a very good thing and I want to encourage the younger generation to learn from this. The popular adage says, “Owo ti omode ba koko ri, akara lo fin je” A child will be frivolous with his first earnings. This is because they will want to do many things at a time, but I thank God I have those that continue to advise me and that I took to the advice. I don’t have up to 40 properties, but God blessed me with a few.
Despite your commitment to the work of God and being a church leader, you stick to remaining an evangelist, why?
Jesus is the head of the church and I am one of His shepherds. I am into evangelistic ministry. The gift of music helped me when God called me to the ministry. The propagation of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is the duty of an evangelist. We have pastors, evangelists, teachers, and prophets in the five-fold ministry. So, I belong to the evangelist fold and this is what I do. My son is a bishop; I am not a bishop, but an evangelist, and God has manifested Himself in so many ways through this ministry
What would be your priorities after 81?
Mo fi gbogbo re fun patapata lai ku, igbagbo mi ranmo oba ta bi si aye. I have put all in the hands of God, what else do I want to do after 81? I am running the race of life and I want to see God taking control of my life till the appointed time He has for me to go back home. We are all on a journey here and we must go back to our creator. Thank God for the opportunity that I have to live up to 81. I have committed the race of my days, and years on earth unto the Lord and I want to fulfill what He has for me, which I think is the best for me.
You have remained evergreen for over six decades and you are still not losing it. What is the secret?
As I used to say, what you see in me today is God and the good teachings of my parents. Ordinarily, I never knew I would become this famous. I have been through a lot that would have consumed me and made me become forgotten, but God in His way placed me in the forefront. In 1976, I think I was around 34 years old. I was so sick and I had to go to London. That was the Babu Lukudi era. The fame gave me so much work to do and I am a workaholic. People thought I would die; I have even been pronounced dead so many times, but I thank God for keeping me. I have been pronounced dead since I was young. I have been pronounced dead more than eight times, but my God is good and He knew my time is not due yet, so I think that was why He has kept me alive. So, I must continue to give thanks to him.
I was in London in 2022 for over six months; I had surgery and there was a complication. I never knew I would make it, but here I am, God did it. I know what I am saying when I said I owe everything to God because He made me overcome all the challenges that I have been through in life. Interestingly, my mother lived to age 97 years and my father was 95 before he passed on. My elder sister died at 74, while my younger brother died at 72. So, everything belongs to God. God owns my life and I have committed all to Him. I am grateful to God to have turned 81. We have to leave every day in Him.
As a respected musician, what is your take on the just-concluded elections, and what is your advice to the new set of leadership that will take the mantle in a few months?
We thank God for the success of the election and the peace process. The election has established the progress of democracy in the country and I want Nigerians to continue to pray for our dear country as well as our leaders. The book of 1 Timothy 2 VS 1-2 established that we should continue to pray for our leaders in positions of authority so that we can all be at peace. I decided not to be a politician because I cherish my calling, but I submit to any government in power. I believe God knows about anyone that attains power. I believe so much in God; He would not put anyone He doesn’t know the throne. Power belongs to God and He gives it to whoever He wishes. This is why I support all governments in power, specifically, all past governors of Lagos and Ogun states, from Bisi Onabanjo, Jakande, Osoba, Tinubu, Fashola, Daniel, Amosun, Ambode, Abiodun, and Sanwo-Olu.
For instance, I have some of my elders in my church who are political office holders including a member of the House of Representatives, a member of Lagos State House of Assembly, and chairman of a local government council as well as others that are members of different political parties. I have always ensured to preach peace and educate the entire church to support candidates of their choice.
Back then, I loved Chief Obafemi Awolowo, I am his fan and I loved him dearly because of all he did, but I have friends and fans in NPN, AD, and UPN. The late Chief Moshood Abiola was my very good friend too and I mix among them all and they know what I stand for. I have equally supported all past heads of state and presidents. As a man of God, I want to keep peace with everyone and I will support any government in power.
Most of your works seem to be an unconscious prophecy for your graceful age and have become evergreen.
I see my works as meaningful lyrics called the evergreen music of Ebenezer Obey. For instance, I recorded “Olomi Gbotemi” in 1965; the war was in 1966, and “Olomi Gbotemi” came out before “Omo wa n re Solider”. Imagine, 58 years ago and it is still relevant to date. I recorded “Kete Kete”, “Board Members” and “Aye wa a toro” around 1972, yet they are fresh in people’s minds. These lyrics are meaningful, prayerful, thought-provoking messages and educative that people will want to listen to them again and again. I still receive calls from a lot of people to talk about the songs.
Did you find any of your children that wanted to join the army then that made you do that song?
No, you know the Civil War started suddenly; no one envisaged that it would turn into war. From police action, it turned into a war. So, a member of my band, Salawu Awe, informed me of his intention to join the army and he left and a lot of people joined then. Though, that was not the reason I composed that song; you know war is not a good thing. I just had to describe what soldier meant in those days. The family of those that went to the war then didn’t want them to go.
For “Ayewa Atoro” a popular adage says, “ape mora eni lan pe temi dire” You prophesy good things to yourself. The song is a prayer and everybody that plays that record will believe that his or her life must flourish. God answered my prayer too and made my life flourish. The song came about when I was in London, “Aye wa atoro, Igbawa adara kale… If you look at that holistically, my life has been good even in old age. God answered all my prayers in my songs and I am happy that I am a testimony of my musical works. When I have deeply reflected on my songs, I realised that they worked for me in so many ways and that of many people.