Excerpt of Ebenezer Obey’s recent interview with Abiola Alabi Peters.
Could you recall the exact year you started music before you became famous?
I formed my first band, Royal Mambo Orchestra in Idogo, when I was 15 and today I am 76. That means I have been in music professionally for 61 years. God has been so gracious to me in my music career and life entirely. There is nothing new about my life story and my career. All I need now is to thank God for whatever I have become in life.
What is the main focus of the foundation?
The foundation is doing youth empowerment and vocational training. One thing that is missing in our society today is that the youth are not adequately taken care of. We will be having a music school and mentorship skills acquisition. We want to have a 250 seat capacity ICT centre that can be extended to 500 when they are empowered. We believe that it is not enough to be churning out thousands of graduates every year without employment.
We need to encourage them in agriculture, in skills acquisition, in music and mentorship and scholarships. Those are the things that Ebenezer Obey Music Foundation will be doing. It is something bigger than me; it is not what I can do alone, but I am getting support from friends and well-wishers to achieve this goal. I believe that I can with the support of those who believe in me.
Are you saying you are into farming as a means of diversification?
The future of Nigeria is making me to venture into agriculture. I also think all Nigerians must be involved in agriculture, because it is our future. God has made everything so easy for us; the land is there. All we need to do is just to put something there and nurture it. If we can grow the food that the whole world will eat, it can never be enough. If we only concentrate on agriculture, growing what we eat and what others eat, that is enough. I am old now but I can contribute my quota.
I can encourage the youth instead of just watching them roam the streets in the name of looking for job. There is money in Nigeria, but many people are shy of doing rough jobs here whereas when they travel abroad, they do all manner of odd jobs. When I was young, my mother never wanted me to be a labourer or do any odd jobs; she was ready to provide whatever I wanted, but without telling anybody, I would go to where nobody knew me and would do all manner of jobs.
I would carry blocks earning one and six; and I would buy ‘kolobe’. I would use three pence to eat in the morning, another three pence to eat in the afternoon, all out of the one and six. And I saved the rest and my mother would never know. I did all that because my mother did so much labour for her children and I said I must do something to take care of myself. I became a vendor, nobody sent me there. I would wake up very early and go to Idi-Oro to go and queue for papers. Daily Times, West African Pilot, those were the newspapers then and I was everywhere selling them.
What prompted your passion into youth empowerment when you are not a politician?
One doesn’t have to be a politician before you can impact lives. My entire life is nothing, but God. I am in the ministry already and in the ministry, we are doing what we can do to make a difference; to leave a legacy. It is part of the ministry, but it is not religious. If you do something for the masses, youths, then we have a better Nigeria.
You’re a renowned music legend that has become the toast of prominent personalities, how have you been able to achieve this, even at old age?
I see whatever I have become in life today as a privilege. It has been the grace of God to still be relevant in the industry, even in the present generation. I don’t have a special way I do this other than work hard to fit into the different generations. When it comes to music, I don’t joke with my fans; I respect them a lot and maintain a mutual relationship. I don’t discriminate against people. I show love and respect to both the old and young; influential, average or those in the lower class. I see all my fans as the same. I have a distinct way of sustaining relationships with people and that has affected my life positively. Lovers of Obey’s music, who have been following me for long, still love to listen to my music and invite us to perform at their events. This is why some old generation musicians are still active in the system and have become the toast of high society personalities.