•Tells City People His Success Story
If you are always on Facebook & Instagram all the time you must have noticed that Laolu Gbenjo is now the preferred artiste by many celebrities. He does birthday shout outs. He is a popular gospel artist and is currently one of the musicians making waves in the industry. The multi-talented gospel act started his career in 2000 but later took 6 years break from the industry owing to disappointments. He got back into the industry in 2014 and has since remained at the very top of his career.
He started Birthday Shout Outs on Instagram during the lockdown to celebrate people who couldn’t hold parties due to the Covid-19 and that has drastically increased his rating in the industry, making him a sought-after artiste. He is always busy spending most of his time at the studio and within two months, he has done 100 birthday shout outs for people with his special Alujo blend of music.
In this exclusive interview with DR. SEYE KEHINDE, he talked about the many challenges he has been faced with in his career. He opened up on his humble beginning why he took a break from the music industry and what stands him out from other gospel artists.
How do you cope with the demand to sing here and there on a daily basis?
Well, it is very simple. I started the birthday shout out May 2nd, before the lockdown I had a series of shows and events in Abuja and Lagos and even other places. I was supposed to travel to London but couldn’t because of the lockdown, so I said to myself I can’t just sit at home and be idle. I also thought about people who already paid for venues, caterers, musicians but still couldn’t have their parties and I was like I can’t just let their days go without any form of celebration. I was like let me just start with a live band where I will be at the studio, call the names of the celebrants and celebrate them. That was how everything started and the feedback and response has been massive all over the world.
Why the choice of Alujo?
I think it is just my personality, I am a hyper person naturally. I like when everywhere is bubbling and I also wanted to be different and Alujo is my area of strength, that was how the concept of Alujo specialist came up.
The shout outs you do, how does it work out?
Like I said earlier, shout out started in May 2nd. Somebody reached out to me that I should do a birthday shout out for her husband. But before then lots of people had been coming to me to help them do it and I always turn it down, but when the lockdown started, I realised I needed to pay bills and my band boys, so that was when I decided to give it a try. I did the first one in my studio using my phone, immediately I shared it on Instagram, a lot of people started sending me DM, that they love it and would like it if I can do it for them and once I tell them the price they will just tell me to go ahead and do it.
How many years have you been doing this?
Professionally, I started singing in 2008 then I stopped singing for like 5 or 7 years because I was discouraged, I came back into the industry in 2014.
What made you come back in 2014?
(Laughs!!!) Honestly, I would say God. Like I said in my previous interview, I went for my friend’s album launch somewhere around Isolo and I was called to come and give a speech. I said something about the album and the artist, then I sang a song. Immediately I stepped out, someone walked up to me and said God said I should tell you, you are in a wrong place and that I should go back to my old profession that he would make me great again and also that I left my purpose long time ago. When he was saying it, I felt inside me that he was real. I could feel it in my spirit that he was saying the mind of God. There was also another friend of mine who confirmed it and told me to give music another trial, then the biggest question came up “where do I start from after leaving the industry for 6 years? So I just made a simple prayer and said father please just back me up and that was when I wrote “Dabira”, So Beautiful”, “Anu” and some other songs. I also had to gather my band boys together again, we had a meeting at Chicken Republic, Awolowo Way, Ikoyi, I told them if we work together and trust in God, he would make us great. We couldn’t make money our priority but rather concentrate on free shows first and that was how he started. I did a concert in KICC Maryland and God showed us mercy.
What really made you leave at that time?
It was the church. I was tired of church doctrines and all that. I just got tired when I did my first album in 2008. My expectations were very high expecting that after the album people will start calling me for shows, church programmes but I realised after everything, nothing was forthcoming and it was looking like I needed to beg people to buy my album, CD’s and all that. I got discouraged with what was happening, so I stopped singing and went into sand business and I was doing well. People called me for programs, and I will tell them I am not available.
When I came back in 2014, I made up my mind and told myself I won’t sell my CD’s any more, the only thing I do is each time I go for programmes, I give about 100 and above CDs to pastors for free and they pray for me and trust me, I was getting result. Most times people would call me and tell me, they were blessed by my music. Some will send 50k, some 100k, and at the end of the day, 50k alone already covered the total sales of the CDs I give out free of charge.
How do you cope with what you are doing now because it is time-consuming?
It is funny because I am busy now compared to when life was normal. I don’t have time for myself, it has been studio to house, house to the studio because I have a lot of shout out recordings. My musicians are the busiest musicians right now in Lagos.
I have 6 musicians, 3 vocalists, 1 sound engineer and driver, and I don’t want to tell you how much they earn per week despite the situation of the economy.
So how do they cope too?
They are professionals, this is what we signed up for. It requires lots of brain work. Sometimes, we create Ilu, Ajasa and it has been an interesting journey so to speak.
How do you get inspiration on what to sing for different people?
When I started the birthday shout out, I thought about how to go about it, so I collected celebrant’s full names, pictures and favourite songs, by the time I have the idea of the type of songs you like, I can easily connect to the type of songs you enjoy to listen to. If you tell me oh, I like Sunny Ade, I will build on that and if you tell me, I like pure Alujo that is when you will see the best of me. You can’t help but just love it because we will create something really unique for you.
The last time we talked, you spoke about a lady you are very close to then, are you still very close to her?
No, she is married now and stays in Dubai.
You won an award recently from us, how does that make you feel?
Can I be sincere with you? That was my first award ever and I am very grateful to God and I will like to say thank you so much sir. I was very emotional when you told me. I won the award, a lot of people invite me for award ceremonies and I don’t go but you know City People is not just an ordinary organisation, City People has always been there and every artist wants to be on that platform, so I want to say thank you for that.
Are you working on any other thing apart from the birthday shout outs?
When you gave me that award, I was working on 100 birthday shout outs in 2 months, so I said to myself after 100 birthday shout outs, what is next? I don’t want people to just see me as birthday shout out artist, I am an artist, an enterpreneur. It is because we have to do as the occasion demands, that is why we are concentrating on the birthday shout out. Few weeks ago, I thought about what I can do for my fans, since they can’t put the birthday shout out on their pages because it is someone’s pictures, so I came up with a song “Oniduromi Alujo” and it was a bomb and it was everywhere.
I heard it from Oluyinka Alesheyori, it is a worship song. But because I am not a gentle guy, everything about me is hyper, the song naturally sounds like old CAC Baptist Church song, so what we did to it to make it sound like today’s generation song, is that we added Alujo and it was beautiful.
Are you still working on any other thing before the year runs out?
I released my last album “Dabira” last year so we are working on another one, what I actually planned was a mega concert. We pray everything will be normal very soon.
How was your performance at Yaba Centre in April?
It was really emotional. I remember we were having our online praise party and immediately we finished, the governor called us to come and sing at the Isolation Centre. It was really emotional, seeing the Covid-19 infected people, it was indeed emotional.
How is your friend Bee Jay Sax?
He is doing very well.
You have not been doing collabos lately?
Yes, I have been extremely busy and he has also been busy doing some things too. Though many feel we are fighting but that is not true, we can never fight, we are children of God and we have been friends for over 15 years.
How did you meet and what has kept your friendship going?
I met Bee Jay Sax through Big Bolaji. When I stopped singing, Big Bolaji used to rent my instruments for events and that was how I met Bee Jay Sax and we became friends. We have a similar desire and passion for our job.
Tell us about your growing up years?
I grew up in Ogbomosho in Oyo State. I went to a school where we were taught English using the Yoruba language. Coming to Lagos in early 2000, I could not speak a sentence in English, not even Pidgin English, I could not express myself.
So, how did you now work on yourself?
Remember, I told you I had a girlfriend called Diana, that is why I like Igbo girls. Everybody used to laugh at me. I had very strong Yoruba diction, I met this girl who started teaching me how to speak and that was how I learnt the English language. We met in a church here in Lagos.
How did you overcome all these?
Consistency, I never gave up and I am always ready to learn.
Did you take formal courses to learn more?
No, I didn’t.
At the end of the day, what kind of a person is Laolu Gbenjo?
I am just a very simple, down to earth kind of person.
Where would you say you get more demands on the birthday shout out, Nigeria or abroad?
Abroad, outside Nigeria, all over the world.
Do you have any special message to your fans all over the world?
I want to say thank you for always supporting me, watching our videos. Your words of encouragement mean a lot to us and I pray after the pandemic that we will all have reasons to celebrate and merry together. And for people in Lagos, Eko Hotel is our venue (laughs!!!).