Many don’t know how Juju music maestro and one of Africa’s greatest music legends, Chief Ebenezer Olasupo Oluwaremilekun Obey Fabiyi got his alias Obey. We can tell you. At 76, he has been actively involved in Juju music for over 6 decades. Although he left music for 15 years, between 1992 and 2007 to set up his Evangelical Ministry he came back a few years ago and now makes “Special Musical Appearances”. Not too long ago, the Commander revealed the secret of his success and how he transformed from a raw talent to a refined and glittering legend. “I want to give thanks to God Almighty and I want to return all the glory and honor to His Holy name because of the journey.
“ I grew up in Idogo, Ogun State. I was always going from school to rehearse with the church choir. I could say my music career started in my school days in Idogo before I moved to Lagos”, he said. Obey quickly showed flashes of his musical brilliance and even at that early age founded the Royal Mambo Orchestra.
“What started as a hobby became my profession. Back in those days. I used to call myself ‘the future star’ and to the glory of God, that came to pass. My music got into almost every corner of the world. I released so many records; even those I released 50 years ago are still very relevant now”. Unknown to millions of Obey’s fans, the name ‘Obey’ is not his real name. He revealed, “Obey, a name blessed by God; a name that has become so iconic, was given to me at Idogo by my schoolmates”.
“As a prefect in the school, any time a teacher wanted to discipline students and the students tried to throw tantrums, I used to tell them, ‘obey first and then complain’. Since then, the students started calling me ‘obey’,” he recalled.
Highly philosophical in his lyrics, Obey said it’s a “gift from God. It is very easy for me to compose songs. It’s not just about becoming a composer, it doesn’t start and end there, but what kind of songs are you composing? That is the question. If you can compose good songs, such songs would last forever. People would want to play them everywhere; they would listen to the songs all the time”.
Obey provided further insight into his background and how his mother almost dissuaded him from becoming a musician, a profession she considered condescending. “My father was a carpenter, my mother came from Kesi family of Owu, Abeokuta and their village is Abese in Ifo Local government Area.
Every Owu son and daughter must have a village. My mum appealed to me not to go into music. “Your father is woken-up daily by drummers, why then should you go into music?”, she asked me. As penetrating and weighty as his mother’s rhetorical question was, Obey in this instance did, not obey her.
After starting his elementary education at Methodist primary school, Idogo, he moved to Odye Elementary school, Mushin, Lagos to complete his primary education. Thereafter, he was enrolled at the Methodist Secondary Modern School, Asero, Abeokuta. In 1958, after completing his Modern School education, Obey moved to Lagos in search of greener pastures.
On getting to Lagos, he tried his luck with anything that could bring food to the table, working variously as a newspaper vendor, labourer and clerical assistant. In his sojourn, he came across two musicians, Bamgbose and Akinbomi Savage who recruited him for their band. Through the duo, he met Fatai Rolling Dollars. Obey and Fatai became very close. When Fatai decided to start his own band, Obey opted to go with him. They started the Niger Rhythm Brothers, a five-member band with Obey as the second in command and the composer.
After five years of working with Fatai, Obey formed his own group, the International Brothers and this became a major turning point in his career. How did Obey cope under pressure, we asked him. “That must be a good pressure. I don’t call it pressure because pressure is what you are doing out of pain and hardship.
When you are good in what you do, it is a good pressure. I’m booked for performances up to six months or one year in advance. I enjoy doing it. In fact, good music cannot come from pain. It has to come from a flowing and settled mind. The inspiration comes sometimes when I’m on the bed or when I wake up early in the morning and go to the toilet or even when I’m on stage. You cannot compose when you are
occupied. That is why it comes when people cannot disturb me, on my bed or in the toilet”. Who would you say is dearest to you in your musical journey?, we probed. “I can never forget Mr. Cress. I used to call him my father, I see him as God-sent. He was always there at my point of need. I wanted to be discovered, I knew I had something in me. When you have good things in you, you must not allow it to die until you find a way to deliver it.
If I didn’t have the opportunity to be heard, all those songs could have died in me. Back in the day, I trekked all the way from Mushin to Lagos Island because there was no technology that allowed you to record and take your demo to the producer. I didn’t have the money for transportation, so I trekked all the way to Afrodisia Studio on Lagos Island. I met the secretary who said I couldn’t see the Managing Director and that I should rather see the Artiste Manager who was unfortunately on leave. The secretary asked me to come back in six weeks.
Not willing to give up easily, I engaged the secretary in a passionate conversation. The Managing Director called through the intercom to know the cause of the noise.
The secretary told him that ‘there is a young man here who said he is a future star and insists on seeing you but I told him he can’t see you’. ‘Future Star!, the Managing Director exclaimed, send him in. Can you see one of the reasons why I can’t forget him? So, I told him, I’m a future star, I want you to record me. Please don’t pay me yet, my records will sell, after the records are sold, then pay me. He kept on looking at me,
So he called one Mr. Ogunbayo and said” I think this young man should be given a chance. I went for the audition. Marketers were called to present their purchase bid. Then, if the record bid was not up to five hundred, you can’t be promoted. Mine was short by 19 but they all could see my capability. That was how he (MD) ordered for 19 to guarantee my stay and that was the first time the Managing Director did that.
That’s why I said I can never forget him”, said Obey.
Still reminiscing on what propelled him to trek from Mushin to Lagos Island in search of greatness, the great Commander said, “something was just pushing me and I didn’t want it to die in me. My album sale was always rated as either Gold or Platinum. I never had Silver. My success is by the grace of God. I thank God Almighty. Fifteen years after I went into the ministry and returned for special appearances, people still love my music”.
The phenomenally successful composer with many evergreen songs gave an insight into one of his acclaimed evergreen compositions, the story of the Horse and the Donkey. He revealed that, “the moral of the song is that no matter how hard you try, you can never satisfy the world. In life, the process of gathering enmity
starts right from when a child is still crawling.
When the child innocently damages something, the owner takes an offence and marks the child as an enemy. In his formative years, if he has a bicycle and for some inexplicable reasons prevent some of his peers from riding the bicycle, he makes another round of enemies. If he is brilliant in school and comes first, he becomes the enemy of others who are lagging behind. If he is loved by the boss due to his diligence, others, out of envy and frustration, will give him names. You can’t definitely please the world.”
“As a prefect in the school, any time a teacher wanted to discipline students and the students tried to throw tantrums, I used to tell them, ‘obey first and then complain’. Since then, the students started calling me ‘obey’,” he recalled.”
As a General Overseer, Ebenezer Obey believes that the Church is not still doing enough to spread the gospel. “As much as we are trying, we can never do enough because everybody must hear the gospel. We must preach the good news and tell the people what is bad. Man will get whatever he wants as long as he does the will of God.”
Unknown to millions of Obey’s fans, the name ‘Obey’ is not his real name. He revealed, “Obey, a name blessed by God; a name that has become so iconic, was given to me at Idogo by my schoolmates”.
Ebenezer Obey is not only a powerful composer, outstanding lyricist and accomplished philosopher; he is also a social crusader. “Our leaders don’t heed good advice. They only pay lip service to utopian policies. Take food security for example. With all our resources, why can’t we produce enough food for ourselves? We should be able to do this easily if the leaders exhibit sincerity of purpose”. He praised Globacom, especially Dr. Mike Adenuga, its founder and Chairman, for deeming it fit to introduce the Glo Evergreen Series, “This is a man of honor and integrity, who has contributed immensely to the growth of our economy through creation of jobs for many Nigerians. We shall continue to pray for him, his family and the entire staff of the company worldwide, they are fantastic people”.
He added: “The Evergreen Series is attracting a lot of interest from Nigerians; it is a very good development and an opportunity for the younger generation to learn from the legends. The Glo Evergreen Series has opened another vista in the entertainment industry, which will be cherished forever”, he concluded.