•The Intimate Story Of His Life @ 80
There is no way Chief Commander, Evangelist Ebenezer Obey will talk about the story of his life and he won’t talk about the story of his life and he won’t quickly tell you how his mum, Madam Abigail Oyindamola Fabiyi influenced his life from a very early age.
In his autobiography titled The Legend’s Own Story, which had Veteran Editor, Mike Awoyinfa’s collaboration, Evangelist Ebenezer Obey revealed how his Dear Mum, shaped his life. In fact, the book is dedicated to his mum for her guidance and motherly counsel and for being all that a good mother should be. Below are excerpts of his story
I wasn’t born into a musical family like some other musicians who inherited their talents. My parents were no professional musicians. I wasn’t born with the piano, guitar and drums hanging around, in a house of music. I was no musical child prodigy playing the piano at the age of four, or five, or six. But in a way, I was born into music. Although they were no musicians, my parents were musical.
A chord of nostalgia twangs my heart like a guitar played on ‘A’ Minor, as I remember you, my dear old father now gone: Chief Nathaniel Olaseewo Fabiyi. How you and your friends used to sit down merrily playing your kind of music the music of your own time. You used to play ege, the folk music of the Egba people of Abeokuta. You never played for money, It was a hobby: something you and your friends did to relieve boredom while drinking palm wine, or after playing an ayo game. Oh, you were so loved by your friends, by everybody. You were the lead singer of this nameless band. And so sweet was your voice. I must have inherited your voice. Because I inherited your tall, bulky frame, and your dark good looks. I was the chip off your old block.
My father! I remember the past and the image of you comes vividly back to me, you standing at your carpenter’s shop slicing wood with a saw or driving a nail into a chair or table with a hammer. Yours was a humble job, the very job of Joseph, the foster-father of our Lord Jesus. You ‘were so devoted to your job, so hard-working, combining carpentry With farming. You wanted me to be a carpenter just like you. It was your belief that a son must follow in his father’s footsteps, but I disliked carpentry. You tried to teach but I refused to learn. During holidays you ordered me to come to your shop to give you a helping hand, and to learn the tricks of the trade but I hated it all. I’d rather you left me then to play my music that was all I wanted to do. Music was my food. Music was my life. Music was in my blood. It was my everything.
If it were possible to return into your womb to re-experience birth, I would do it all over again, my dear mother. Abigail Oyindamola, a woman of the Olumo Rock, a woman from Owu, in the rock city of Abeokuta. I’d like you to be my mother again in another existence, another creation. I’d like to crouch inside your womb and listen again to the music of the soul which I first heard within you. You are the root of my music, you who used to take me to church to listen to God’s music, and further enrolled me in the choir to join the innocent voices practising twice a week the songs that they would sing to God on Sunday.
Fate was initially cruel to you, my mother. How did you go through the torture of over three decades without having a child? A woman in search of a child would go anywhere, would do anything. I can imagine the hell you went through in search of a child. I can feel your daily supplication to God to make you a mother like other mothers, to give you a baby of your own. I don’t know what kinds of concoction they must have asked you to drink, and the sacrifices they must have asked you to make to get a baby. In the end, everything turned out fruitless and you were sent packing. Your first husband’s people advised him to divorce you since you couldn’t bear children. By a twist of fate, you met my father who married you as his second wife. Then your fortune began to change. Luck smiled at you. God listened to your prayers.
You gave birth to my brother. But fate struck! Your first son died before your eyes three months after he was born!
It must have been a very terrible blow for you to see hope dashed, the baby you had prayed for, dead. But God in His infinite mercy heard your prayers again and gave you another child. God gave you a .girl, my sister, Sunmbo (now Mrs Grace Olasunrnbo Keyede). After Sunmbo came I, Ebenezer Olasupo Oluwarernilekun Arernu. Born on April 3, 1942, at Massey Street Hospital, Lagos.
You came to Lagos to deliver me, then returned to our village, Idogo, shortly after my birth. My name, Ebenezer, was picked from the Bible to reflect the trauma of your barren years. Ebenezer meaning, ‘hitherto has the Lord helped me’. Yes, the Lord had been helpful to my parents in giving them, children. My second name, Olamisupo, means, ‘I am now heaped with honours’. And the third name, Oluwarernilekun is also based on the same theme of gratitude to God. God has wiped away my tears’. My mother’s tears. Among my people, the Yoruba, a child’s name must be related to the circumstances of his or her birth.
As a Christian, my father loved the name Ebenezer and called me that name. Prior to coming to Idogo from Abeokuta, my parents were Anglicans, but they had to turn to the Methodists because there was no Anglican church in Idogo at that time. My father left his Keisi quarters in Abeokuta in the 1930s to settle at Idogo, nine miles from Ilaro, in Ogun State. We became Methodists and we, the children, were educated in Methodist schools.
My sister, Sunmbo, is three years older and we looked alike so much when we were young. We are very fond of each other. My mother was popularly called Mama Sunmbo, after my sister. And since she was a cloth-seller, they called her Mama Sunmbo Alaso (Mama Sunmbo, the cloth-seller). Mama Sunmbo is light-complexioned, tall, almost as tall as my father. I am from a family of giants. She was a strict woman, a disciplinarian, but a loving mother. She didn’t believe in sparing the rod and spoiling the child. She was the Iron Lady of my childhood, a no-nonsense woman who knew how to use the koboko on an errant child. My father, on the other hand, was a cool-headed gentleman who rarely lost his temper. He was quiet. He was easy-going. I can’t remember him ever beating me. The worst he would do was to shout at me when I must have pushed him to the wall from my naughtiness. Yes, I can say I also inherited my cool and calm nature from myoid man. Some kids grow under an atmosphere of constant parental war. Not my parents. Not once, did I never ever see them raise their voices against each other. It was peace, perfect peace all the way.
I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, nor would I say that I was born into abject poverty. My parents were just in-between. They were hard-working and were doing well in their various jobs. By local standards, we were just all right. We never had cause to cry of hunger or go begging. My parents never went borrowing or sorrowing.
Remember, my mother, that right from the beginning I have been your lucky child, your child of fortune. All your children brought you good luck. Do you remember those nights you used to give me a coin and asked me to ‘pay’ you the coin first thing in the morning before you came into contact with any human being before anyone spoke to you? You used to call me Omo aje, the child who brings his mother fortune in the market. You believed that it was our daily practice of coin-giving that brought you the luck to make good sales. And every evening, you returned from the market wearing smiles on your face and chanting my praise. I was always happy to see you happy. But at some other times, I brought you sadness and bad sales when I forgot to ‘pay’ you the coin and you met someone else first, or when I was out of town. Mother, I was your mascot, and I’m still your mascot, the child who brought you luck and money. And you are my mascot too, a mother who brought luck. You have always brought me luck and good fortune. I am lucky to be yours, your son, just as you are lucky to be mine, my mother.
A mother is a source of inspiration to every musician, every artiste. Mine is no exception. I have also sung in praise of my mother in my songs. I have dedicated several records to her. If you listen to my album, ‘Iya lalabaro’, you will hear me telling the world about my mother. A mother who is an adviser, counsellor, everything to me. In times of need, she is there. In times of pain, she is around to comfort you. In times of pleasure, she is there to share in your joy. As much as I have praised my mother, I have also honoured my father in my music. As the Holy Bible says: ‘Honour your father and mother, so that your days on earth may be long’.
I have often been asked about my earliest memory of singing. I can’t remember anything precisely other than to say that every child sings, and I loved singing as a child. The talent to compose music, as I said, is God-given. As a child, I could compose songs on virtually everything under the sun If I went on an errand for my parents, I ‘killed’ the distance by composing songs along the way. I would compose songs reflecting my moods, sad songs when I was sad, happy songs when I was happy. That’s the way it starts for many music composers.
I liked drumming as a child and I used my fingers to drum on tables, tin drums, every object that could produce sound, rhythm. I trained myself to master the art of playing rhythms. I played the mouth organ. I played the flute. I sang, using cigarette cups as microphones. The child indeed is the father of the man. Whatever you’ll be in life, it shows from the morning of your life, your childhood.
Church and Music go hand in hand. The church is where it all starts for most top stars in music. Every big name in music, from Aretha Franklin to Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, to Michael Jackson, all started from the church. God gives you the talent but it is in the church that you discover and develop it, by going to church regularly and being in the choir. It is in the choir you learn to harmonize, you learn tonic sofas, and how to apply them in musical composition.
I was fortunate to have been born into a Christian family. But Christianity had not always been there; my forebears practised traditional religion and my very name is rooted in the traditional religion of my ancestors. The name Fabiyi is an abbreviation of Ifabiyi meaning, ‘a child given by Ifa deity’. My father’s compound in Abeokuta is called Agbo Ile Olorimole, which is the ‘compound of the Chief priest’. In that compound, there is a shrine where Ifa is worshipped, where rituals are performed every day. But God always does wonderful things. Out of the black pot comes the white pap, as Yoruba people say. Before I was born, my parents had embraced Christianity. My father was even supposed to have been ordained a chief priest but he declined. In spite of being threatened with a curse by the god if he didn’t become a chief priest, my father still defied the oracle and held to the cross of Jesus.
Both my father and mother were Anglicans when they were in Abeokuta, but when they came to Idogo, there was no Anglican Church. So, they had to become Methodists. It was in the church that everything about my music started.