interviewBy Samuel Abulude and Kazeem Yekeen
Tolu Obey is the son of the legendary juju musician, Chief Ebenezer. Having started his musical career back in the days as a choir member and understudying his father for many years, he started his band in 1990. Tolu, a chip off the old block, is now ready to take his place in the music industry with an album to be released soon. In this interview with SAMUEL ABULUDE and KAZEEM YEKEEN, he spoke about his music, his father and other sundry issues.
As the son of Chief Ebenezer Obey, can you step into his shoes?
Most of the time, I have been asked this question and have come to believe that there is nothing God cannot do. My father is a hardworking man; whoever wants to match up to what he has done to juju music must also pay the same price as he did. Not leaving any stone unturned, with the level of my experience as a musician and also learning from him, I believe with time, I can step to my father's shoes playing juju music at that stage.
What is unique about your own juju music?
My own kind of juju music is just like my father. It comes normally with a slow tempo for the elderly ones while we play a faster tempo for the younger generation.
Is there any difference between your father's music and yours?
I won't say there is any difference but what I will say is that, it's like a carry-over. However, there is a lot of experimentation that has come in today and lots of hard work and collabos as well but don't let me let the cat out of the bag now. Sooner than later, my album will be out.
How did you develop the passion for music?
Just like most youths that ended up as musicians, I have been in the choir for a long time. I grew up in the church. I am an instrumentalist and I can play almost all the musical instruments in the church. I used to play here and there you know, listening to different kinds of music, read books just to enrich my own musical career.
With the current trend of hip-hop music being played everywhere, do you share the same feeling that juju music is dying?
Juju music is not dying. Let me put it this way. Juju music is there; it has come to stay and it is going to be there. Most of the times, when people say juju music is dying, I just look at them because critically speaking, if we are to define juju music, afro beat, fuji music and reggae as well as hip hop, you will find out that there are a lot of addition and subtraction to the music of today. Most of the music we are hearing now evolved from the kind of music played in the past. It was just put on a faster tempo.
What you don't understand is that the hip hop music we are hearing now started from somewhere in America and we have our own style of music. Look at Nice, for example, and his music, it is a product of all kinds of music that he had exposed himself to.
Do you want to tell me that the white man understands his music? Look at Ebenezer Obey, for example, he is very philosophical in his style of music. He sings mostly in Yoruba and then in English. The present crop of musicians like D Banj, Nice and others had their orientation from Ebenezer Obey's music. So, how can we now say that juju music is dying? it is not.
Also, why do you think my father's music is still relevant till now? My brothers and I produced his evergreen music and it is still selling just like contemporary music but If Juju music is dead, we won't be selling his album up till now. Music is ageless. What I feel is that we the younger generations need to be more hardworking like our predecessors to be able to make lasting impact in the music world. Their music stands the test of time because of what they underwent.
This is talking about their hardship and focus on their dreams. If every younger musician sticks to his dreams, the sky will definitely be the limit. I have been into music since 1990. I had my own band since 1990 and I am still here playing my music. One of my colleagues gave up his musical career as a result of hardship and we are not hearing about him again.
Could we say because, you are comfortable that is why you are still playing?
No. let me tell you, in my family, if you don't work, you don't eat. My father is a kind of person that trained his children to be hard workers. He is a very disciplined man. His philosophy is that if you don't work you don't eat. Everything, I am getting from my music is what I use to feed my family. The legacy, he left behind is what I am pursuing.
Being a musician is a rewarding career after all and I believe a lot of people that dropped their musical career can still make it. Back to your question, juju music is not dying, we just want everybody out there, lovers of juju music to be patient and see what we are trying to bring for them.
How rewarding has it been for you as a musician?
It has been great; I have played a lot in many parties and received encouragement from Honourable members, Senators and former Governors. I have played for the former Oyo State Governor who died recently, Alhaji Lam Adesina. I sang for him when he became the governor back then and even after he left office. So, if my music is not good, I will not be invited to play.
We noticed you have this Afro, is that your style?
My father, right from the onset, has been a musician; he has always won afro, you remember the trend in those days. My father, does not cut his hair then, if you have known him in the past, you would have noticed that. I took after him. When my father retired from active music, then a lot of people used to call themselves Tolu Obey while they were not.
As regards my grey hair, I discovered that I had this grey hair from my child hood. Sincerely, I now decided to leave it there as my trademark. When somebody says he is Tolu Obey and does not have the grey hair, he is not Tolu Obey. That is one of the reasons why I left it there. There are some people who are trying to impersonate Tolu Obey and whenever, they try it, they can never sing like him. I have had my band, Tolu Obey and the new Miliki band since 1990.
How do you see the music industry in Nigeria?
The music industry is not for a lazy man that is one thing out of it. If you are lazy, you will never see the light of day no matter how hard you try. If you do your first album and give all into it, it will show in your music but if you relax in your next album, they won't hear from you again.
Can you tell us about your family?
I am the fifth child of Chief Ebenezer Obey Fabiyi's family from Ogun State with the name Toluwaleke Obey Fabiyi. My stage name, Tolu Obey and the New Milliki Band. I am married and have my own family but will like to leave them out of the press so that they can have a life of their own. It's just a matter of principle. Let my wife and kids have a normal life while we are the celebrity.
Are any of your siblings also into gospel music?
Apart from my father, my brother, Lanre Obey plays gospel music where he stays in the USA though he is in Nigeria now.
Everything we are talking about is a stage so when you get to that stage, everything will unfold itself.