Chief Ebenezer Remilekun Olasupo Aremu Fabiyi, aka Ebenezer Obey, is no stranger to the United Kingdom. In his career as a performer and secular musician, continuing into his evangelical ministry, he’s a regular visitor to the queen’s land. The Juju maestro-turned-missionary, whose reputation as a superstar musician remains iconic nonetheless, is currently in London but this time, his presence has become a sort of music to all ears, especially music lovers and fans of his style of Juju music, aptly named Miliki system.
Evangelist (Dr.) Obey-Fabiyi, as he’s more renowned these days, is in town for Praise Altar Crusade London 2007, a programme of music ministration billed for Saturday the 28th and Sunday 29th July and taking place at The Assembly Hall, Hounslow Road, Feltham TW14 9DN. The event is organised by Decross Gospel Mission, an arm of the Ebenezer Obey Evangelistic Ministries. The attendant media blitz has seen the genial man of music featured on a pocketful of media, both print and electronic.
The grand onslaught, however, was set at Nigerian-owned Coldharbour Lane, South London-based Majestic Restaurant where the doyen of Juju music was jointly hosted by the eatery’s management in collaboration with community broadcaster, Surprise FM on Saturday, July 21, 2007.
To say that ‘Chief Commander’ Ebenezer Obey is an enigma is akin to stating the obvious. A musical giant and entertainment icon, his famed stage dexterity and spellbinding artistry have distinguished him in a career which started in the mid-50s and flourished for decades. Gifted with the rare talent of weaving otherwise complicated Yoruba clichés into danceable masterpieces, he is also reputed for his uniquely velvety-smooth voice. Music pundits are wont to tip Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey as primus inter pares in traditional praise-singing within the social-elite circles.
Firmly set to be entrenched on the threshold of the annals of Nigerian social history, Obey’s teeming fans were in for a rude shock in 1990 when their darling idol decided to jettison secular music for evangelism by going into full-time gospel music ministration. More shocking still is the fact that Ebenezer Obey, the man famously known for belting out tuneful, wisdom-filled musical lyrics has endeared himself to fans around the world for the underlining Christian musical themes in his music.
Only a few could understand why the artiste who has never been a rancorous musician would want to abandon his trade. His Miliki style of Juju music is notably clean and largely devoid of profanities and obscenities, the twin hub on which popular music often tether its mass appeal.
So it has been for close to two decades that fans are still as mesmerised by the Obey allure as they were in those days of yore. Critics of his newfound passion have continued to be confronted with the possibility of Ebenezer Obey’s return to the stage – to sing as of old. At times, here in London (and elsewhere one is wont to believe), news of a slated Miliki concert would start like one of those flimsy rumours that often manage to develop sturdy legs of their own and travel around at such an astounding speed. But as sudden as they appear, these would fizzle away fast, leaving nostalgic fans high and dry.
Last Saturday, however, was not different as multitudes of Obey’s Miliki devotees came to catch a glimpse of the legendary musician and possibly with the hope of an icing on the cake to the bargain – having Chief Ebenezer Obey sing, even from his seat, one or two of those evergreen numbers that stamped his authority on the music scene. But this was not to be.
What yearning fans and other invitees gathered on the night did not have in Obey’s singing on stage they did gain from Chief Commander’s amiable and entertaining presence. Prayers were said and words of wisdom dispersed. Special invitations were also extended to all to attend the weekend event where Obey has promised those who would like to see him sing that he will definitely be on stage. The first 30 patrons to arrive at Majestic on Saturday were also presented with a copy each of Obey’s 2006 release ‘He Wipes My Tears’, a 12-tracker gospel offering with all songs written, composed and arranged by the maestro himself.
Whatever disappointment lies in not getting a whiff of Miliki tunes on Saturday night, Majestic Restaurant and the co-host, Surprise FM pulled a nice one by bringing Chief (Dr.) Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi to a social spotlight where he was able to mingle with all and sundry, other than his new ‘constituency’ (gospel setting) where he could have reached out only to brethren alone.
Those in attendance also enjoyed the re-creation with the night’s entertainment provided by the band of Sunday Adeola Ogunyemi (aka Sunny Melody), London’s wave-making musician whom Obey also praised for his strikingly melodious music.
Majestic Restaurant thus continues its tradition of African hospitality par excellence by maintaining its position as the top spot for relaxation and entertainment. By successfully hosting the much-sought-after musician who still has fans dreaming of his return to secular music seventeen years after exiting the centre stage, this is yet another plus.
Other dignitaries hosted in the immediate past at the upwardly mobile restaurant included the Owa Obokun Adimula of Ijesaland, His Royal Majesty Oba Adekunle Aromolaran, Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola of Osun State; Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, Papa Fatai Rolling Dollar and General Osaigbovo Samuel Ogbemudia (Rtd) CON among other dignitaries.
Obey on Himself
When he took to the stage, he did not sing but ‘admonished’ not just the fans but people of all shades and colours in attendance. For 30 minutes or so, the superstar addressed his enraptured audience. Here’s Obey’s take on himself and, yet again, how he left secular music:
“I have always been the kind of man who is made to provide and give joy to the people; hence people find joy in my music. Even before my advent into music, I have always found myself surrounded by people. But when God called me into His service, I made spirited efforts to resist leaving my music career for full-time (gospel music) ministration. I even thought of a way round ‘service’: that I could be putting money into churches to assist with the Lord’s work (and) that would be it.
But after 11 years of procrastination, I eventually yielded to the Lord’s will at the age of 50 years. It’s now 17 years since and the Lord’s work is progressing.”
© Segun Fajemisin / Mediaworks UnLimited
London July 2007