‘I’m in music to spread word of God, not for fame’
Debutant Gospel artiste, Muanya Okey-Agu, finds delight in her understanding of the Word (of God) as she talks of her album, My Refuge, her foray into the world of music. Making the point that the major difference between Gospel and hip-hop is the message, she argues that the beauty of gospel music is that any genre of music can carry the message.
Muanya likes to stress the point that, “I play Gospel because basically, I’m born again. When I accepted Christ, I discovered that I have this talent for singing, and I have embraced with all my strength to propagate the gospel.”
Being a born again Christian, the propelling force behind her music hasn’t stopped her from appreciating other strands of music, “as long as it aims at spreading the Word. Actually, the beauty and theme of gospel can be found in other genres of music. For example, we can have hip-hop gospel and an artiste can render the message of the gospel through Rhythm and Blues, Reggae or Raga.
“In any form, the gospel music talks about the Word of God and praises Him. It is the basically the use of music to preach the gospel that is what is distinctively called Gospel Music. The end point is that one wants someone else to know Christ through music.”
It’s not often that you find Gospel artistes being famous or wealthy. Nonplussed, she retorts, “I’m not in music to be rich or famous. I don’t think that’s the primary motive of any gospel singer. Fame itself is not a bad thing, but it is left for the artiste to know the driving force behind his or her music and to realize that gospel music is built on a mission. And that mission is getting to the unreached with the Word of God through music. And the choice of the platform – reggae, hymns, hip-hop, highlife, R&B – is a choice of the artiste.
“When the singer gets to make the Word famous among the unreached and wins souls, then fame comes from God as a reward. But that doesn’t come first.”
Coming from a family where Dad and Mum have the gift of the voice and the siblings were in the choir and home models, it was easy to sing.
“The older siblings, some in missionary schools in Jos, Plateau State made home a theatre,” she reminiscences.
At seven, she found herself in the main choir in the church; a logical destination.
“My sisters and I were into music strongly in the Church and we formed our group then, The Nwankwo Sisters. But as we grew older and with challenges of schooling, job, and marriage, we broke up but individually we remained faithful to the choir.
“At a point, I had a music band where I discovered I could rap and dance. In the church, my group rapped and danced. But a deep yearning kept tugging at my soul to do something extra, besides singing in the choir.
“I kept singing over the years. In Enugu, the zeal flagged following distractions and growing up, until I became born again. Maybe if I hadn’t become born again, I would have been singing with a different mindset, with fame and money on my mind.
“In the church, the Rock Family Church, I rose to be the Music Director and in 13 years as director, I attended some music trainings and these trainings have helped me focus and properly channel my energy into music, not just singing. Incidentally, these trainings complimented the early ones I had at home. And that is why I can confidently tell talented singers aiming to do an album and step out of thw choir, to just keep working and learning. Talent is not enough really and success doesn’t come easily.”
Isn’t Gospel music boring? Some people feel that there is a high chance of gospel sounding tedious and boring as the songs are church songs and you seem to carry the church around after Sunday service; then you feel compelled to always sing to show you are a Christian. Shaking her head vigorously in total disagreement and looking alarmed, she blurted: “Can you really be tired of praising God?”
She noted: “Music is a component of the sermon, praise and worship. The music you play in your car or home carries the Word, like God keeping you company. It’s not about just singing and seeing the music as sermonizing; it’s all about God. He likes to be worshiped with songs, just like the Psalmist told us. We should never be tired of singing and praising Him.
“Then, again you hear people talking of gospel as lacking the entertaining quality of music because presumptively it should be sung in the church or for those who are ‘church people,’ but this is wrong. We know from the Bible that God enjoyed being praised with well-orchestrated songs. Choral groups and other artistes can come together to stage shows that will both be spiritually uplifting as it can be entertaining as a musical concert. I anticipate that when even non-church going people find calypso or raga or reggae or hip-hop in gospel music, then they will find reason to praise God.”
For a while, it looked as if the album will never leave the studio. It’s been a long wait, eight years, for her debut, an album that finally accorded her a sense of fulfillment and achievement.
“Drifting in and out of the studio, caring for three children and a doting husband… it looked like I was never ever going to finish. The sense of anticipation was the biggest challenge I had to cope with. Friends and family encouraged me to do it. For them this would be the climax of those choir practices musical escapades. I kept on it feeling encouraged by the desires of others to see me succeed.
“God strengthened me and that is one reason I titled the album My Refuge. Growing up in a family where parents sing and my five siblings were in the choir, there was this mental challenge to do something else, to leave a milestone, and if I hadn’t done this album, which is an eight tracker, a medley of genres – raga, pop, rap, highlife, calypso with songs rendered in English, Hausa and Igbo, maybe there will be this emptiness or lack of fulfillment inside me.
“I’m an advocate of variety because I believe that artistes should give as many people as possible reasons to identify with their music and message. No genre is the sole conveyor of the Word, but if it’s not gospel, then it’s not gospel. This album is my own response to the injunction, ‘go into the world and be fishers of men,” she said.
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