Wednesday, 7th June 2023

Nolly: Gospel Music Needs To Be Respected More In Nigeria 

By Chinonso Ihekire 
06 May 2023   |   4:25 am
Within the Nigerian music scene, the Christian gospel section is one that is impossible to ignore. From the golden era of Midnight Crew to the evergreen evolutions from TY Bello, down to the experimental discographies of its new generation singers...

Within the Nigerian music scene, the Christian gospel section is one that is impossible to ignore. From the golden era of Midnight Crew to the evergreen evolutions from TY Bello, down to the experimental discographies of its new generation singers, the pro-religious genre is still among the most respected within Nigeria’s vast soundscape. Or is it? 

For Nolly, born Chukwunonso Onwuli, an acclaimed Gospel rap musician, there’s a subtle underrepresentation of the Christian Gospel music arts in the mainstream media. And the buck moves further as it also affects the reception and perception of the genres, with more people taking its adherents less seriously as music professionals. 

Nonetheless, the genre blooms with so much life and gusto. And for people as bohemian as Nolly, who actually drew influences from secular artistes like Diddy, Jay Z and Nelly, their artistries are exciting to behold. 

On today’s Guardian Music, we delve into Nolly’s world, of sentient-themed melodies and Igbo/Pidgin-stewed lyricism, where he has existed for nearly a decade. Apart from setting up one of the pioneering rap collectives in Christian Gospel musicdom – the CIA Collective; Kinsu (Kingsley Oko), Propane (Obinna Nkwonta), Dabz (Daberechi Ubachukwu) and Dikky (Onyedika Nwoji) – he has also thrived as a solo act, collaborating or performing with almost all the major names in the scene, from Lecrae, to Limoblaze, Frank Edwards, Mike Abdul, among others. 

In this piece, we delve into the Christian gospel scene, finding out why voices like Nolly’s remain relevant to the ecosystem, especially wherever Christian Gospel rap is being mentioned in Africa.  

Are you dropping any records this year?
I AM working on an album; I dropped an EP last year.

Just how much volume of music do you record as a gospel artiste on a monthly basis? 
Well, on a monthly basis, let’s just say like 10 songs, because apart from my own songs, I kind of do a lot of features. I think I am one artiste that has really done a lot of features. So, I have features with some top artistes and I always look out for artistes that are younger or that are really doing something great. 

What informs the length or the consistency of music releases for you? 
Okay, so basically, I’m an independent artiste. So, it’s not like I’m under a label or anything; I just have a team that I put together that I work it. Basically, I just put out songs every month personally, because from my knowledge and from what my team has told me, it’s good for the algorithm.

When they’re putting out songs for the algorithm, it’s actually good. The idea is to reach out to as many people as possible to take advantage of technology and what we have. So, when I said ten songs, I was just giving a rough estimate. But sometimes, I think about what inspires me when I put out songs.

For instance, I’m currently working on a project, and I think there has to be a build up before the project drops. So, there has been a lot of releases of singles, because I have been releasing songs since this year began. 

So, what’s your own assessment of stagecraft culture across gospel music scene?  
For my own assessment, I think stagecraft culture in gospel music industry is top notch. I mean, I have had the opportunity to work with big artistes and younger artistes. The way we prepare is like standard and there’s always a dress rehearsal; we send a rider to the church, and the church prepares the equipment we need to perform. I mean the stage, the light and everything.

Apart from being an artiste, I have also been part of the current team of an international worship leader. So, I have seen how this things play out in it’s highest level in the gospel music industry, and I think it could match the standards. Sometimes, I think it could pass the standards you could see even in the secular music industry. I only think the difference is the message we pass in our music- it’s different. But when it comes to standards, I think they out far.

So, what are we expecting from this new album of yours? 
For the new album, I think you should just expect. So, I started rapping right? This year makes it like 10 years since I started doing music professionally. On my album, you should be expecting excellence, because I’m doing this album after a whole decade of doing music. The music has to be right; the lyrics have to be mature. The album is 80 percent ready, and I have a couple of features with both acts in Nigeria and also outside Nigeria.

So, I think what you should expect in the album is just experience and growth; because I did songs that sounded like the kind of sounds that I did when I was fast rising. But then, it just goes from there to where I’m now because my sound has really changed from then till now. 

I can see that you have performed with a lot of artistes, from Lecrae to Sinach. How is the collaboration culture like within the gospel music industry?
Honestly, I think I have been really privileged to have performed on big stages and also to have got the ability, and the opportunity to collaborate with people that I have collaborated with. Because I mean, by being independent, I know many people that are in labels but would love to get the feeling right. Being independent, they practically come to me.

How I choose people that I collaborate with is simple. When I’m making a song, it is like painting, but I’m using lyrics to paint on the beat the producer has made, right?
So, I always see the finished picture in my mind, and when I see the finished picture, I always want to see who is going to compliment me on any particular song. It’s like a combination of sounds, like you are cooking, so you need a particular ingredient to complete the whole dish. So, that’s like my thought process when I’m looking for whom to collaborate with. So, eventually I just find the right person that fits that particular song and when we make it, and if it suits what I want, then I release it. But if it doesn’t, then I don’t.

I’m really passionate about excellence, especially because I’m a gospel artiste; people tend to look at the people in the gospel music industry like they are there because they couldn’t make it in the secular music industry. But that’s not true. That’s the main reason that I make sure that my songs are excellent. 

Looking at your career, what’s next for Nolly?
The vision is to take the music to as many audiences as possible because the music contains the message and the message is the message of the gospel, right? So, I have had the opportunity to tour with bigger artistes. For Sinach, I was part of her Way Maker tour.

So, this time around, I want to take my own music and do a world tour, to the different countries where I see my music is being played and also release as much music as I can and impact a generation.

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