A gospel musician, Funmi Aragbaye, is also the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Gospel Musicians Association of Nigeria. She speaks to GABRIEL OSHOKHA and JANET OGUNDEPO about her music career and other issues
You have been making gospel music for over four decades. How has the journey been?
To the glory of God, my years in the music industry have been eventful. I have witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly. I am thankful to God because the good ones are more significant than the bad. The varied experiences have helped to shape my career.
What are the unforgettable moments of your career as a gospel minister?
I have many unforgettable moments, especially in the areas of my live shows and the albums I have released. My best show was during the late General Oladipo Diya’s son, Simisola’s wedding. I remember receiving a call from General Diya ahead of the wedding, and asking if I performed at social gatherings. He said he had always listened to my music, and that he enjoyed the lyrics. So, we negotiated and reached an agreement on the booking fee for the event. I recollect that during our phone conversations, I requested three invitation cards; one for my vehicle, band boys and also for the truck that would drop the instruments.
But, he jokingly said, “Madam, everybody knows Funmi Aragbaye in this country, so you don’t need any invitation cards”. However, I told him politely, “Your Excellency, please instruct your men not to harass or embarrass my band boys at the event”, and he promised to do that. The event attracted top dignitaries and socialites from all across Nigeria. It was the first time I came in close contact with the policymakers and controllers of the country’s economy, such as Aliko Dangote, as well as heads of state from neighbouring countries. I felt honoured and humbled, and I remain eternally grateful to God who chose me for the programme.
While awaiting the arrival of the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, at the event, I had wanted to start entertaining the audience with choruses such as, ‘Jesus, Lord Jesus, Jesus I love you’, and ‘My king, my God’. However, the Holy Spirit instructed me to preach and minister to the guests in songs as they were the ones in charge of the nation’s affairs. I had thought the notable guests at the event won’t know my songs, but I was surprised when the dignitaries rose to their feet and sang along with me. I noticed that the lyrics of the song had transported them to the heavenly realm, so I switched to another electrifying song.
At a point, I switched to my English songs but when I began to sing, ‘God Save Nigeria’ and the audience was singing along, men of the State Security Service said I should stop because I was insulting the leaders. They said the choruses were suitable for Christian crusades and not for invited eminent dignitaries at a high-class wedding. I responded that the leaders were enjoying the choruses, but the security agents said it did not matter.
That event remains so memorable because I made a lot of money. However, I have also travelled around the world ministering the word of God, and I am thankful for the messages God has been giving me for the people and Nigeria.
You recently completed your tenure as the National President, Gospel Musicians Association of Nigeria. What do you consider to be your highest achievement while leading the association?
I am fulfilled in certain areas. Some of the achievements included holding seminars for gospel artistes. One of those was held at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, and the Presidency was represented. It had the theme, ‘Youth Empowerment as a Panacea for National Development’. The Federal Government showed interest by sending a representative but without financial assistance. We also held seminars, training, retreats and special prayers for the nation when the South-West region of the country was invaded by kidnappers and herdsmen. The turnout at the special prayers were impressive.
Also, with the support of Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, we were able to distribute palliatives to our members across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How were you able to juggle your career and family life as a two-term President of GOMAN?
Initially, it was not easy. But, I thank God I had my children before I started ministry, and my husband, who was a reputable journalist, was my pillar of support.
There seems to be fewer and fast-rising contemporary gospel artistes as members of GOMAN. What is responsible for that?
All the musical icons and legends, who are fathers and mothers in the music industry, are members of the association. They are also patrons and matrons. In this fold are Dr Bola Are, who is also a former president of GOMAN; Pastor Ayewa, whob served as the Grand Patron of GOMAN; while Timi Orokoya, aka Telemi, is also a former president of the association.
However, there are some up-and-coming artistes that are misbehaving and want to belong to a different body.
How would you describe the quality of contemporary gospel artistes?
People are no longer being creative and original. When I started, it had to be glaring that one was talented.
I have always encouraged gospel musicians to be creative and original. That way, if they release a new song, and another singer puts out another one, the gospel music industry would be the better for it. But, if everybody is doing the same thing, there is the likelihood of accusing one another of content theft.
What is your advice to young gospel musicians that are misbehaving on social media?
Bringing issues involving members of the association on social media for reconciliation is not good for the reputation of GOMAN. I advise young gospel musicians to amicably resolve differences among themselves without bringing them on social media.
It is apparent that some gospel musicians cannot manage stardom, and some cannot even comport themselves on stage. They should work on those areas for the overall interest of the association. The elders of the association are looking at ways of ensuring the sustenance of harmony and decorum among members.
The lyrics of your songs, ‘God Save Nigeria’ and ‘Bawa Tun Aiye Wase’ still resonate with the present reality of Nigeria. How does that make you feel?
Right from when I released the album that brought me to the limelight, I had been predicting what is happening today in Nigeria. There was a time I went into a trance, and I saw a vision of people running helter-skelter in the northern part of the country. There was crises, and God said, ‘Go and minister to members of this nation, especially the Christians’.
I had also been having a vision of imminent famine in Nigeria since 1983, even before I released my first album. I foresaw that people were no longer eating what they wanted but what they could lay their hands on; and that is what is happening in Nigeria today.
I saw a vision of mass killings in the northern part of the country, and that is still happening. I recorded most of those songs in the 80s. I said the revelations as God revealed them to me. When Admiral Elegbede (a former military governor of Cross River State) was assassinated in Lagos, God said to me, “Go and minister to Nigeria with Psalm 102”. Preaching against societal ills is part of my calling. It is a glaring fact that Nigerians are now undergoing more hardship, compared to the 80s and 90s when I sang about the challenges facing the populace. When I predicted them in my ministrations, I seemed like a prophet of doom, but here we are today. I feel fulfilled, because God has always been manifesting Himself in my life, musical compositions and in whatever I do.
What is your advice for the new administration?
I want to heartily congratulate President Bola Tinubu on conquering the challenges strewn on his path to becoming the president of the country. He is a man made of stern stuff. He has surmounted many challenges that are far more than what I saw in my vision about him, but I still want Nigerians to pray for him. I also challenge him to tackle the issue of corruption in high places; otherwise, whatever palliatives or economic measures being put in place might not work. He should tackle the issue of corruption head-on without minding who would be adversely affected by whatever policy. The president should put measures in place to address the current rate of inflation in the country, as times are really hard and people are hungry. When people are happy, there will be fewer crimes, and social vices will disappear.
You turned 69 on July 5, 2023. How do you feel?
How else could I feel than to be happy, and appreciate my creator for leading me this far? He started well with me, and is still sustaining me. I don’t even feel like I am ageing. It is a rare grace of the Almighty God, and I will continue to celebrate and appreciate Him. I will not deviate from my calling.
At this age, what are you most grateful for?
I am grateful to God for the gift of life, good health, peace and all He has done for me.
Do you have plans to release more songs?
I recently released three songs. I released one last year when I buried my mother. It is titled, Mama Mama Mama.
I also composed another song titled, Omo Yoruba e ronu. Its aim is to enlist the support of Yorubas, and Nigerians in general, to ensure the success of this administration.
Many people, including my fans, are not aware of my latest songs, because I have not been making noise on social media. My website has some issues, and some Internet fraudsters are impersonating me. However, I am making efforts to resolve all the issues.
You once practised as a journalist. Why did you leave that for music?
I give God the glory for my transition from journalism to the civil service, and eventually to gospel music. However, I did not leave journalism or the media deliberately. I started working in the media in the 90s.
I worked in The Herald under the late Chief Ebenezer Williams, and Yakubu Abdulazeez, who left Herald to become the Editor-in-Chief of the New Nigerian.
I left the media when I got married to an editor. He was on a leave of absence at the time and was serving as the Chief Press Secretary to the then Ondo State governor, the late Chief Adekunle Ajasin. However, after the government was topped, my husband returned to the Sketch, and I stayed back in the Ondo State civil service. I later transferred my service to the Oyo State civil service.
Meanwhile, I had been composing music for a long time, right from Ilorin, Kwara State. I used to live beside the Evangelical Church Winning All, and that introduced me to gospel music. Music has always been in my veins. My mother, who died last year, was a songbird with a sonorous voice. She sang soprano but not as a professional musician. She only had a passion for songs.
Who are your role models in the music industry?
My role models are King Sunny Ade, Chief Ebenezer Obey, Adawa King, the late Sonny Okosun, Salawa Abeni (while she was still in school), and Onyeka Onwenu.
Divorce seems to be on the rise in society. As a gospel artiste who is family-oriented, what can young couples do to stem this tide?
The major cause of divorce among young couples is the fact that they cannot endure hardship with anybody. And, they prefer getting married to rich people.
However, happiness in marriage is not dependent on how rich one’s spouse is. Young people should always seek divine direction from God before they get married. They should find out about the families of their would-be spouses, and not just focus on how rich they are. There are some families with peculiar ancestry curses that one should avoid. Young people should also learn to endure, be patient and rugged, and be understanding.