How I Survived In America
Kingsley Ogunde, United States-based gospel musician who held sway in the 1990s, speaks with KAYODE APONMADE on his sojourn in America, his music ministry and state of the Nigerian music industry
How true are the claims by some people that you hid for some time to prepare for your papers in the United States?
Well, that is not true because I did not go to America on my own plan. God told me to go and He said ‘I am taking you to America because of your ministry.’ When the time came, it was people over there that called me. When I got there, I didn’t hide. I went with a team. We didn’t go with fake papers. That is why I am able to come and go out of the country as I wish. It takes a while to regularise one’s papers since we came to the country on visiting visa and not as residents. But one way or the other, we regularised our papers to become residents. We thank God that today we are firm rooted in America as if it is our birth place. We minister to Nigerians and non-Nigerians. I cannot forget Nigeria even though I am resident in America as a music minister. I have my fans here and there. But I have decided that from now on I am going to be spending a half or quarter of the year here in Nigeria.
You were with Sony Music before relocating to the U.S. How will you describe your experience with the company then?
Sony Music was a very big name with international affiliation, but we didn’t make our money. During our time with Sony Music, we had a big name and a big company. But the truth is that the country was not too good economically. We were popular across the country and our albums are everywhere but at the end of the day, we have nothing to show for it. That is why some of us grabbed the opportunity when the invitation came to go to America.
How did you survive in America?
Singing is what I live on, it is my profession
You mean singing keeps you going?
Yes. Singing has kept me going because I am one of the few who are called. You know I am not what the Yorubas call “mogbo mo ya” (gate crashers). Not the type that joined the bandwagon. Music is a calling. If you are not called, don’t go into it. Because when things seem not right, you may attempt to try your hands on other jobs and that’s where you will miss it. Should I attempt to do any other job today in America, my music will suffer. But I am always on the road and get booked for days like Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That is the nature of our music. In gospel music you don’t wait for only weekends to perform; ministrations, crusades and special services are all over the place.
Have you released any album in America?
It is not easy to record and release in America, but God has helped me with three studio albums and three videos. But before then, I had compiled all the songs I took to America and released them. But my first album while in America is titled, “I Will Dance Like This”. After then, was “Holy Ghost Rumba” and the third is “Burning For Jesus”. And by the grace of God I had a couple of awards that followed the releases and my performances. I have four albums before I left, so my total album now is seven.
What are the challenges you faced there?
America does not make you successful automatically. It depends on how you are able to measure up in your chosen profession, but the advantage my going to America gave me was that of international cross over personality. The way I write my songs is now different because I do not sing for only Nigerians.
I have them more as fans than the Nigerians in America. God has so helped me that I have won several awards. I won the Best African Gospel Music awards and the most outstanding Gospel Music Award. Right now, I don’t want to see myself as successful because where I want my music to be, it is not there yet. But I am successful because God still upholds me and keeps me standing.
Are you back home finally or on a visit?
Yes, I am back home but will be shuttling between the two countries. I will be spending a half or quarter of my time here depending on my schedule and go back so that I can meet my fans here and at the same time don’t lose the ones in America. While I was there people started calling when are you coming home, this and that so I don’t want any fans to miss me so much anywhere.
How easy was it for you to settle back in Nigeria after many years in America?
I will not say anywhere is better than my country, but it is better to say it as it is. No one in America will like to come back to Nigeria, especially when you remember that things are not going on well. How many things are we going to talk about? Is it the light (electricity) issue, unemployment, bad roads, even marketing of our CDs? In America, whatever opportunity comes your way, you grab it, you will never regret. Unlike here in my country where those who work hard and more creative suffer the most. We are still praying for Nigeria. This issue has been there since my first album, “Bi Nigeria Ba Le Gbadura” (If Nigeria Can Pray). That was the album that made me. The issues are still happening there as if the album was recorded yesterday. We need to keep praying for Nigeria, We will get there one day.
For the time you are going to spend in Nigeria do you have any project to execute?
Yes. Since my arrival, I discovered that all the old releases I made before I left were on demand. But a lot of things have changed in the industry in terms of marketing, promotions and distributorship. There are no big recording companies anymore as in those days. We used to have Sony Music, EMI, Premier Records as well as dependable distributors and reliable retailers. Those around now are people who call themselves marketers. Those who are not ready to invest in what they want to sell. They only keep your works in their stores. Some, who have never passed through the gate of any radio station in more than two years, will ask you to bring money for promotions. So, I have chosen to be patient. I will only concentrate on what I just released in America before coming and then make sure my old releases are available on music shelves. I am looking forward to any marketer or distributor who would show interest in them.
How would you categorise yourself, a gospel music entertainer or gospel minister?
One can be a gospel music minister and at the same time an entertainer. Entertaining or performing is an art. It is almost impossible to minister in music without entertaining, after all people will sing and dance. It is your message that will put you in the category of a minister of God or not. This is one of the issues I discovered when I returned to Nigeria. There is no gospel music or musicians any longer. What we have is a horde of entertainers, whose message or lifestyle is contrary to the principles of the scripture. Gospel music is what you listen to and be sober. Gospel music is what you listen to and forget your sorrow. It is gospel music you listen to and change from bad to good. Gospel music is the music you listen to and you remember heaven. Gospel musician transforms you into an ambassador of God.
Will you encourage any of your children to go into music?
Without even my direct encouragement they are into music already. My first son is a member of my team. He is an instrumentalist and now he writes songs. Some of them are singers; in fact they all sing, I don’t have to even teach them, it is in the blood.