I didn’t know I would live till 74 —Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi
Miliki highlife juju crooner, Evangelist (Dr) Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi clocks 74 years today. He talks about his life, music, and family
How does it feel to be 74 years old?
I feel great and I give thanks to God Almighty. I say this because I have seen the goodness and faithfulness of God in my life. He has given me everything I need here on earth, and I want to thank Him for all he has done for me. If one can think deeply, one will definitely know how to appreciate God for everything.
Did you ever think you would attain this age?
I never knew I could attain this age, but I have committed everything about me into the hands of God. There are certain things in life I don’t bother myself about; because I know God is in control of my life. My coming to the earth has been fulfilled and the time I will go back is in the hands of God.
But I can recall an incident which really frightened me. It happened in the 70s, when I was at the peak of my career. There was high patronage and I did not have time to rest. So, I became ill and I had to travel to London for medical attention. When the doctor observed me, he only said that I needed rest, noting that I was under stress. He also said I needed to shed some weight. Then some people started saying a lot of rubbish about me. They said I had swallowed ‘lukudi’ (a special fetish preparation for wealth), and that I had undergone surgery when a mysterious bird flew out of my tummy. People said all manner of rubbish that was unfounded and unsubstantiated. However, a majority of the people were happy I was back on the music scene after the medical check-up.
How did you come about the name ‘miliki’ in branding your type of music?
There is always the need to brand one’s content. This led me to create something that when people listen to my music, they will say, ‘that is Obey singing.’ I play highlife juju music; miliki is the sound of enjoyment. It is just for identification.
How did your journey into music begin?
My mother started taking me to church when I was still crawling as a toddler. She told me that each time she took me to church, I would be found at the choir stand area, scattering everything in view. Also, at Methodist School, Idogo in Yewa South Local Government, where I attended elementary school, I joined the school band and the church choir. This was where I started developing my skills in music. I later led the school band. When the youth in Idogo formed the Ifelodun Mambo Orchestra, I was the lead vocalist and everything revolved around me, because I was the youngest member. Later I formed Royal Mambo Orchestra in 1957, and it eventually metamorphosed into my band. We moved to Lagos and took the musical instruments along. Initially, music was a hobby but God made it real for me.
Who were your biggest music influences?
You cannot become a musician without some influences. One of the music stars of those days was Adeolu Akinsanya, and his records were my favourites because they were the ones available. Then I started to compose songs like him, and I took some of my compositions to him. He encouraged me and that made me happy. We maintained a close relationship until his death.
If you did not become a musician, what other profession would you have gone into?
I don’t really know. Music was the only thing that occupied my mind. In school, I participated in track and field events. I was good at table tennis but I was not a good footballer.
How many albums have you released till date?
I have released over 100 albums and the ones yet to be released are uncountable.
Which one of those albums would you say was the most successful?
Almost all were successful, because I got gold (500,000 units) and platinum (1 million units) discs from the recording company that handled my work. I never got sliver disc, which is the least among the discs for album performance, in terms of sales.
Your brand of music has meaningful lyrics, which are at times laced with moral lessons and philosophy, where do you get your inspiration from?
It is a gift from God and the grace of God upon my life. I don’t struggle to compose my songs, it is God who inspires me.
At 74, you still perform at events. What is the secret of your staying power in music?
As I mentioned earlier, it is the grace of God and then I sing meaningful lyrics. My music is something one can rub on oneself as a cream, and it is something one can wear as a crown. My lyrics are beneficial to society, so as they come forth people want to sing along with me, because it benefits them, either in form of prayers or good wishes.
In a previous interview you said you had your “little share of drinking and womanising;” What do you remember of those “wild” days before you became an evangelist?
When I was a youth I behaved like a youth, life is in phases. As a young man, there is a way one behaves, but now old things have passed away, since I gave my life to God. Many men of God also have their stories. It is for us not to go back to those “old ways” anymore. No man was born holy. David said ‘it was in sin that my mother conceived me.’ Through Adam, man sinned, but Christ came to redeem us from our sins.
Tell us about your marriage and how you met your late wife.
My late wife was a true companion. We were married for 48 years before God called her home. We met in one of my friend’s house — her brother. Immediately she entered the sitting room, I told my friend that she was my wife. One thing led to the other, and we became husband and wife.
Do you plan to remarry?
If it is the will of God, I will remarry.
What else should we expect from you in terms of music?
I will continue to make myself available to the work of God and serve humanity. Anything I can do to help humanity and my nation, I will do. I still remain in music. I will continue to use my music to propagate the gospel.
Do you have any regrets?
Not at all. I am happy for all God has done for me. At 74, one really needs to thank God, because if you open the obituary pages in the newspapers, you will discover people that were 50, 60 years or even younger, have died.
Your message to Nigeria as you clock 74?
We have made a big mistake in Nigeria, in the sense that when we were making a lot of money from oil we ought to have used that money to improve power, water supply etc. We were supposed to have developed agriculture and invested in the youth to have skill acquisition. By now we are supposed to be eating our own home grown rice, because the rice we are importing was planted.
Corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of the nation and destroyed the progress Nigeria should have made. What is man looking for? We don’t need all the vanities of this world.