Buchi Atuonwu, popularly known as Buchi, is one of the leading Nigerian reggae gospel artistes; he spoke with ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA on his career trajectory, Nigerian gospel music scene, politics, Christianity and sundry issues. Excerpts…
You have been on the scene as Nigerian leading gospel artiste for close to two decades, how would you describe your journey so far and your kind of music? Sometimes when I watch the television or see what people do in the name of gospel music, I ask myself, is this what I am doing also? Is that the way people see me too? Did I leave teaching in the University of Lagos to become this? Did I actually do that? But then again, I realise that playing music the way it satisfies me, it goes far beyond getting on the stage to jump around and excite people. Music for me is beyond exciting people to dance. There is nothing wrong with that. Provoking people to dance, worship and praise God is a beautiful thing. There is nothing wrong with that. But music for me is not complete except it provokes you to think. So I’ll like to make music that provokes people to think. That is how I got my fulfillment, my answer when I asked myself if this is what I do also when I watched other people perform. I was a teacher and for me the classroom changes. So from a rectangular classroom to the music stage I am still teaching.
That sounds interesting, once a teach always a teacher they say….
Yes. I am teaching through music. I began to sing by the way because I had something to say. I’m propelled from within to say something and that’s why I begun to sing. Some of the first songs that I published were poems that I had written because I was first a writer before becoming a singer. But who was going to appreciate those writings in an age when the reading culture is dying? We hardly have any time for reading, very short attention span. That’s the character of our youths of today and it is very sad. So, in that environment, I began to sing my poems and I have sang those poems and made songs out of them enough.
How well do you think you have done that?
I think I’ve got appreciable attention to now begin to publish and for me that is the next stage. To write, to publish because I have something to say to this generation that would fulfill them because I have been there. In terms of street, I have been there on the street. I know what it means to survive in the street but now that I am in Christ I made bold to say that this is what you can get in terms of fulfillment. This is the sweetest, the best that you can get in life in terms of fulfillment. It is better to have a D in school than to have a D in life. It is better to have an A in life than to have an A in school. School prepares you for life but the real thing is life itself and in this journey of life, nothing aids you like the word of God. There is no change agent as potent as the word of God and what I am doing in Kulture Yard is nation building. This is what nation building is about, to change the society by changing one man and there is no greater change agent than the word of God. Every three years I have released an album since 1999. I waited for seven years after I gave my life to Christ and in 1999 I put out the first one and ever since, at intervals of three years, I put out an album. In 2020 I released the last one titled 11:59pm. That title is about the fact that time is running out. Today is 11:59pm.
What do you consider you staying power?
Staying in Christ, it is sweet to stay in Christ. I absolutely love the things that I do. Even if there was no money to be made from these things I will still do them. It is about creativity. I get paid for doing what I love to do. When we are singing in rehearsals the joy that overwhelms us, we are playing music and we are laughing, we are dancing and some are crying in the passion of it. Imagine that you are doing something that you love so much and you are paid for it. So the things that I do I enjoy them so much and I haven’t had struggle with them. They may not always be as financially rewarding as you would expect but keep at it.
Is there money to be made in gospel music?
Absolutely, there is money in everything that God tells you to do.
So why then do we have this exodus of Christian youths, talented musicians, moving out of the church to play secular music?
For two reasons; number one, they went out from among us that they might be made manifest that they were not of us. They didn’t have the life and in disappointment they left. They were not of us, they came for something else and when they couldn’t find it they left. It may sound like a callous verdict on strained souls, which is why I will give you the second reason. They did not understand. They didn’t understand that ultimate fulfillment is not in money but in doing what God will have them do. They did not understand that money in gospel music doesn’t come the way money comes in secular music. If I go to a place and play music and you give me money, what you have given to me is a seed and not a harvest. You have just enabled me to sow a seed. That is what it is; we operate a different set of rules. So, if they have a good understanding of the kingdom, they would not have run away and there are so many in gospel music who are living well. They have made money, established businesses and they are living well if that is what they call being rich. But being rich is not about owning cars and houses, and businesses and even if that is what you call it they abound among gospel artistes. But there is something more and if they have that understanding of how wealthy we are they will not leave.
In this regard what then can the church do to keep its talented music artistes?
It is Jesus that keeps. Jesus said to the Father that the children that you give me I am able to keep them. The church just plays the role that it is supposed to play in encouraging the young people. But if you give a young man the encouragement by saying sit down in the choir and sing. Do not go and produce that album yet but many of them don’t consider that encouraging. They will say ‘you didn’t give me money to go to the studio to record.’ There are thousands of us looking for people to give us money to record when indeed what we need is not money to record. For many of us we are not yet ready to record. For many of us we record but nobody hears them. But the church tells you sit down, sing right from there, we would be your first audience, a friendly and family audience and from here we would spread it to the rest of the world. But not many people have the patience and discipline to do that, and so the church is quickly accused of not helping the musicians. The church has greatly encouraged musicians, not necessarily by giving them money but by giving them platforms. And that is a big thing. Every musician wants to be heard, every painter wants his works seen. If you are an artiste you don’t want to be hidden in the dark, and so the biggest thing that you need is platform and not money and so the church has provided that for gospel musicians.
What inspires your music, especially releasing album at every three-year interval?
I never planned it that way, it just happened that way and I found out that before I get to release another album it is a third year and I sustained the pattern. But let me say that I am not sure that I will wait for another three years because Christ is coming soon. I have this consciousness of the coming of Christ soon and because of that I am not going to wait for another three years. I am going to start dropping the songs in singles, one single at a time. My major inspiration is that I have something to say to the people. I have a message about the gospel of Jesus Christ. People don’t know that it is absolutely sweet. People don’t know that you can have your life back; dead marriages, dead businesses, and dead bodies come back to life. People don’t know that they can recreate their world away from the mistakes of the pass. People don’t know that they can overcome the disadvantages of early beginnings and still hit the top, make a great success of their lives. Too many people are suffering, too many people are losing out because they don’t know what the gospel holds. The gospel of Jesus Chris is the biggest thing that God ever did for mankind and that is what I want to preach about, that is what I want to sign about, that is what I want to write about.
Which of your songs would you consider evergreen or hit?
I don’t really know but I think that my latter songs honestly ministered to me more. It looks to me like people are missing out. They listened to the beginning and were excited about it and how would they feel now that the food is cooked?
It looks to me that the fullness of the sound has come, the sound has matured and the people who ate the uncooked one are excited. What would they say if they listened to these ones that are cooked now?
It is delicious. I am beginning to enjoy my songs. I never used to play my songs back to myself. No. You will not catch me listening to my songs but not anymore. My last two albums I can play them back to myself and feel thoroughly blessed.
What does the future hold for you and your music?
I will sing till the trumpet sounds and I look to win souls and influence my world for Jesus Christ until the trumpet sounds.
What is your message to young and aspiring gospel artistes?
If it is gospel on stage let it be gospel off stage. That is what I will say to them. The gospel is not for the stage alone; the gospel is a way of life, then sing it and live it. There is something bigger than money. Fulfillment is much bigger.
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