Entertainment Lifestyle 

Despite getting me musical instrument, voice coach, dad disowned me for choosing music as career –Panam Percy Paul

Famous gospel musician, Panam Percy Paul, traces his life’s journey in this interview with JAMES ABRAHAM
What kind of family do you come from?

I come from a very interesting family. My father was a military man and he retired on the rank of Major. He was an officer and a gentleman. My mother was a businesswoman. She dealt in textiles. I grew up to even manage her business. I describe my family as interesting because of the way we were brought up. I think I was just about five years old when my father started talking to us about the essence of life. You could imagine a little boy of five being awakened every morning by 3am by my father who would talk with us about the philosophy of life till about 6am. Interestingly, my father did that till I turned 19 years and he never failed doing that except he was out on official duty. The philosophy he taught us was just amazing. He taught us how to be responsible for
ourselves and not to borrow. If he had any reason to tell you not to do certain things, he would also give you reasons for that.

I was in primary school in Class Two when my father helped me to write my first love letter to one of my classmates who was just next desk from me in class. That day, my father noticed that I wasn’t myself when I came back from school and he started asking questions. When he asked me whether I had a female friend, what her name was, and if I had told her how I felt about her, I replied, “No.” Then my father said, “I know you don’t talk much but you can write.” And that was how he encouraged me to write what was on my mind.

Under his supervision, I wrote my first love letter to the girl. It’s amazing because I was wondering what kind of parent would have detected the kind of pain, anxiety and struggles going on in the mind of such a young boy like me and even to sit with me and guide me into writing a letter instead of the usual thing of flogging the child and telling the child, ‘Don’t do this kind of thing; you are not of age.” But that was not his style. He just took me through it. It was just awesome.

Again, I remember when I was about 10 years old and my father called me and said, “Do you know you are not a man?” I was really shocked by that question; in fact, I panicked because I was just wondering whether I was a woman. In that struggle, I reached for my trousers and wanted to undo the button. I wanted to show him that I have the ‘apparatus’ of a man. When he saw what I wanted to do, he simply laughed and said, “That ‘thing’ under your trousers does not make you a man but a male, just like the one in front of a woman does not make her a woman but a female.” I was confused the more and when I asked him who a man was, he said, “A man is a person who takes care of his responsibilities one hundred per cent without borrowing.” Now, it was that clause ‘without borrowing’ that was a difficult one to deal with. When I asked him how does one start life without borrowing, he said to me, “Serve; when you serve, you will be paid for your services and you can save and with your savings, you can build your future.”

At the time, the civil war was about to start and soldiers were being recruited. I went to the army barracks where I got myself employed by 19 soldiers as their washerman, shoe shiner and they were paying me one pound and one shilling every day. And my father’s salary at the time was 25 pounds. In other words, I was making 19 pounds and 19 shillings every month, just five pounds short of my father’s salary at the time. You could imagine the upbringing and my father was excited that I could think of doing that and he made us to pay our school fees. He could do that but he just encouraged us to take care of ourselves. So, right from age 10, I had learnt how to take care of myself and at age 19 when I left secondary school, I told my father that I was already a man but he said to me: “What kind of man are you when you are still living in my house?” A few months later after our discussion, I left his house for the city as an undergraduate studying Mechanical Engineering. That was how I became a man by the teachings and upbringing of my father.

Your name sounds English. What does it mean?

Panam is not an English name. It is a tribal name from the tribe of Mbula in present-day Adamawa State. It is interpreted as God’s gift. When I asked my father why he gave me the name, he told me I am a gift to him because I am the second child and a boy. So, he named me Panam. My elder brother, Philip, who was the firstborn, passed away some 25 years ago.

My father’s name is Paul and my mother, Paulina. My immediate younger sister is Patricia and the last one is Precious. So, everybody in the house is a P. A lot of times, people thought I coined those names – Panam Percy Paul – but the truth is that these are my real names. The name Percy was given to me by my father. I think, I was five years old when I was always singing in the house. And his favourite singer was Percy Sledge and he named me Percy after Percy Sledge. When I was being baptised in the Anglican Communion in 1970, I took the name Percy as my confirmation name and interestingly, I got to know about the meaning of the name. It means “genius” or “incredibly creative”. So, it is exactly who I am; my father was simply prophesying my life and it is such a great thing to know that my father spoke about my destiny by giving me the name “Percy”.

At what stage in your life did you notice that you could sing?

I was born singing. My mother told me that I was born with a song in my mouth; that I never cried like every other baby would cry on being born. She said she and the doctors tried making me cry when I was born but I did not cry; instead I was only humming. So, my crying was singing in a way. I just grew up singing. I was  probably age three or four when my father returned from Congo during one of the wars. He came back with their Chord Audio and I saw him playing it. When he dropped it, I picked it up and started playing and it was excellent.
My father was shocked when he saw me playing the instrument well, which I was never taught at that age. By 1961 when he was returning from the war, he brought a mouth organ and I took it and stated playing and it became my best musical instrument. By the time I was about seven or eight years old in 1964, I was already singing in the club, playing music with the big boys at the time. I played in the club for 10 years till 1974 when I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit and got born again. So, I was born singing.

Apart from your father, was there anyone else, like a professional musician, who mentored you?

I had several mentors – my father being the first because he taught and encouraged me. One day, he was having dinner with some friends who came with their families and I began to sing one of his favourite songs, “When a man loves a woman” – a song done by Percy Sledge – and my father said to me, “Do you know that you sing better than all these people?” I was like, “You mean I can sing better than Cliff Richard, Sam Cooke, Everly Brothers and others?” Those were the reigning musicians at the time. I couldn’t believe my father would make that kind of a statement but that was the motivation I had. He then got me a music teacher and a voice coach, Mr J. S. kwon, who taught me how to read and write music and also trained my voice for five years. Mr J. S. kwon is from Plateau and he is still alive.

My father also introduced me to other musicians, including Sunny Lion Heart in Zaria, who became my mentor to a stage when Uncle Bala Mila of Coastaine Club in Kaduna took over from that point. Then, when I got born again, the person that really pushed me in the direction of using music for evangelism was Uncle Bayo. And then my life coach, Professor Dura Abeboye, who taught me how to use music for ministry. He was the man that really helped me to discover confidence in life and ministry. He taught me never to be intimidated by anyone, regardless of the success they might have had. So, these are the key people that mentored me and I can never forget them.

When was the turning point in your musical career?

I had quite a strange life because when I came into the music ministry, there was nobody ahead of me to learn from. There was nobody I could run to and say, “Please, since you have been doing this, can you show me the way to go about my music ministry?” I remember in 1979, I travelled from Kaduna, where I was at the time, to Benin with the intention of seeking guidance from the late Archbishop (Benson) Idahosa, for him to show me how ministry is done. When I met him and introduced myself, he said, “I know you; you are that boy from Kaduna,” to which I said, “Yes.” And he said to me, “Oh, I’m sorry; I cannot be a father to you because I don’t know anything about your ministry.” And he said to me: “God has raised you up as a father also; so, go. As a father you will make mistakes but learn from the mistakes and never allow your children to repeat your mistakes.”

So, I left Benin the following day feeling disappointed because I had thought he was going to accept me and teach me from the Bible what music ministry is all about but that wasn’t the case. But my disappointment turned into the best counsel I ever got in life because for a man like that to say to me: “You are also a father because you are pioneering something new”. It was much later that I had to fall back on that counsel and I am thankful to God for that. I still went back to Benin and when I met him, we became the best of friends. I could now see what he probably saw in the future that made him give me that counsel.

But growing up without that kind of godly counsel in ministry made things really difficult, particularly because I had no one to guide me on how to balance finances, marriage and other relationships in ministry with music. At the time, all we knew was ministry and ministry only; nobody taught us how to take care of the family, children or even oneself. So, it was a very difficult thing when money became an issue and at a point, I could honestly not take care of my family – a wife and two daughters. I was unable to feed them or pay house rent. It was really embarrassing.

The turning point came when God visited me. God told me through a vision that there was no way anyone could help me in ministry; that He was the one that called me and He was the only one who could help me. When I asked Him why, He said it was because of what He had deposited in me, such that when I become what He wanted me to become, He wouldn’t want anyone to take the glory. And the way it happened, not even me, Panam, can say, “This is what I did to make myself who I am.” That, for me, was the turning point, because I know clearly that all I have is God and I just have to depend on Him and no one else.

Around 1984/85 I started waiting on the Lord and true to His word, He started teaching me from the scriptures. Believe me; I would just get transported suddenly till the passages I was reading would come alive. I would discover myself in the real presence of the Lord; I would see the face of Moses, how God gave him songs and what the songs were for. I would read the Psalms and I would see myself transported to the very times David was composing those songs and why he was writing the songs. For me, the Bible is not a documentation of history. I became part of that history by reason of visions and that was the turning point in my music career, which is in knowing the purpose of my being created. That knowledge took away every sense of frustration, every desire for success. Just getting to know that this is why I was born settled every form of anxiety. And from that time in 1985, God told me that I would no longer write my songs but that He would be the one to do that and I would teach His people and together we would worship Him and since then, He has been writing my songs to teach his people. And that was how I received songs like ‘I am serving a living God’; ’Jesus, your name is a miracle’ and all those other songs.

The songs would just be coming and I would just put them down and they would just register in my memory and remain there.

Does that represent the process of your music composition?

Some people would say that they start with melody and then get a tune and later on,   the words. For some people, they get the words and write the poetry down and later on, they get the tunes before putting them together. For me, it’s just a download. I just get everything together at once. They just come at once. I understand the place of talent in writing, there are times I also compose songs; there are times I also get tunes and later on put words or lyrics to the tunes. But whenever I receive from the Lord, they don’t come as tunes or lyrics. No. They just come one time and the song is ready. The process of composition usually comes when I am on my knees worshipping the Lord and most times, when I am just reading the Bible. There are also very exclusive times when I will be in the bathroom and the song will just come. Usually, I would jump out from the bathroom and pick my recorder and try to sing it over the cassette. But I discovered that God has given me a fantastic memory which has worked whether I record the songs or not.

As an expert in the music industry, how do you define good music?

The definition of good music came to me much later when I had studied Philosophy and Music Therapy up to PhD level and also studied music itself. I got to discover that good music is actually measured by the response you get from children. It is children that determine what a good song is. If a child can know your song the first time he hears it, if it registers in his or her memory and he or she goes on singing it, then the song is a good one. It is not because the chords are sophisticated or because your voice is fantastic and all that. It is a good song when children can sing the song back to you on their own. That is a litmus test for me on what should pass for a good song. It has to affect someone. Interestingly, I discovered that it is actually written in the Bible. And when I found out in Deuteronomy Chapter 31 how God told Moses to write down a song and teach it to the children of Israel. God said, “This song shall not be forgotten from the mouth of your seeds.” So, a good song is one that is never forgotten from the mouth of children.

How many albums do you have so far?

I have recorded 14 albums. The 14 albums do not contain all the songs I have written. They are the songs I will say that I have been permitted or directed by God to release. It is not every song that is meant for public consumption. There are some songs that are just between God and me – songs to just sing it to the Lord and that’s all. There are songs I have written for my wife; there are love songs to encourage our relationship. There are songs I have written for other people just to encourage them. In fact, I even call their names and I sing to encourage them. One of such songs is titled, ‘Christabel’ which I wrote for her. It was such a strong song and at the end of the day, she also gave her life to the Lord. So, I have recorded 14 albums but I have written well over 3,000 songs.

You are not often in the news despite all that you have achieved. Is that deliberate?

It’s deliberate because being in the news can be a distraction. When one tries to market himself, you may end up marketing the wrong thing. I was never called to market music. I was called to market God. And so, if I now become the product, then I have a problem. Let me say that I’m the packaging while the product is what I release and the content is what I give out. And that content is something that has to be incubated every time in the secret. It has to be a secret affair. When one gets constantly in the news, it has its positive and negative sides. I think, I just love being quiet, reclusive and it actually helps me to hear God the more and maintain a simple life with nobody to impress. I just live my life and I don’t compete with anybody in terms of the properties they have, cars or jets or how much they are worth. These are not my trend. Somebody asked Wikipedia a question about how much Dr Panam Percy Paul is worth and the response came that he is worth between $1m and $5m. I showed it to my wife and said, “Can you see people putting a worth on me. How I wish they knew that I never place any value on money.” I place value on souls and impact. It is the human beings that are my worth. The number of people that will look at me and say, “Oh my God, you have blessed me”, that is my worth.

Some people feel you have not done enough to promote your music. How do you respond to that?

I’m not a promoter. I’m a singer and a musician. Promoters do their job. I think what people need to know is that people who market my music discovered that my music sells more outside Nigeria than in Nigeria. It’s amazing what I see happening around Africa when I get out of this country. What is happening in the Nigerian market is that as far back as when music is being sold for just N50 per cassette, promoters were making sales of about N300 per tape for sales outside Nigeria. So, what is being sold here in Nigeria for N100 is actually being sold for about $10 outside the country. The minimum was $5 and I would cross over into Ghana and discover that my music had gone ‘haywire’. I went to Liberia and what I saw shocked me, the first time I was there to minister.
I don’t want to interfere with the marketers. I have my job to do and they have theirs. Let me say this: with the emergence of the Internet, I think it has now made it easy for people to access my music. You just go Youtube and different marketing platforms, my songs are there – buy, download and enjoy them. So, they are actually available unlike in the past when people had to be searching for them.

Do these music tracts have videos?

I think probably two of them. I did a video for “Bring Down the Glory” and the other videos that I have done are for the solo songs that I did for Leah Sharibu, who is still in captivity. One of the songs that I did for her is titled ‘Heroes of Faith”. The truth is that I don’t do videos; the reason being that my concept for videos is not about dancing. What I see is everybody going to a garden or a bush somewhere to be singing and dancing. My songs are not for that purpose. My songs are very prophetic and I would want a situation where when I do a music video, it should actually communicate the story behind the songs and not just people dancing. That’s the reason I wasn’t shooting videos but now, all the albums, I have them converted into movies with sound tracts and very soon, they will be released.

What kind of challenges have you faced in the course of career?

Challenges are a daily part of life. First of all, there was a challenge of acceptance, even by my own father who actually introduced me and trained me as a singer and musician. He never thought I was going to take music as a profession. And when I made that decision, it was very painful for him. He felt I was a disgrace to the family. I was an intelligent engineer and he just wanted me to maintain that line of profession and name of being called an engineer. He could not come to terms with people introducing his son as a musician and so he was very disappointed to a point that he disowned me legally. And for 19 years, I was without a father legally because of music until 1997 when I went Yola to release the album, “Master of the Universe”. That was when my father and I reconciled and my name was put back into his will. That was a key challenge for me but I am so glad that my resilience holding onto my gift and calling actually made my father to realise that I wasn’t born to be a soldier like him. He needed to just let me be who God had designed for me to be.

I see every challenge in life as an opportunity to learn and move on. Can you imagine that at a point I could not feed my family? I had two daughters then, and it was difficult to feed them and I could not buy new outfits for my wife because I couldn’t just afford them. That was a huge challenge. It is amazing that God gave me a wife that is supper-amazing to be able to understand that her husband was hard-working and not a lazy person and that the future was bright. And today, we are living in that bright future.  So, I have gone through many difficult stages in my life and to be honest with you, I always see them as opportunities to showcase strength.

How did you meet your wife?

My wife and I met first as children. Our parents were the best of friends. Her father and my own father were in the army together. I first met her family in 1962 when we were transferred from Kaduna to Zaria and they were already in Zaria. Interestingly, she was born in Kaduna just like me but they were transferred to Zaria before us. So, when we arrived, my father took us on a visit to their house and I met my wife’s family. By then, we were all kids. Thereafter, I went to school and she went to a different school. Her elder brother and I, being age mates, were constantly wrestling to show who was stronger. But during the civil war, her father was transferred again to the battlefield and at that time, my father had returned. Her elder brother and herself were moved to live with us while their mother was taking care of the younger ones. So, we grew up as brother and sister. All along, I never thought that I was going to fall in love with her but then, it happened.

What attracted you to her?

I just saw her after not seeing her for about three years. It had been three years I visited home. So, the last time I visited home, as I saw her, the chemistry was just like a sudden jolt of electricity which hit me and I discovered that I had fallen in love. The feeling never left me. I couldn’t tell her until about six months later when I summoned the courage to let her know my feelings. A year after that encounter, we got married.

Are any of your children also into music?

I think all of them are incredible singers and songwriters. But two of them stand out. The only boy in the family, Hally, is presently the Managing Director of Panam Music World because music is just his life. He was in Junior Secondary School 2 when he walked up to me and said, “Daddy, I don’t want to go to school anymore.” I said, “Okay,” and asked him what he wanted to do. And he said music. Then I asked him, “If you drop out of school now, how do you handle things that require academic intelligence, money, relationships and how do you communicate with the world? If they ask you questions, what language would you use?” I added: “You hear that I’m called Dr Panam; it means that I studied but don’t you think that it would be good for you to also study?” And his reply was that education was not in him. So, I said, “No problem; let’s strike a deal. If you promise me that you will finish your secondary school and once you are done, you can do your music (I will agree with you). We entered into the deal and when he finished secondary school, I brought him into the studio and told him to feel free to do whatever he wanted to do. He discovered right there that he needed more education and by himself, he registered into the university and after that, he talked to me about going abroad for more studies and he eventually went to American University in Dubai where he read Music Production Technology. So, himself and his younger sister, Lauren, are professionals. Their older sister is also an incredible singer. Of all the children in the family, she is the best singer. There are four – three girls and one boy. But we also adopted six other children. So, all our children are into music or ministry.

What legacy are you striving to leave in the music industry?

There is no other legacy other than what I have told you about. The legacy is “just be who you are”. Legacy is about succeeding in what you are doing. It is being known for something .You don’t come into this world and leave just like that without being known for something.
For me, that is the greatest legacy anyone can leave. I’m known for music and this is what I will die for. In fact, a lot of people do not know that I went to the university. All they know about me is music. I’m not known for academic until now that I am teaching and sharing my knowledge with people. That’s how they get to know that I am highly educated; but education is not my legacy; it is, but in music.

As a Christian, what portion of the Bible do you like most?

I will tell you that I love the Lord Jesus Christ and his philosophies. You find him in the new and old testaments of the Bible, prophesies concerning him. For me, it is not a passage that I love but the person.

Copyright PUNCH.

All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.

Contact: [email protected]

Sourced From Nigerian Music

Related posts