I NEVER REGRET BEING MARRIED TO A STUDIO RAT-TOPE ALABI
Temitope Alabi (nee Obayomi) is a popular yoruba gospel singer also a household name in Nigeria’s entertainment industry especially the movie sector and the gospel music scene. Born over 40 years ago to a Catholic family, who was said to be a ‘promised child’ according to the prophecy given to her parents when she was only seven years old that ‘Tope would be a minister of God’. She is happily married to an Ebira, Kogi State man, and blessed with lovely children. Soji Alabi, the actress-turned singer spoke with Daily Newswatch about her childhood, her foray into acting, musical career and of course matrimony. Excerpts:
Was it part of your dream as a child to become a gospel musician?
No, no, no. My childhood years were very peculiar. It never even gave chance for such fantasies. I never had a fun-filled childhood. My parents were paupers who could barely feed us three times a day. My mother used to make ogi (pap). After sieving the waste product called eeri, we would grind and eat it with ewedu or ilaalasepo. We even had to beg the miller to grind it for us because we couldn’t pay. It was that bad. And when mere feeding was that hard, you can only imagine what other aspects of life like schooling, clothing, health and others were like. We were actually 11 children, but eight died and only three – two boys and a girl – remained. At a point, they had to take me to Ibadan to live with my mother’s elder sister, to give me a fairer living but fate still did not allow me have it good. My aunt’s second child treated me like a maid. The feeling was bad enough that I was always wishing that a trailer should just come and crush everybody and end it all. The suffering was just too much. One day, I decided to run away from Ibadan as the trailer refused to come. I followed a train that was trvelling to the North but I could not come down when I got there. I had to go and hide myself in the toilet and later followed it back. The atmosphere around which I grew up was very tensed. I could not afford to open my teeth to smile not to talk of laughing. When my host family were all on the dining table eating, I would have my own meal at the back of the kitchen. I received 72 strokes of the cane because I did not rinse a cup well. I thought of dying but God did not grant my wish.
How did your childhood experience impact on you?
I have learnt to be brave and courageous in the face of whatever hardship I face in life. Although it is bad to be maltreated, I have come to terms with standing upright all through it, all and I have vowed to give back to life. There are still lots of girls wandering up and down for the same reason and my decision is to offer as much help as I can to them. You can see some girls around. None of them is a member of my family, but having had the kind of experience I had, I don’t want any girl to go through the same thing. So any one of them I see around, I ask them to come to me and tell me what they want to do. I later realised that it was not good for me to be running here and there because I could not have saved myself. After all I was not the only person being maltreated by a family. I remember a guy called Nurein, now known as Kunle. We were there together. He is now a big person. He also experienced the same treatment, but he never ran off. He faced the challenge, and today he is better off for it. I am sure there are many others too who almost committed suicide for their bitter experiences then, but are successful now.
How much were you able to develop yourself in terms of formal education?
Apart from primary education, which I had in Lagos, my secondary and tertiary education were in Ibadan. I went to Oba Akinyele Memorial High School, Ibadan, Oyo State, and later to The Polytechnic, Ibadan, to study Mass Communication. I graduated in 1990. I worked as a correspondent with Nigerian Television Authority (NTA); moved to NTA Channel 7, Tejuosho (now home to NTA Channel 10, Lagos) before going to explore the advertising world. I was briefly with Centrespread Advertising Limited.
Talking about your ministry, when exactly were you called or is it just a thing of interest or passion?
Like I said, my passion was really towards acting, not music. The revelation concerning my music ministry first came to my mother when I was still a child. A man of God also delivered the same message to me in 1998, that God wanted me as an instrument to win souls for Him through music. I did not know how that would be achieved, but I was ready to be used by God.
Which one is most challenging of all your albums and which one would you say brought you to limelight?
Honestly, all the albums I have released are evergreen. The first one I released was titled Iwo La Kepe but Ore Ti O Common – which was the second – really brought me much fame. AngeliMi, however, was most challenging. Its recording was most demanding. Up till today, it has remained very much in demand. It has since set me on my toes.
Which of them brought you fame and success, gospel or secular soundtracks?
I have been into soundtrack before venturing into gospel music, but it is gospel music that made me popular. Gospel music gave me a face and made me what I am today. When it comes to reward, it has rewarded me greatly and in all ramifications. I can’t be saying everything here. I appreciate God for counting me worthy of entrusting such a gift in my care and I pray that He would not allow me to be moved from His presence. He is the reason why I exist. Because of my ministration, and because it touches people’s lives, I keep receiving invitations from various churches and renowned men of God. My prayer is that God’s message through me and my husband will spread all over the universe.
How did you meet God?
Actually, my mother used to tell me that when I was seven years old, some pastors met her and told her: ‘Mama, you have one girl who is going to work for God’. But because we were Catholics, my mother did not understand what they were talking about; she thought I was going to become a Reverend Sister. I grew up and insisted that I was not going to be a Reverend Sister, but my mother objected. She insisted that I should go to a Convent and become a Reverend Sister. But when I went to sing at my husband’s church – The Apostolic Church, Ogba, Lagos – the man of God (pastor) made an altar call at the end of his sermon, and I asked my husband if I could go out. He said if I was convinced by the word of God I should answer the altar call, thus I walked to the pulpit. That was how I got born again.I gave my life to Jesus at The Apostolic Church. Though I have been going to churches to sing before then, it was simply because I just loved singing. I told people they should invite me if they have any programme in their churches, promising to sing free of charge. I started receiving the vision of my divine call when I went into courtship with my husband. I would close my eyes and I will see people in gathering and I saw myself preaching to them. I told my husband what I saw and he said maybe I would be a minister of God in future. He later advised that perhaps I should attend a Bible school. So these things kept on coming; at times as a dream or a vision where a voice kept on talking to me that, ‘I want you to work for me’. I was confused about the voice I was hearing. I thought it was a spirit. Later on, I went to meet one pastor who told me that, ‘You are a minister of God,’ and I replied that I had heard it before. Somebody later advised me to put all my soundtracks into an album. I anticipated an escape route from all those people who were saying I am a minister of God. Later, High Waves Video Mart Chairman, Aina Kusoro, asked me to release an album. He told me he could help me go to the studio; that he wanted to see what I could offer. He is from Yewa, while I am from Egbado (both in Ogun State). He is just like a brother to me. He gave me N170, 000 for the album. That was in 1996. He gave me the money. I can say he was my Angel, being the first person that said, ‘You can do something, go on and do it’.
Was that your first album?
No, my very first album was in 1994. But my very first gospel album was in 1996. The very popular album I released was Eji Ewuro. There was a film that was titled IkokoDudu. I did the movie soundtrack for the late Alade Aromire. When we finished the movie, people liked the soundtrack, so Aromire turned the soundtrack into an audio CD. Then I started preaching to my colleagues on location over their negative lifestyles. But many of them would not listen; they said that was their way of life at locations.
Your husband is also said to be very supportive of you and your career…
Oh yes, and that is part of the doings of God that are marvelous still in my sight. We met on this job and honestly, I never thought we were going to be married. We were just wor king associates, but as God would have it, we are husband and wife today and still working together. Like I said, this as well was prompted by God just to make a success out of me. I give Him all the glory.
How did you meet your husband?
He was working at Decross (record label) as a senior engineer and I used to go there to produce soundtracks for Korede Films. That was how we met. He was a studio rat. He worked anywhere in the studio. He never went out of the studio. He was such a tiny man when we met. But see him now, I have packaged him. He has also packaged me as well. I am more beautiful now. We met 19 years ago. We got married five years after.
What was the attraction when you met him?
I believe it was the plan of God for us to get married. Before he proposed, I never saw Soji as a man that had the standards I desired. Then I was a ‘big girl’ in the movie industry. I had experiences of many things in life. So imagine a man who was staying in one studio and working at all times asking me out! He was too gentle for my liking and his stature was not encouraging either. But I discovered that God’s purpose for our life must come to pass. I never knew that I would be a vessel in God’s hands. I never knew I had His grace in my life. I never knew God had planned that we would come together and do exploits in His kingdom. I was just going about producing sound tracks for movies, not into any ministry.
How did he propose?
You see, he is this quiet and reserved person so his proposal was more of a ‘natural flow’ than the rose flower, candle light dinner or what have you.
Was it love at first sight to you?
No, it wasn’t; the affection and love actually developed with the relationship. At the initial stage, I only saw him as just a friend and probably a working colleague but I guess the maturity in us and the steady relationship we had actually brought the love out of both us.
Any regrets so far as regards your marriage?
No,not at all. To God be the glory, we have been able to contend and surmount any challenge we might have had, by His grace.
Given another life, would you marry him again?
Why not? Definitely, I will.
What is the secret that has kept the marriage this far especially as both of you are in the same profession?
Marriage is a good thing, but as I have said, my husband and I are still friends till date. He does not have friends, neither do I. We are lovers as well as a married couple. He is a wonderful man and the children are proud of him. They always go to him anytime they want to know something that I don’t know.
Is he still your manager?
He is no longer my manager. I have a new manager. He is the marketer now. He is my boyfriend and the father of my children. He is the small boy in the house that must eat first even if no other person has eaten.
But most men don’t want their wives to be in the spotlight, how come he supports you like this?
I just thank God for his life. You can imagine, when we go for programmes, I would be given a seat in the front row while my husband would be given a seat at the back. Imagine! I would always tell him to come and sit in front so I can go to the back but he would never agree. He would ask me if he was Tope Alabi. God has been guiding us. How would I have managed without a husband like him?
Were you at anytime an actress?
Yes, I acted in about 50 movies. Some of the movies I featured in included Funmilayo, Malomo, Abiku sologun deke, by Alade Aromire. I was the Malomo in Parts 1, 2 and 3. But because people did not know me then, they will not even remember. I was Toyin Obayomi not Tope Obayomi. So Toyin Obayomi cannot be linked with Tope Alabi.
Why did you change your name from Toyin to Tope?
I changed the name from Toyin to Tope when the Holy Spirit ministered to me that it was not a good name for me, so I changed it before I became popular.
Was there any challenge then and now?
Challenges then were who was going to market me? Who was going to bail me out or which church is going to invite me? Challenges in the theatre world then were: they don t want to use me in this film, please use me so that people will know me. But when I moved into movie soundtrack business, the challenge there was: which marketer was going to bring out my job? How am I going to sing in movies that people will know that I am good? But the challenge in gospel music then was which marketer was going to bail me out? Which church would invite me so that people will know that I am talented? But the challenge now is what I wear that people will not say I am half naked. My current marketer – Galaxy – released a life performance: Amazing Grace, where City People gave me an award as The Best Gospel Singer for the Year, so people now started calling me from churches telling me that I have backslider with the way I dressed in that video. They even said because I now apply make-up, I would go to hell. And funnily enough, I have been putting on earrings since I came out with Oore ti O Common. I have been putting on trousers to follow my husband to wherever we go, except church programmes. But what about my husband, wouldn’t I dress to satisfy him?
Where is your husband from?
My husband is from Kogi State. He is an Ebira man.
Is your husband complaining?
No, he is not complaining. He even complains whenever I put on something like this (Iro and Buba). He likes me on English dresses. He will even come back home and tell me whatever he saw ladies put on outside, that he will like me to wear. I can’t be going out shabbily- dressed because I am singing gospel music.
How rewarding has this job been?
The best of all the rewards I have got so far is the fact that people keep surrendering to Christ. My experience in America, Nigeria and the United Kingdom confirm this and I am happy about it. You see, it is not all about money. If we are talking about money, I don’t have money oh, but I feel God strongly wherever I perform,; that’s enough for me. There was a place I went to, and one woman told me that God told her I was singing from the inside of God. She said when people were suggesting names of artistes to invite to her church programme, she was at a point confused. Some were against her inviting me, but when she went into prayers on the Saturday preceding the Sunday over the matter, God gave her the go ahead to invite me. She said God showed me to her. But all the same, I bless God for everything.
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