TOP GOSPEL MUSICIAN, SAMMIE OKPOSO EXPLAINS WHY HE DIDN’T MARRY ANY OF HIS GIRLFRIENDS + His Happy Marriage And Booming Career
I know for a fact that A-list gospel musician, Sammie Okposo, has never spoken this frankly to any journalist before. But that should be expected. After all, both of us have come a long way. I know Sammie and Sammie knows me. So, when we met that Monday morning (July 7, 2014) inside his office, on Gbajumo Crescent, Surulere, Lagos, we spent so much time catching up on lost moments before finally delving into the business of the day. And when we eventually did, Sammie, from Isoko, Delta State and an accountant by training, held back nothing. From how he has been able to get to the top of his game to his days as a ladies’ man, his marriage to many other issues, he poured them all out to YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, in this exciting and enchanting interview. Enjoy…
What makes a good musician?
First of all, some people who are just instrumentalists, they call themselves musicians, because they play an instrument. They are session men and session women who do back up. Then, the front line artistes also call themselves musicians. But to be a musician, first of all, I think, depending on which area you wanna pursue – because we have the vocal musicians and we have the instrumental musicians. But in any one you choose, the first thing I really would advise is – learn the rudiments of at least one instrument. One instrument! You might be taking singing classes; but even if it is the flute or the piano or the guitar or the saxophone, it helps you as an artiste because when you have the rudiments of music at the background, it helps you as a singer to manipulate notes the way no other singer can, because you can see the piano from your mind and because you play a little, you know how to go around certain notes that make people wonder: ‘How does he or she do it?’ So, my first advise is – learn an instrument and if you are a vocalist, be learning an instrument on the side; if you are the one that plays an instrument, you are already learning an instrument. So, you don’t even need to. But whatever you do, learn it properly, because there are rudiments. Some people learn it by ear, some people don’t go through the rudiments of learning the notes and knowing what is what. If you are one of those musicians who just learnt it and you don’t know what it is, you will not be able to defend it. And we have a lot of those kind of musicians around. They can play, but they don’t know what they are playing.
Which of these instruments do you play?
For me, fortunately, I started with the piano. I mean, everybody who will go back with me, memory lane, will tell you that ah, Sammie Okposo used to be a keyboardist. I used to play keyboard for bands, my church, but I graduated from just the keyboards. I started playing the bass guitar. The knowledge I acquired from being a keyboard player helped me to play the bass and a little bit of the lead guitar and the drums. Then, I can play around with the saxophone, but majorly, I will tell you that I can play the drums, the keyboard and the bass.
What is the costliest mistake that any musician can make?
The costliest mistake any musician can make is not maximizing your moments and your time and I say that because I have had to work as a keyboard player for a lot of big Nigerian artistes who today are no more relevant; they are nowhere to be found. Not because they did not have good music, but they were in a time when it was blossoming, it was happening and they just thought that that was how it was going to be forever. They did not have any plan for the future, they did not think ahead, they did not ask how can I maximize this moment and branch into other things whilst this thing lasts and some of the fortune is flowing? How do I make it last even when I do not have to hold the microphone anymore? The costliest mistake is not maximizing your moment and not using everything that comes with that moment to plan for the future.
What do you like most about being a musician?
For me, it’s simple; very simple – I’m an artiste, I love music, I love performing and the best part is I get paid for doing what I love. In fact, that is the best part because there are some people who work, they wake up at 5am, go to the office, work and don’t get home at 9 and they are just doing it because of the salary. They don’t enjoy what they are doing. But for me, I’m so fortunate, I love what I do, I’m passionate about it, I would even do it if I don’t get paid. But the best part is – I’m getting paid for what I love doing.
What don’t you like about being a musician?
You know, I’m not gonna use the word, I don’t like, because that is very strong. But I think there are just some things that we go through as artistes that we will prefer not to go through, because becoming an artiste is basically opening your life up for the world and in these days of sophisticated media, blogging and everything that goes on, everything you do is in the eye of the public and sometimes you know some of us, we no dey hear word. Let me use that one in pidgin English. Some of the things we do… I want to be fair and balanced here, because a lot of times, I’ve heard people throw stones and bash the media – oh, bla, bla, bla; they are always saying this. But listen, the media is not always fabricating the story. Sometimes, I don’t know what to call it, in the excitement of the moment, some of us do stupid things, some of us make mistakes, some of us are where we shouldn’t be, some of us are hanging out with people we shouldn’t, some of us create the problems that we go through. So, that part of when you just wake up one morning and your phone starts buzzing, your mother in law is calling you or your parents, if they are still alive or your family; have you seen this paper, have you seen this blog, what is going on? And you have children. Your children go to school; because these days, the internet is available to everybody, kids are online, checking and your kids are being asked questions that ah-ah, but they said your dad, they said your mum, bla, bla, bla. So, those things happen and sometimes you just wish, men, if I was just one regular guy, nobody will bother to write. So, that is one part I’m not gonna say I don’t like. It is something that we have to live with and I think that should even make us more cautious because you know your life is in the public. So, whatever you do, be cautions because when that media part that is not promoting your work or your album, that is talking about some silly things that are not complimentary to your personality comes, you will not like it.
What is the greatest thing that being a musician has done for you?
Whaaooh! Being a musician has made me fulfil my childhood dream, because I grew up playing the piano, when I was about 10 years old and my late father, Chief Henry Okposo, he wanted me to be an accountant, to study and practice accounting. You know those days, your father is the one that will say to all of you; you, you will be a lawyer; you, you will be in Medicine; you, you will be a pilot and you have no say. Because they are the ones paying your school fees, they are the ones choosing. The children did not have that liberty to say this is what I want, but I knew that there was something artistic about me; I could not really articulate it as a young boy, but there was just this joy that comes to me any time I’m in Sunday School or I’m in school and I’m singing or I’m part of the drama crew or I’m playing the konga. I just felt joy and when my father was trying to make me an accountant, there was this sadness somewhere that oh, finally, I will not do what I think my life should be. But when I had my way and finally got to tell my father that I wanted to be an artiste, he laughed and he looked at me; you know back then, entertainment, you don’t try it; you don’t tell your father you want to be a musician, comedian, model. I mean, the list is endless. But now, I look back and I’m like this is what I was born to do and being an artiste helps me express myself, helps me connect to the people, just helps me do what I love doing and I am getting successful at it and I just thank God.
What has being an artiste not done for you?
Whaaooh! Being an artiste has just stopped me from being the regular guy on the street. I can’t just go across the road and look at that Mama Put, that Agoyin Joint that I used to enjoy; where we will all gather in the afternoon, any time of the day, we don’t care who is passing. Being an artiste has basically robbed me of some level of my privacy.
Why do some people attain success in your line of business, but find it difficult to sustain it?
Hmmm! I think success as an artiste, it can just come! God can just be merciful to you. You will just do one track, and not because you really had a lot of money to push it in the media, the song just goes around, people love it, media people like it, print media, everybody is playing it in parties. You have one fantastic song and everybody is singing it all over the world. And then, that is what I said earlier on – when you see that, whaaooh! How do I maximize this? It is the lack of planning. No. 1. And the mind set of the fact that the thing or this is going to be happening forever; not knowing that everywhere you turn, there is a new talent. And then some others also do not know how to re-invent themselves, because they get stuck in their old ways and the entertainment industry is progressing by the minute. The sound, if you are an artiste, is progressing; if you are in the video industry, new technicalities are coming up, picture quality that you need to improve on and you are stuck in the old ways. I’m just gonna itemize it – No. 1 is telling yourself that this is not gonna happen forever; I need to maximize this moment and plan for the future. No. 2 – I must be able to re-invent myself and go with the flow of what is happening and No. 3 – be open, be flexible to accept new ideas and be rest assured that technology is taking over the whole of the world. So, you must be technology – savvy.
Sammie Okposo has been around for a long time, what will you say has sustained you?
My God! God Almighty is the No. 1 factor. If you trace my albums, from album one till date, there are one or two songs which just constantly thank God, because it’s not like I deserve where I am. I’m not the artiste with the best voice; it’s not like my music is sweeter than everybody else’s, but God just chose to reserve and preserve me from way back; from Wellu Wellu till now. I am still as busy as an artiste who just came out yesterday. So, God is my No. 1 factor. And No. 2, I try as much as possible not to allow success to make me lazy. I mean, I took you round the studio, you saw I have my rehearsal place where I bring in my musicians, minimum, twice a week; whether I have a show or I don’t have a performance, they must come in twice a week for us to just flow and rehearse and get the vibe going. My recording studio is there, once I have an idea, I run in there. I put my ears down to know what is happening in my industry, what are the young people who have come in, who were not here probably 10 years ago, doing now? What is affecting me? What is the media looking at? What do the people want to dance and listen to? So, I am re-inventing myself; I am taking my content that I used to do, not compromising it, but bringing it into today’s sound and making sure that I am relevant and I am going with the flow.
What distinguishes Sammie Okposo as a gospel artiste or as a musician?
I’m different! For me, I believe that in everything we do in life, there must be excellence because a lot of people say Sammie, what’s going on? It’s like you are the only gospel artiste that we keep seeing being relevant, both in the gospel world and in the secular world and I say to them, first of all, when I’m making music, I make music. I make music for everybody and I have excellence at the back of my mind. I do not believe that gospel music should be relegated to the four walls of the church. No! And there is nothing called gospel excellence and secular excellence. So, I strive for excellence in the way I record, the way I shoot my videos, the way I present it in front of the people. I make sure it’s what people can listen to and appreciate regardless of your belief. So, for me, excellence is my watchword. So, whether it’s church, it doesn’t matter. Yes, it’s for God, but hey, I beg to differ – The God we serve is the God of excellence. Look at the way He created the whole world. He didn’t make mistakes by allowing Ghana to run into Nigeria or you wake up one morning from your bed and you see that you are already in Kenya. There are boundaries everywhere. God is a God of structure. He does His things well. So, I have tried my best to distinguish myself by having excellence as my watchword.
For a musician to be able to consistently and repeatedly come up with hit numbers, what must the person do?
Hmmm! For an artiste to consistently come up with hits, it’s not an easy thing to do o. Because sometimes you have a hit and this is one problem with our artistes. You have a hit, people love it, you need to be very wise and know – should I continue promoting this one or should I bring out a new one? Because sometimes you kill a song prematurely by bringing a new one and guess what? This is what happens in our industry – you have one hit song, people are still loving it, you bring another one and then it’s not as good as the first one. Guess what? This new one will affect the first one. So, you got to understand the timing of how to bring it out, how to promote it. Even the follow up that you want to bring, you must make sure that this follow up has the capacity to make people know that the first one was not just a fluke. So, you got to be very, very attentive as far as bringing out songs is concerned. Don’t just bring out songs. If you don’t have anything that is as good as the first one, I think you should wait and just spend more time to look at other avenues to promote what is existing and what people like.
What is the best way for a gospel artiste to be scandal-free?
I think for a gospel artiste to be scandal-free, you just have to know where to draw the line because, unfortunately for us, what you represent is God via your music. So, no matter how secularly relevant you want to be, you need to know where to draw the line in your behaviour, in your association, in what you present in terms of your musical videos, your lyrics. It’s a 24-hour job as a gospel artiste because, make no mistake, we are in a very competitive industry and we can see that the secular industry is widening and every artiste wants to thrive. So, people in my industry (that is gospel), some of them have even stopped singing gospel; some of them have been forgotten. Some of them call themselves inspirational artistes now. But some of us have tried to stay there, tried to understand what’s going on there, tried to do stuff that will work there. But you got to know where to draw the line because when they wanna bring out the axe, especially for you that is a gospel artiste, there is no mercy, because they expect that you should know better. You cannot just be like the secular artiste who can do anything; they can just go on stage and take off all their clothes and be performing with their underwear and people will be screaming. But a gospel artiste cannot try that. If you try it, I don’t know, probably that will be the end of your career because it is going to trend around the world – Gospel artiste goes naked on stage! (General laughter). It is not your forte, so we got to know where to draw the line so that you can stay away from scandals.
What is the nicest thing that you have heard about yourself?
Whaaooh! I’ve heard some very nice things about myself. The nicest one I have heard about myself is…Let me pick the nicest one (Thinks). The nicest one, the nicest one, the nicest one…I think the nicest one I have heard about myself from different quarters is that Sammie is a guy that supports other people’s dreams. I’ve heard it from different angles. Especially from my people in my industry, who we all go way back 5, 10 years. They have called on me at different times, short notice, long notice and I always give them my word and I make sure I do my best to keep my word. And I think that is a good thing to be said about you – that you have integrity, because integrity is somebody who says a thing and does it.
What about the worst thing you’ve heard about yourself?
Aaaaah! The worst thing I have heard is probably…Ah! It was an uncomplimentary remark in the media and that thing really, really, really hurt me. It was a situation where I was hurrying. In fact, this was in traffic. I was hurrying somewhere; I was supposed to be on stage maybe in 10 or 15 minutes and there was this lady driving from the other end. It was a T-junction. I was driving from the other end and she was trying to get into my lane and just because of where my mind was; normally, on a good day, I would give way, especially when it’s a lady that’s driving and she had some kids in the car. I didn’t even know that the kids were waving at me, they were trying to say hello, they recognized me as their mother was telling them that’s Sammie. I didn’t even listen. She came close to the junction and because my mind was where I was going to, guess what? We ran into each other at that junction. But it was not heavy. The bumpers just scrapped each other. I came down and she came down and she looked at me and she said, you are a very mean person. Look at me and my children in the car, my children were even trying to wave at you. At that point, I looked at the kids, they were all just frowning. She said and you did not even want to give us chance to enter. You know, I couldn’t speak. She said is that how you celebrities are? You are even wicked to the point that you are wicked to your fan base. I froze! Because I know I’m not a wicked person (Laughter). I am not a wicked person, but the woman and her kids, I messed up their day and that’s not something you should do. She said you are very wicked, you saw us and you deliberately hit us. She said look at it now. And I just kept saying I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
A lot of people have the impression that Sammie is a ladies’ man, a playboy. Is Sammie truly one?
Ah! God forbid bad thing! (General laughter). In fact, like I said, I am one of those people who like history. Because when you go back to history and you start the story, then you progress and get to the present day. You can see the progression and you can see the different junctions of changes a man’s life has gone through. There was a time when it was oh, Sammie is a ladies’ man, single guy, pruuuu! He loves women, he doesn’t want to marry, he just wants to play. And those were my days of youthful exuberance. Let me just pause and say this – I think every man should go through that whole process so that when you build a home and a family, there is nothing out there that has the capacity to come and even make you say you are packing out of your house or to scatter your home or to come and start giving your wife and your children trouble, because some of the guys who dive, and I’m not saying that early marriage is bad; some people dive into it and they have no experience of what the world is. They get in there and while they are married, they start saying hey, like say I know, I for never marry o! Before you know it, they have messed everything up. The home is in crisis, the wife has packed out, families are meeting, bad PR out here and you are just messing up yourself. So, those days of Sammie is a ladies’ man are gone. I am so happily married to the woman of my dreams. In fact, it was my wedding anniversary on the 1st of July. You were there, Azuh. And I’m happy that I did not marry before I got married, because I probably would have joined all the headlines of crashed marriages in the entertainment industry.
We shall return to your marriage. At that time, you dated some of the finest and hottest babes in the industry. Now, when you see fine girls, what goes through your mind and how do you avoid the temptation of going back to your old ways?
My brother! You see, those days, we didn’t know better. We didn’t know better and I have been able to get around wise mentors and wise counselors who have used their own lives as experiences to teach me certain things. You know when you are just moving by yourself, nobody advises you, there’s nobody you can go to, to say please, what do I do? This, that, that, that is an issue. That is why everybody, you must be accountable, you must submit yourself to people who can pick up their phones and call you and say Sammie, you are messing up, I need to see you right now; I heard X, Y, Z, where are you? Come to my house right now or come to my office now? And you will leave whatever you are doing, drive there. I had to submit myself to those kind of people because my life was going in a kind of crazy direction and I didn’t want it to end that way. I had to do a re-think and put myself together and then somebody said you know what, be accountable. When you are accountable to certain people and you know that their eyes and their ears are on ground, they can hear anything, you will behave yourself. Those things restrain you from doing certain things. So, these people have taught me so many things that now you can look at beautiful women; because if beautiful women was the problem, I waited and I married a beautiful woman. So, it is not like when you go back home, what you are living with is not beautiful enough. When you want to mess up, you are imagining the kind of abuse that is going to come. Like, look at his wife; you have this kind of wife, what are you still looking for outside, if something is not worrying you? So, I put myself under those kinds of checks and balances where people can advise me. Even when I have issues, they will say no, this is how you handle it and guess what? My wife is my best friend.
You moved effortlessly from one woman to another then. In fact, you were gliding and galloping (General laughter) – Kate Henshaw, Stella Damasus, Janet Fateye, Gloria Ibru and so on. How were you able to cope during those days?
It was mad! It’s a crazy thing that I did then. The industry just swallowed me. That’s the only way I can describe it because I was an up and coming entertainment personality, I was involved in all the media events, all the awards. They were calling me to be part of the theme songs, to do this, do that and I said to myself, my God, this is the life! The kind of ladies that you will not dare say good morning to; you don’t even have to say good morning; as you are passing, they will just say hi and you begin to wonder: are my the one they are waving at? Because I was in the limelight and I didn’t know how to handle it; I entered it gbuaaaa! And I was like my God; is this what these celebrities are dealing with? Where you don’t even have to say hello to a lady. She’s looking for you, she’s trying to hang out with you. So, I didn’t know what to do with it; I thought that was the life and the thing just swallowed me and like you said, before you knew it, I was gliding and galloping from relationship to relationship. It was crazy! I didn’t know better. I didn’t know better, but I will balance that. I didn’t know better, but somehow, I am grateful that I had to go through that. Because that is what I appreciate now; because of what I have been through. You know they say experience is the best teacher. When you have gone through some things, that is when you look back and you say ah! That was not a good experience. You will do all you can not to go through that again.
So, do you have any regrets about some of those things you did in the past?
In fact, I say this and people sometimes think I am crazy – I don’t regret anything! The Sammie Okposo you see today is a product of what I’ve been through. So, my motto is if you go back memory lane in my life to say okay, let us remove this, remove that, I don’t think what you see today will be complete, because a pot of soup is a combination of different ingredients and when you chop, you lick your hand and say kai! This one is sweet. Because if they take out one of those ingredients; if it was possible to take out one of those ingredients that’s causing you to lick your fingers, trust me, you will not lick your finger. Because it’s a combination, and by the time they remove anything, it won’t be sweet again. So, the good, the bad, the ugly have produced the Sammie Okposo that you see today. I don’t regret it.
You got married quite late. How is married life and how is marriage treating you?
Sweet! Sweet!! In fact, there was an article that said this is one celebrity that we see at almost every event with his wife, and I decided to do that deliberately because a lot of us think that we are too busy to take our wives to events and when you are not guarded, that is the protection. Anywhere you go, they are still saying hello, hello. So, right now, it’s a sweet union. 4 years! Somebody said ah-ah, e don reach 4 years just now? I said yes. July next year, I’m gonna be 5, then 6 and so on. And guess what? I am married for better, for worse because I didn’t go into it expecting it to be a bed of roses. Two different people have come together to form a union. Two different ideologies, two different backgrounds. So, as you go along, you will run against each other in unpleasant ways, but the best part of it is you are able to resolve it, the love is still glowing as you move on and the marriage and the family are still intact. I’m having fun as a married man.
Of all the beautiful girls you dated, why did you settle for your wife, Ozioma?
Em…without trying to discredit anybody, because any past relationship I have had, I respect, and a lot of them have moved into their own families, so I try my best to respect who they are now regardless of whatever we had in the past and that doesn’t make any of them unqualified or not a house wife material. No! It was a decision I made. All the relationships I had in my industry did not get me to that point where I could decide to say I do. Yeah, it went towards that direction, but it didn’t get there. So, I said to myself: dude, maybe you need to look away from this industry, maybe your life partner is not there, because sometimes people say if the person is in the entertainment industry, the person already understands how crazy your schedule is, knows that you would travel, you can be on tour for 6 months and because the person is in the industry, the person will understand. That’s what some people say. So, I thought that would work, but it didn’t work like that and it was not just a one-time thing. So, I decided; I said, take your mind away from the entertainment industry and look outside; maybe the wife you want to look for now would be out there and not in the industry. So, I deliberately took my mind away from the entertainment industry and I told myself that well, they are fantastic people, but I think one relationship, two relationships, three, four, five is enough to convince you that you know what, try it from another side. I decided to look out and it was in my looking out, away from the industry, that I met my wife in God’s kingdom. I went to perform at KICC (Kingsway International Christian Centre in London). Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo’s church. That was how and where I met my wife. She came with her sister. After my performance, I was signing my CDs for people. I was so busy, I wasn’t even looking up. People were on queue; they buy and I sign. But immediately I saw her hand, I looked up, saw a very beautiful woman, but couldn’t do anything because there were so many people on the queue. Later, when I left for my hotel, I still couldn’t get her off my mind. My heart was troubled. Then, a friend called to say he wanted to take me out because I complained of boredom. Along the way, he said we should stop over first at one exhibition going on, and reluctantly I accepted. Azuh, listen to this – when we got to the exhibition, it turned out that it was my wife’s sister that was organizing it and guess what? She was also there! And that was how we started. She refused to give me her number. She only gave me her email address and I started bombarding her with mails, sometimes 10 in a day. Haba! Na me now! Let me tell you another interesting story – during that time, I was getting shows almost every week in London. So, we were always seeing. My manager will call me and say there’s this show, but what they are offering is not much and I will say take it! Shebi they will take care of accommodation, flight and so on? Just to see my wife o! So, I was always going to London, seeing her till we got married. But you people, the press, didn’t know until we finally got married. My marriage was a big surprise to all of you, which I like. At least, una don leave me alone (General laughter).
NB: First published July 2014