REV. CHRIS OKOTIE'S CONFESSIONMy Life as a musician, weath, women
By Sam Eyoboka
, TODAY VANGUARD NEWSPAPER
Like a whirl wind he struck the music industry. And just as a new plug would bring life to a tired engine, he sparked life back into an industry that was almost comatose.
His genre of music was refreshingly different, so was the lyrics, simple and uncomplicated. His name is Chris Okotie and he came with a new swagger that was uncommon with the music industry of the 80s.
Apart from his music, he led the revolution that introduced solo career and almost extinguished band music, a feature that was common in that era. His debut album, I Need Someone, not only took the industry by storm, it also redefined the music industry.
Thirty years after, Chris who has since become a fisherman for Christ opens up on his life as a secular musician. It ‘s explosive an
We hear that your ministry will be 23 years old this month….
In fact today. We started our church, the Household of God Ministry on February 1, 1987. So, we are actually 23 years old today. We have started a programme to mark the anniversary and it will run through the month.
How has the journey been?
The journey has been that of grace. I think that is the best way to put it. The journey has been that of mercy of the faithfulness of the Almighty God, the plenitude of His grace. I think that is just the way to put it. It has been grace, grace all the way.
In retrospect, how did you arrive at where you are today?
(Laughs) There are two systems of life on earth—the physical and the spiritual and most of the time when we are not aware we, live only in the physical system but when a man confronts the spiritual world, he recognises that it is actually the spiritual system that is more authentic than the physical one.
It is in the spiritual that we come recognise what God has done for us by way of salvation—sending Jesus to die for us. And when I heard the gospel, I recognised the need to adjust to the spiritual reality of man and that by accepting Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. Which was what I did in 1983.
Were you running away from something then?
Not at all! If people think that I stopped playing music because I became a Christian, it is the wrong order. I stopped playing music before I became a Christian. That is what happened. I had already made up my mind that I have had enough of music and decided to go back to school and pursue my law degree and it was in the process that I got saved.
How did your music career start?
We have been musical in our family. My father really liked music and he used to sing a lot and I think I got that from him.
Just like sister Loraine. He wasn’t a professional singer but he was into music, singing at home and sometimes he would get his friends together and they would do their music thing; that’s how I used to call it then. They had their music thing going.
I think I got the music gift from him. I used to belong to the music band in those days at Edo College where we were doing thongs from James Brown and others of that time. My father didn’t like that because he felt that getting into music would take you away from your academic work and the seriousness needed for you to become a success. So, he was very opposed to that. But by 1979 when he died and coming from a polygamous family, I knew we had to fend for ourselves and the only thing I knew I could outside of going to school was music.
So, I went to the studio on my own, did a little work with some friends of mine which became my demo, which I brought to Lagos to show Mr. Odion Iruoje who was the most promising producers of the time. He was Decca at the time but later moved to Phonodisk. He heard my work at the time and told me that when the company was ready to take on new artistes he would get in touch with me.
And he did. So, by 1980, he came to meet me on campus and told me he had arranged with BLO, one of my favourite bands at the time, to do my backup for me. That’s how we came to Lagos and in 10 days we had done every thing and it was fantastic.
And where did you get your inspiration from?
It is difficult to say. Let me put it this way, I believe that everything I did in music was ordained by God and I tried to mess it up just like Adam tried to mess up God’s work originally. He accepted the course for my life but wanted to use music to bring me to the place of visibility for the work He had called me to do.
Because you see, you are ordained by God before you are born, like He told Jeremiah, ‘Before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you, I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’
So, He gave me that ability because He recognised that I would need it to come yo a place of visibility where I would be known and on that platform begin the work of the gospel. And from there build to a place of political leadership. So, I found myself driven, not just by the circumstances, because I could sustain myself even if I didn’t do the music. But I felt compelled to do the music and the music came to me.
I remember the song, I Need Someone, I heard one afternoon when I was sleeping during my siesta period on campus. Somebody was singing it and I got up and I recorded it. I will not call myself the inspired artistes who seats down and starts to contemplate the circumstances or picks up inspiration from them. Mine is slightly different. It comes to me, almost already packaged even till tomorrow.
Even the songs I do in church now and things like that. That’s the way it has always been. Every time I try to do myself, I find that I just can’t. But most artistic people can always seat down and say, let me go and write a song…but I have never been able to do that.
It has to come and once it comes the melody, then I start to work on the lyrics to try to find out the message behind the lyrics.
I knew someone, something going to change my life completely forever and it took me a while to decide on it.
And I always knew it has something to do with God even though I was not a believer then. When He eventually spoke to me the night I got saved He mentioned to me that He had done it all, and I knew He did. There were human excesses involved but the substance and inspiration were definitely of Him.
You came into the music scene when there were music bands doing their thing. You didn’t have a band and you chose the medium of pop when every other persons were doing something different—soul and what have you. Why?
That is why I am saying that He wanted to make me visible, because if I belonged to a band, I would have been like may be OFEGE or BLO and all that but He wanted my name because that is what He wanted to use. He wanted to use Chris Okotie as a name, because that is what He wanted to use. Sometimes, people think it is one name, the way they call me.
He wanted to use that name to achieve His own purpose here in this country and so, He didn’t want me to belong to a band. He arranged it Himself and that’s why He used Mr. Odion Iruoje and He organised and orchestrated the whole process.
The kind of songs, they were very simple but very melodious songs. They didn’t really have too much of a meaning to me then. But, I believe that anything I would have done at that time would have been successful because that was how God ordained it to be…for a purpose beyond me. It wasn’t for me, but for Him. And so when He was ready He came to claim what belonged to Him.
Please confirm the story that you actually used your producer’s jacket.
(Laughs) Yes! You know; because I was student at the time and I didn’t really have a lot of clothes because my father died and we didn’t have a lot of money.
So, Mr. Iruoje actually gave me that coat which I ended up giving to Felix Lebarty because he also was holding on to it in one of his works. I had friends then, Jide Obi, Felix Lebarty and a few other people who were close to me and I always wanted them involved in anything I was doing. Mr. Iruoje and I became friends. I discovered him to very sincere, upright, principled and those qualities appealed to me.
How were those days?
Very simple days! When I look back now, what I can recollect is the simplicity of the Nigerian society. The fact that people just accepted you for who you are and there was almost that universal fidelity; some kind of trust people had.
The suspicion that we have today wasn’t there. The WAZOBIA divide we have today wasn’t there and so you the liberty to leave in any part of this country. People loved you for what you could do, not your tribe or religion or something. It was very wonderful.
The acceptance was universal and almost overnight. Completely unbelievable. I remember, Mr. Iruoje took me somewhere when I came to Lagos about a month after the release of I Need Someone, and we were close to the School of Nursing in the Island and somebody recognised me and in five minutes barely all the windows were openly and they were all playing my music. I had to leave that place because I was so embarrassed. I hadn’t seen anything like it since then.
It wasn’t just about the music. It was just a kindred thing. It was as I was related to a people and that is the way some people relate to me since then. They get so personal about things that affect me. Somebody once wrote: “You can’t ignore Chris Okotie, you either love him passionately or you hate him passionately.” And I think that’s the way it has been with people. You have to take a stand when it comes to Chris Okotie!
How much did you make from I Need Someone?
I can’t recollect, but it was a lot of money. I was very rich particularly with my first two records because I became the highest paid artiste in the country at that time in terms of royalty and everything. And it is all thanks to Mr. Iruoje because he organised all that for me, but I was young and reckless and I spent the money without thinking…went to all kinds of places in the world.
I could afford anything I wanted. I think that it was also part of God’s plan that I would earn money on my own and loose respect for it, because it is important that as a minister of the gospel you don’t respect money. And I do not mean that you don’t put any value to it; you control it, you don’t allow it to control you. And that is why you can be become generous, because I have had so much money in my life that it is very easy for me to give it out.
It is very easy for me to do so, because from an age, it wasn’t money given to me by my parents or anybody. I remember when I went for a performance at Owerri and I was told that what the organisers had charged was too much for the young people to pay.
So, I called my manager to bring my brief case and I gave out the money they had just paid me for the performance so that the people could come in for the show. It was easy for me to do then and that is what I still do till now. But I think God wanted to use that to teach me to be generous, because when you know that what you have is given to you not because of anything…there are a lot of people who could do these things that I do.
But I haven’t been that blessed. It just helps me to see that money is a means to an end and not an end in itself. I’m happy with or without money. Money doesn’t determine what I do, it doesn’t determine the state of my mind or heart or my joy. It is freedom, because that is greatest power on earth—the power of money and I have been liberated from it.
You lived on the fast lane because money came when you were extremely young. When you look back now, do you believe that if God didn’t intervene at the time He did, the worst may have happened?
There is no doubt that if it were not for the divine intervention, I could have killed myself. No doubt about it because there were situations that I put myself into but the deliverance of God came in. When you have that kind of money and you have no parental guidance, no control…outside of Mr. Iruoje there was really nobody else who had enough wisdom to talk to me about the lifestyle I was leading.
Another thing that saved me was that, I am an introvert of some sort. They used to call me the hermit. If I were to be an extrovert, I probably would have exposed myself to more danger. I was always indoors. People came to me. I didn’t go to them, so it reduced the risk involved. I lived in that hotel for over a year.
It was the best hotel in the country at the time and I had friends—men and women who came to me, but the Lord still used that to prepare me for what I do now, in the sense that there is really nothing that I haven’t seen; that I haven’t done more or less.
So, the contentment that I have seen it all and I have come to a place of contentment and I am satisfied, totally and completely satisfied with the life I have today. Because, I have recognised that none of those things can give you happiness and when I met Jesus I recognised what I was searching for all my life, peace and contentment.
What are you referring to as ‘those things’?
The worldly acquisitions that we have; whether it is money or property. They make you comfortable, no doubt but they don’t give you joy and happiness because there is a void in the heart of everybody that God had placed there and until that void is filled with the love of God you will keep searching and craving.
Inordinate ambition is not man’s desire to just accumulate wealth, it is because he had no other choice. He is so empty within himself, so he thinks that as continues the journey of self aggrandizement and acquisition that he would find the balance of peace and joy; but he never does. The journey is futility, until he comes in contact with God through Christ Jesus.
Was there anything you did that you regret today?
Oh! Nearly everything I did I regretted. (Laugh) Recklessness. Basically, things that were done under the influence of alcohol which what a lot of young people do today under the influence of drugs. I was very fortunate that I didn’t get into drugs.
Can you list some of those things?
I’m too ashamed of them. They are not a testimony. Let me put it this way, the way of the transgressor is hard. (Laugh) There is a way that seemest right unto man, the end thereof is destruction. That is what I can tell you, because when you are young, your appreciation of life is so superficial. But for the love of God, there is no way I would have made it.
Did you do drugs?
Not at all! I knew I didn’t have the head. Even to smoke a cigarette was so difficult because anytime I smoked one I became dizzy, so there was no way I could have taken anything more than cigarette because I didn’t have the constitution for it. But, I drank! Out of burden, I drank beer or whatever. That is all I did.
Oh! Naturally, because I was a recording artiste and I was popular you meet a lot of girls and even boys who want to be friends with you and the reckless abandon and the characteristic of that age particularly when you have the additional comfort of money.
For some people, it is like that is the kind of life I want to live but if you look what goes on even in Hollywood and you see the level decadence and the depravity that is there; many times they lead to death—premature death. So, I thank God for His salvation.
Why did you abandon the music if it was a divine vehicle to something greater?
I haven’t. It is just a hiatus! You cannot abandon that stuff like that. It is part of you for the rest of your life. It is just that it is not necessary now. My music is still there. It is just that what I do now is just within the local assembly for now. It is an artistic gift that you have that is eternal.
You don’t believe that gospel music is a better tool of evangelism?
Yes! But when you are servant of God there is timing to everything that you do. The time hasn’t come. When that time comes we will do gospel music.
Will you say you made the right choice in marrying Stephanie?
Absolutely. I have always said that marriage is a personal decision. There’s perfect marriage; both of you have to take the time and work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
But I love the woman unconditionally. Marriage is not about what the woman feels for me; it is what I feel for her. It’s easy for people to love me because of the kind of a man that I am. When I talk love, I say I love her because that is the most important thing.
I think it is one of the best decisions that I have made in my entire life and I thank God for it.