By Juliet Ebirim
In this interview, gospel reggae artiste, Hilary Okechukwu Ogbuagu popularly known as El Levite talks about his musical journey and his recently released album ‘Falling in love’. Excerpts…
When and how did you start doing music?
Music for me started in the church in 1998, the year I gave my life to Christ and joined a church band. As for how; I can say that it’s a thing of passion and interest. I developed interest early in the Rastafari movement. Due to this, I started listening to reggae music a lot and writing my own reggae songs too. I got influenced by the songs of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Beres Hammond, Ras Shiloh and more. I joined the reggae movement of Nigeria in 1993, then in JSS 3. Finding myself in a church band helped to reshape and redirect my passion to a right direction, which is gospel reggae. That’s how it started.
Why did you choose to do music?
God designed us purposely to please Him by being blessings to the world through the talents and gifts He gave to us. We are to discover the gifts and use it to please Him. Coming to your question on why I chose music, I will say, I never chose music; rather, I grew up to discover that I was made by God to do music.
Yea reggae, because that is my area of strength. That is the genre of music I will be able to do even if you wake me up. It is a waste of time for one destined to be a lawyer playing football. So it is, if I go on playing any other genre, because others do. I learn to stay in my area of strength. That’s what uniqueness is all about.
What influences the messages in your songs?
Bible, experiences, nature, happenings, loved ones, almost everything.
I recently attended your album launch and it was explosive, tell us more about it and what’s your new album ‘Falling in Love’ all about?
I really have so much to say before my call home. Falling in Love is a preamble. Next album is already in the pipeline, just letting you into my secret, it’s going to be titled ”Heaven Bound People ” Back to the launch, God did it. All my friends and mentors like Buchi, Orits Wiliki, Righteousman, Broda Martins, Big Bob, E’Davids, Jheri, Dason and more all honoured God by attending. In ‘Falling in Love’ album, I intend to as much as I can tell of God’s love from my own perspective. Where He picked me from and where I am today. How out of someone thought to be hopeless and useless, a message of hope is emanating. I also wish to encourage one out there to come to this same Jesus that did all these for me. If you listened to to track 2, ‘why do you love me so’, I clearly explained all these. Track 1, ‘Falling in Love’ too is a declaration of the path I have chosen to thread all my life, ‘Falling in love’ with Jesus.
What’s unique about your music?
I will give this answer from the feedback I get from people. I do ask my fans and loved ones similar question and what I get from them is that my delivery of reggae music is different from others. I actually emphasise on my message because that is the crux of it all. I also love good music and that’s where professionalism comes in. I try to do a universally acceptable music, not music that will not endure the test of time.
So far, how would you describe your musical journey?
My musical journey so far has been very fulfilling. Nothing gives joy like finding yourself in your place of calling. I am doing what I’m made to do, just like a car designed to transport load from one place to another. People get blessed with what comes out of me and that is all that matters to me. I know I’m not there yet but the journey of a thousand miles starts with a step.
What are the challenges you’ve encountered in the course of doing music?
That’s a good question I always love to hear whenever I get interviewed. You see, the platform we chose to do music in, which is gospel is poorly encouraged. Few record labels operate as gospel labels and the non-gospel ones rarely sign gospel artists. Also, Christian music in most cases are aired only on Sunday as the radio DJs and music presenters on TV hardly play gospel. What these tend do to us is that we are left to do our own things on our own. We promote our own works, market it and all that. That is our major challenge as gospel music artists.
Who do you look up to in the industry
God first, Buchi, Righteousman, then internationally, King Stitchie, Papa San and Osmond Collins, these are some Jamaican friends I link up with.
Which reggae artiste do you look forward to working with?
Yea, in the next album, which I just mentioned a while ago, I am discussing with a lot of friends already. Buchi, Righteousman, Larry Kingdom (Jamaican), Kwesi Frontinelle (Trinidad & Tobago) Big Bob and more will be part of the album. And I promise you, it’s gonna be bombshell.
Where do you see yourself musically five years from now?
Romans 8:19 says: ‘For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed’. There is so much to do because there are so many souls out there that need to be reached. All I can say for now is that five years from now, I will not be where I am now as I will be better that I am now.