How you can package religion into a fortune in Nigeria – Solomon Lange

Solomon Lange is one of Nigeria’s most popular gospel artistes, a songwriter and a motivational speaker. He has two popular albums titled ‘Nagode’ and ‘Alheri’ which were big hits in Nigeria, especially the Northern part of the country.

Nagode hit the market in 2008 while Alheri was released in 2012. Solomon Lange has been in the gospel music scene since 1997. He has ministered alongside Micah Stampley, Ron Kenoly, Judy Jacobs, Panam Percy Paul, Donnie McClurkin and others.

Recently, he visited PREMIUM TIMES headquarters in Abuja, and we sat down with him for a brief chat.

Tell us about yourself
I was born in a village in southern Kaduna. I finished secondary school as a teenager and moved to Kaduna where I grew up. I am from Wasa Station. Wasa means play; it’s in a local government called Sanga in the southern part of Kaduna state. I schooled in Nigeria. I attended Kaduna Polytechnic. I studied Mass Communication. I’ve always wanted to be in the music line.

Are you married?
I’m not married. I’m single

So are you searching?
I don’t know about searching, I’m single but you know, when you are not married you are not married. I don’t believe in searching, I just wait and it comes to me, but there is some sister making me smile (he bursts out laughing).

That means you have a girl friend?
Oh! Sure come on! I’m Solomon Lange.

So, what motivated you to go into the gospel music?
I love to sing, I have always loved to sing, the best way I have always expressed myself is through singing. If you spank me as a kid, what I did was to sing. I have always wanted to be a professional musician. Growing up, I got the life of Jesus. He saved me from my troubles and I thought ‘Oh ok, let me just sing the gospel’. I love to preach the gospel so, I found myself singing the gospel.

What troubles did he save you from your troubles?
The first trouble he saved me from was poverty. I came from a very poor family. My grandfather died broke. I hated poverty. At that point in my life as a kid I didn’t want to be a Christian. I didn’t want to serve God, because I thought, you guys keep telling me to serve God and you guys are broke. I met someone when I was still young, about 13 or 14 who quoted Jeremiah 29:11 which said: “God’s plans for me are great ones to give me a future and an expected end”.

I was like, that sounds good because all I heard all along was God was angry with me. Even though I was a kid, I didn’t know what I did wrong. So I told God that we have to go into a pact. If I’m going to serve You, I can’t experience what my grandfather experienced. I can’t end up the way my father did. Hence I wanted a difference. I wanted a better life. I thought if God was promising us a heaven that was made with streets of gold, I just want a little of that here on earth and I don’t think I was asking for too much.

Why did you chose the gospel music?
If you look at Abuja and the middle belt, you’d realize that those of us who are here who do gospel music thrive more here than any other kind of music. If you really must make it doing secular music, then you’d have to go to somewhere like Lagos.

P-Square, M.I and Jesse Jagz were in Jos, but moved to Lagos. Gospel music thrives more here, so I think I was inspired by that and the time I decided to go into music. I started music in 1997. At that point, it was the dark age of the Nigerian music industry. The Industry was not really thriving. If you look at it, gospel was quite easy to go into because of the influences. The major influence I had was gospel.

You said when your mum spanked you, you sing. That’s really weird, how did that make your mum feel?
Well, I got that trait from her. Whenever my father hurt her, if she assumed that my dad was cheating on her with another woman, all she did was, she starts to cry and sing. Women act like that from where I came from. They do that a lot. She sings very well. I mean it wasn’t every time that somebody spanked me but it happened many times

Are you from a strong Christian home?
Yeah! My dad’s a deacon.

So when you decided to go into music, did you face any challenges?
Growing up in Nigeria you’ll face financial challenges. You need money to record. We didn’t have music institutions around to be trained so you needed to get materials yourself for training. Acceptance! Once you are new on the scene and nobody knows you, you don’t have a name you have to be appreciated and accepted.

Was your dad in full support?
Oh yeah! For a long time. For maybe a year or two my dad and I were not in talking terms. My mum was cool, my mum said she had a dream that when I was quite young. She said she had a dream of me becoming a very big music star.

Why does it always have to be the dad?
It’s ego. This is my first child, my son. When you are from the middle belt the most thriving kind of career was civil service or you go into the army, or some form of force. He said, “You are intelligent, with all your intelligence, all you want to do is music?

Being the Christian scene, the Christendom requires you to be a humble man. So how do you manage stardom?
I think it’s quite easy to handle attention from people if you always remember where you are coming from. Remember that these people who are celebrating you today may not even remember your name tomorrow, but they’ll remember the name of the next kid on the block. You see how God keeps lifting you, moving from one point to the other, it just humbles you.

Anytime I go to church and I see people singing my song or people write stuff to me or send messages to me on Facebook and I’m like, “they talking about me, you know.” I’m still that little boy who just left the village and took a one week trip from Kaduna to change the world and I’m still dreaming.

Secondly, you only get arrogant when you think you’ve arrived. There is no place you get to where you don’t see people who haven’t done much more of what you are doing. When you think of your dreams, your future and where you want to get to, you don’t want to get caught up in the little things you’ve done when you haven’t done much. Anytime I see an artist buy a car and makes noise about it on Instagram and Facebook.

There are people in this country who nobody knows their names, they would send to Mercedes Benz and give specification of the kind of car to be made for them and the car would be brought to them in this country, you don’t know their names, they have so much money. You just bought a car that was used by an American, a used car and you are making so much noise about it. Remember where you are coming from and where you are going to, it keeps you humble.

As a gospel artiste, what is the priority; winning souls or selling albums?
The thing is, there is a lot of misconceptions. People think we don’t make money. I may not yet be getting big endorsements from companies. I may have to do more shows than the secular artiste to be able to make money. Money helps in winning souls. I am going to say something that is a bit controversial. I hope people understand me. Religion is a really big selling point in Nigeria. Religion sells well in Nigeria if you know how to package religion.

Nigeria has some of the biggest and richest pastors in the world because religion sells in Nigeria. There are some people who have packaged religion in such a way that they are not necessarily making positive impact, they are taking advantage of people. When people hear God, their minds goes on break. If you package religion well and it changes people’s lives for the better, it pays you back. All you need to do is to have some form of a name. Once you have a song that is popular, they come after you.

Are Nagode and Alheri your only two albums?
Yes so far.

Which was more successful?
They were both very successful. Nagode beat my imagination. I didn’t know it was going to succeed at the level it did. I was just a normal R and B singer. My friend Azu advised me. One day he met me somewhere singing in 2003 and he said in a typical Niger Delta accent, he said “Bros e! This R and B where you dey sing, you go hungry oh!” So he was saying, even if you want to sing R and B, why don’t you mix it with some local stuff. He said, we are Nigerians, you can’t sing R and B better than R-Kelly.

First I got offended and later I thought about it. Nagode was massive all over the streets of Northern Nigeria. There were times they invited me to some remote areas and I start singing and I see everybody in the congregation singing the song. So it was successful. Alheri is doing better than Nagode. I mean, it’s supposed to be getting better as far as I’m concerned. Alheri is one of the best-selling right now.

Do you write your songs yourself?
I write my songs myself

Are you signed to a record label?
I am signed to my label. I have a label called Insota. Insota stands for Inspiration of the Almighty. I have owned it for 3 years. Before then, I wasn’t signed to any record label.

When you perform in churches, do you get paid?
When I started, people invited you and all they tell you is “God bless you, thank you for coming!” I came to Abuja to sing and the church just told me “God bless you” Then I had to call another friend who gave me money to travel back to Kaduna. Then I recorded my album and it was on the street, and people were still treating me that way. You go to some places, they’d give you N5, 000, N10, 000, N20, 000. Once in a while, some pastor would say “Oh you have so blessed me, this is N50, 000. I was having a name but no fortune.

People knew me but I didn’t have a car, I was still squatting. Right now, I give some people fees. Sometimes, I insist that people have to pay before I come. Up till now, I get to a place and if I don’t insist before I come, they give me what they want to pay me. I have had more than five cheques that have bounced.

Do you have any Nigerian Christian role models?
Dr Panam Percy Paul has been my greatest influence. I grew up listening to him. I have learnt a lot from Sam Song, Chris Delvan, Sammy Okposo. I have learnt a lot from those guys. I think Sam Song is the best singer in this country.

Do you always have to get in the spirit before you write your songs?
I am not really a religious person. I am a child of God. I don’t need to act religious to be known as a child of God. I just work with him as his child. I worship God everyday, I pray everyday, I study my bible everyday. It’s what I do. Honestly, I don’t pray before writing songs. I have the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. He lives in me. I have inspiration. Many people thought I fasted for three days before writing Nagode. I just received it. I can’t remember the last time I sat down to write a song. I just pick up my guitar and a new song comes to me. Nothing special!

Which Nigerian and international artiste would you ultimately want to have a collaboration with?
Frank Edwards, I love his music. I also want to do a song with Sammy Okposo because he got his own energy. I would love to do a song with Iben, my friend. I would love to do a song with Tim Godfrey. Micah Stanley, Israel Houton, Donny McLaughlin. I don’t mind doing a song with all the Nigerian artistes. I am going to record songs with them before I leave this earth.

Tell us about your new album that we are expecting?
It’s going to be bigger than Nagode and Alheri put together. There is a lot of versatility. I sing more of praise and worship to God. Most times I like to bring people to God. That album is thanksgiving from the beginning to the end of the album. It is going to be 17 songs. Some are slow, some are fast. Right now, I am thinking it is going to be titled ‘Grateful’. I am still looking for the phrase or word that would capture that album. It’s almost finished. It’s dropping on the 5th of October.

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