He is not a man to be ignored at any gathering. He commands respect wherever he goes. Juju music legend, Evangelist Ebenezer Obey’s soft, velvety voice and philosophical songs have endeared him to many Nigerians. For over 50 years, the chief commander as he is widely known, toured the world with his Miliki sound and commanded so much attention. Later in life, he became renowned for Christian spiritual themes in his music and has since the early-1990s retired into Nigerian gospel music ministry.
As he turns 75, PREMIUM TIMES chronicles his music career, his many achievements as well as his impact on the Nigerian music scene.
He was born in 1942 at the Island Maternity in Lagos. Immediately after he was born, his mum took him back to Idogo in Ogun State where he spent his early childhood. His father was a carpenter while his mother sold clothes. Obey was born in peculiar circumstances, as his mother, Abigail Oyindamola Fabiyi was barren for about two decades as a married woman. Thrown out of her matrimonial home upon the counsel of her former husband’s family, she was advised to go to Idogo village away from the face of agony and despair. She bore two children for her second husband: Ebenezer Obey and his late sister.
He was married to Lady Evangelist Juliana Obey-Fabiyi for 48 years. They wedded in 1963. She was a frontline businesswoman and poultry farmer. Obey met her at his friend’s house — her brother. In an interview, he was quoted as saying that immediately she entered the sitting room, he told his friend that she was his wife. She passed on in 2011 at 67. Four of his children are pastors while two of them are musicians.
His foray into music
As a boy, Obey started his musical career in Idogo by singing on errands to cover distances. His mother enrolled him in the choir at the Methodist Church, Idogo, a move that inspired his music career. His musical talent was recognised early on when he was asked to lead the band at his Methodist Primary School. This was where he honed his music skills. He formed his first band in the 1957, called Royal Mambo Orchestra. He moved to Lagos and continued his music career with two elderly men, Akinyomi Savage and Bamgbose Jumoda, alias Abengo Mayana. His band mates introduced him to the late Fatai Rolling Dollar, who would become his bandleader for about six years. He formed a band called International Brothers, in 1964. Soon they had a hit juju single “Ewa Wowun Ojumi Ri.” The band played a fusion of highlife and Juju music. In 1966, Obey’s chief juju rival, King Sunny Ade came on the scene, and they still maintain a friendly rivalry today. The band later metamorphosed into Inter-Reformers in the early-1970s, with a long list of Juju album hits on the West African Decca musical label.
A fulfilling music career
Ebenezer Obey, who debuted in 1964 and became famous with Olo Mi Gbo Temi (1966), further modernized juju by drawing on highlife, and his lengthy jams. Some of his notable tracks include Mo Tun Gbe De (1973), Operation Feed The Nation (1976), Adam and Eve (1977), Current Affairs (1980), Je Ka Jo (1983).
He has released over 100 albums while the ones that are yet to be released are uncountable.
Although he plays highlife juju music, his Miliki sound which he describes as a sound of enjoyment has set him apart from the pack.
Obey, however, is also renowned for Christian spiritual themes in his music and has since the early-1990s retired into Nigerian gospel music ministry. He is the general overseer of Decross Gospel Mission located in Iyana Ipaja in Lagos.
He heeded God’s call in early 1990s at the peak of his career. He birthed a Christian ministry and abandoned a prospering secular musical career to become an evangelist. He says his musical talent was for winning souls to Christ.
In 2000, he was conferred with the national honour of MFR by the federal government.
In 2013, the Juju music legend was announced as the chairman of TheCopyright Society of Nigeria, COSON Music Foundation’s Board of Trustees.
In 2014, he was appointed a Professor Emeritus at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, OOU, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State. Obey works as a visiting artiste in the institution’s Department of English and Performing Arts.
The Ebenezer Obey Music Foundation and Training Institute was launched on Monday at a glamourous event to commemorate his 75th birthday. It will be affiliated to Olabisi Onabanjo University in Ogun State. It is a youth empowerment and training institute
- 1964 Ewa Wo Ohun Ojuri
- 1965 Aiye Gba Jeje b/w Ifelodun*Gari Ti Won b/w Orin Adura
- 1966 Awolowo Babawa Tide b/w Oluwa Niagbara Emi Mi*Palongo b/w Teti Ko Gboro Kan*Oro Miko Lenso b/w Orin Ajinde*Late Justice Olumide Omololu b/w Iyawo Ti Mo Ko Fe
- 1967 Olomi Gbo Temi b/w Maria Odeku*To Keep Nigeria One b/w Awa Sope Odun Titun*Edumare Lon Pese b/w Omo Olomo*Ope Fun Oluwa b/w Paulina
- 1968 Ore Mi E Si Pelepele b/w Ajo Ni Mo wa*Ijebu L’ade b/w Lati Owolabi*Col. Ben Adekunle b/w Ori Bayemi*Lolade Wilkey b/w Adetunji Adeyi*Gbe Bemi Oluwa b/w Olowo Laiye Mo
- 1969 Ode To Nso Eledumare b/w Pegan Pegan*Sanu-olu b/w K’Oluwa So Pade Wa*London Lawa Yi b/w Oro Seniwo*Isokan Nigeria / etc.*Eni Mayo Ayo / etc1969/1970*Emi Yio Gbe Oluwa Ga b/w Ise Teni
- 1970 Lawyer Adewuyi*Ala Taja Bala b/w Ohun Toluwa Ose*Ogun Pari / etc.*In London*On The Town
- 1971 Ija Pari (Part One) b/w Ija Pari (Part Two)*Esa Ma Miliki b/w Awon Alhaji*Face to Face b/w Late Rex Lawson*Oro Nipa Lace b/w Yaro Malaika
- 1972 Late Oba Gbadelo II*Board Members*Vol.4: Aiye Wa A Toro*In London Vol. 3*Odun Keresimesi
- 1973 And His Miliki Sound*The Horse, The Man and His Son*E Je Ka Gbo T’Oluwa*Adeventure of Mr. Music*Mo Tun Gbe De
- 1974 Inter-Reformers A Tunde*Eko Ila*Around the World*Iwalka Ko Pe
- 1975 Mukulu Muke Maa Jo*Ota Mi Dehin Lehin Mi*Alo Mi Alo*Edumare Dari Jiwon
- 1976 Late Great Murtara Murtala Ramat Muhammed*Operation Feed The Nation
- 1977 Eda To Mose Okunkun*Immortal Sings for Travellers*Adam and Eve
- 1978 Igba Owuro Lawa*Oluwa Ni Olusa Aguntan Mi*No Place Be Like My Country Nigeria
- 1979 In the Sixties Vol.1*In the Sixties Vol.2*Igba Laiye*Sky*E Wa Kiye Soro Mi*Omo Mi Gbo Temi
- 1980 Leave Everything to God*Current Affairs*Sound of the Moment*Eyi Yato
- 1981 Joy of Salvation*What God Has Joined Together
- 1982 Celebration*Austerity*Precious Gift
- 1983 Ambition*Singing for the People*Greatest Hits Vol. 3*Je Ka Jo*Thank You (Ose)
- 1984 The Only Condition to Save Nigeria*Solution*Peace1985*Security*My Vision
- 1986 Gbeja Mi Eledumare*Satisfaction*Providence
- 1987 Aimasiko*Immortality*Victory*Patience
- 1988 Determination*Vanity
- 1989 Formula 0-1-0*Get Yer Jujus Out
- 1990 Count Your Blessing*On the Rock
- 1991 Womanhood
- 1993 Good News
- 1994 I Am a Winner*Walking Over (1994 ?)
- 1995 The Legend
- 1999 Millennial Blessings
- 2000 Promised Land
2002 Ase Oluwa