Patricia Temitope Alabi (neeObayomi) is a household name in Nigeria gospel music scene. Born over forty years ago into a catholic family, her parents had received a prophecy when she was seven years old that she would be a “great minister of God”. The actress-turned -singer had paid her dues in the entertainment industry before finally locating her divine call in music. Her decision to dump the profession of make believe for the microphone, has earned her awards one of which is the current Best Gospel Musician in Nigeria. Senior Entertainment Correspondent, Ajibade Alabi spoke with her recently on diverse issues. Excerpts.
Who is Tope Alabi?
My name is Patricia Temitope Alabi. My mother is from Abeokuta, while my father is from Egbado, Imeko in Ogun State. I had my primary and post primary education in Ibadan, Oyo State. I read Mass Communication at the Polytechnic in Ibadan. I became born again through my husband. I was born and bred in the Catholic church, where my parents are strong members of that Faith.
In our home we were not used to getting closer to Jesus -I, mean they did not know what it means to be a born-again that time. So when I worked with my husband at Ebenezer Obey owned Decross recording studio, where he was a senior engineer, I used to go there for my home video sound tracks. He asked if I could sing in Yoruba and I told him I need to be a theatre girl and there is nothing I cannot do as far as entertainment is concerned.
How did you meet your husband?
Like I said earlier, he was working at Decross as a senior engineer, and I used to go there to produce sound tracks for Korede Films. That is how we met.
What is the secret that has kept the marriage this far especially as the two of you are in the same profession?
Marriage is a good thing, but as I have said, my husband and I are still friends till date. He does not have friends and neither do I. We are lovers as well as a married couple. He is a wonderful man and the children are proud of him. They always go to him anytime they want to know something that I don t know
Did you ever plan to be a gospel singer or were you just diverted to it?
Actually, my mother used to tell me that when I was seven years old, some pastors met her and told her “Mama, you have one girl who is going to work for God. But because we are Catholic, my mother did not understand what they were talking about, she thought I was going to become a Reverend sister. I grew up and insisted that I was not going to be a Reverend sister and my mother objected. She insisted that I should go to a convent and become a sister.
But when I went to sing at my husband's church, The Apostolic Church, Ogba, Lagos, the man of God (Pastor) made an alter call at the end of his sermon, and I asked my husband if I could go out. He said if I am convinced by the word of God, I should answer the altar call, thus I walked to the pulpit.
That was how I got born again. I gave my life to Jesus at The Apostolic Church, Ogba, Lagos. Though I have been going to churches to sing before then, it was because I just loved singing. I told people they should invite me if they have any program in their churches, promising to sing free of charge. I started receiving the vision of my divine call when I went into courtship with my husband. I would close my eyes and I will see people in gathering and I saw myself preaching to them. I told my husband what I saw and he told me maybe I will be a minister of God in future. He later advised that perhaps I should attend a Bible School.
So, these things kept on coming; at times as a dream or a vision, where a voice kept on talking to me that “I want you to work for me” I was always getting confused about the voice I was hearing. I thought it was a spirit. Later on, I went to meet one pastor who told me that “You are a minister of God” and I replied that I have heard it before.
Somebody later advised that I should put all my sound tracks into an album. I anticipated an escape route from all those people who were saying I am a minister of God. Later, High Waves Video Marks Chairman, Aina Kusoro, asked me to release an album, he told me he can help me to go to the studio that he wants to see what I can offer. He is from Yewa, while I am from Egbado. He is just like a brother to me. He gave me N170, 00.00.
When was that?
That was in 1996. He gave me the money. I can say he was my Angel, being the first person that said “You can do something, go on and do it”
What was the title of the album?
It was Baaba, Iwo Lake Pe.
Was that your first album?
No, my very first album was in 1994. But my very first gospel album was in 1996. The very popular album I released was Eji Ewuro, there was a film that was titled Ikoko Dudu, I did the movie sound track for Late Alade Aromire.
When we finished the movie, people liked the sound track, so Aromire turned the sound track into an audio CD. Then I started preaching to my colleagues on location because of their negative lifestyle. But many of them would not listen; they said that was their way of life on location.
Were you at anytime an actress?
Yes, I acted in about 50 movies, including Funmilayo, Malomo, Abiku solgun deke, by Alade Aromire. I was the Malomo in parts 1, 2 and 3. But because people did not know me then, they will not even remember. I was Toyin Obayomi, not Tope Obayomi. So Toyin Obayomi cannot be linked with Tope Alabi.
Why did you change your name from Toyin to Tope?
I changed the name from Toyin to Tope when the Holy Spirit ministered to me that it was not a good name for me, so I changed it before I became popular.
Were there any challenges between then and now?
Yes, the challenges then were who was going to market me? Who was going to bail me out or which church is going to invite me? Challenges in the theatre world then were; they don't want to use me in this film, please use me so that people will know me.
But when I moved into movie soundtrack business, the challenge there was which marketer was going to bring out my work? How am I going to sing in movies that people will know that I am good? But the challenge in gospel music then was which marketer was going to bail me out? Which church would invite me so that people will know that I am talented? What I am facing now is about what I wear that people will not say I am half naked.
My current marketer (Galaxy) released a life performance: Amazing Grace, where City People gave me an award as The Best Gospel Singer for the Year. People started criticising me from churches, telling me that the way I dressed in that video was inappropriate.
They even said because I now apply make -up that I would go to hell. And funny enough I have been putting on earrings since I came out with Oore ti O Common, I have been putting on trousers to follow my husband wherever we go, except church programmes. But what about my husband, won't I dress to satisfy him?
Where is your husband from?
My husband is from Kogi State. He is an Ebira man.
Does he complain?
No, he does not complain. He actually complains whenever I put on something like this (Iro and Buba). He prefers it when I wear western clothes. He will even come back home and tell me whatever he saw ladies put on outside that he will like me to wear. I can t be going out shabbily- dressed because I am singing gospel music.
You have released many albums, which of them will you say is your best?
I don t have any particular one that I can call my best. Even though many people picked Angeli Mi, as my best, to me, all my albums are good.
Is there any body you can say God used for you to blossom in your career?
If there is anybody that God used for my life as a whole not only in my career it is Pastor Ireti Ajanaku of Christ Revival Chapel International. God is really using him for me, I always give God glory for making me to meet him, and he is really man of God. And I pray God will continue to use him more.
How rewarding has this job been?
The best of all the rewards I have got so far is the fact that people keep surrendering to Christ. My experience in America, Nigeria and the United Kingdom confirmed this and I am happy about it. You see, it is not all about money. If we are talking about money, I don t have money oh.
But feel God strongly wherever I perform and it is enough for me. There was a place I went to and one woman told me that God told her that I was singing from the inside of God. She said when people were suggesting names of artistes to invite to her church programme, she was at a point confused.
Some were against her inviting me, but when she went into prayer on the Saturday preceding the Sunday over the matter, God gave her the go ahead to invite me. She said God showed me to her. But all the same, I bless God for everything.