He went with Fatai Rolling Dollar Group for a group recording at a studio on Nnamdi Azikiwe street in Lagos in the late 50s, the man on the console, simply known as ‘Baba Adeyemo’ by most musicians of Lagos axis in the 50s and 60s did not allow the budding talent record with the group. His reason was hinged on Ebenezer’s voice.
To him, it was not good enough to grace the acoustic microphone. Few years later, the same voice recorded one of the greatest singles (by all standards) ever recorded in the history of Nigerian music circle – “Gbo Temi” - A romantic R&B which in reality set the standard for his subsequent hits and also a yardstick for measuring similar efforts by other artistes.
“I had gone with Fatai Rolling Dollars group for a recording at No 23 Nnamdi Azikwe Street, Lagos, but the man on the console, Baba Adeyemo did not allow me to record with the group because he assumed my voice was not good enough”. Obey recalled in an interview with Ray Mike Nwachukwu in 1996. But as fate would have it, Obey's enviable musical career was built on what Baba Adeyemo presumed he could not do. Between 1958 and 1968, Ebenezer went through sequence of challenges pursuing his career with vigour and determination - forming a band he christened 'International Brothers' at the age of 18 along with his lifetime buddy, Captain Samson Ogunlade after a brief stint as a band leader and composer under Fatai Rolling Dollar. He later changed the name of the band to the famous “Inter Reformers’ Band “in 1973 after the painful death of one of his greatest assets, Oke Aminu – a backup singer who gave soprano a different definition in the days of ‘International Brothers”. The singular event which turned things around for Obey was his courageous statement to the then chairman of the defunct DECCA West Africa, Mr. Cress, that “I am a future star” while pleading for opportunity to get his song recorded in the early 60s. Obey later rose to become the Managing Director of the same Company.
Penning a compendium on Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi (MFR) could be a utopian effort and this piece is not an attempt to do so. I have come to a realization that his life and music are inexhaustible archival material for generations to come. At 80, Ebenezer Obey remains one of the most respected, adored and durable musicians in Nigeria, having distinguished himself on and off the stage. With a music career spanned over six eventful decades, Ebenezer Obey captured the musical scene like colossus.
He has a tripartite advantage over many artistes – his didactic music (which has molded and continues to mold life), his exemplary personality and his very close fraternity with socialites of high net worth. Before him, Juju music was played without such an amalgam of high energy, lyrical wit, arresting vocal, sentimental and philosophical ballads personified with soothing hits like 'Gbo temi, AraMO mi e se pelepele, Ketekete, Board Members, Olowo Laye mo, Ebenezeri among other timeless tracks characterized by uneven perception of human weakness and shortcomings.
Ebenezer Obey's life story is as fascinating as his music career. Born on April 3, 1942 in Idogo, Ogun State (though a native of Abeokuta), he was the second child and first male child of late Madam Abigail Oyindamola, a vivacious woman who tarried for over twenty years before God opened her womb. His mother actually sought the permission of his father to name him “Ebenizeri” – “hitherto has the Lord helped me” as a form of appreciation to God – The Giver.
Little wonder she objected to Obey’s musical ambition at the initial stage. She favored her beloved son to turn out to be a doctor or a lawyer. To her, the music industry was filled with alcoholics and drug addicts; but Obey was more resolute, he assured his dear mother he’ll make a difference in the industry, and of course, he did not only make a distinctive difference, but also distinguished himself among many other artistes, thereby justifying the words of the late great African benefactor, Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, that “I had always believed there is no gentlemanliness in music, but Ebenezer Obey is an exception”. His singing style has won him fame and respect among fans and fellow artistes. His mother however lived long enough to witness the promised impact of her beloved son in the Nigerian music industry before she died serenely in 1997. An American writer, Leon Jackson, of All Music Guide, once described Obey as a “stylish and bluesy guitarist whose music has been contagious”.
After a star reaches a certain point, it is easy to forget what it became famous for; but Obey is an exception in this regard. He is an artiste untouched by the personal turmoil common to many of today's biggest names. Few Nigerians have ever enjoyed the sort of popularity Obey enjoyed. Success may have spoiled many artists in the past, but it seems to have strengthened the will of the man, who Ray Mike Nwachukwu, (then of the Nigerian Television Authority) chose to call ‘the Ketekete man’. At heart, I think he is a thoroughly well-brought-up Nigerian who remains fully aware of the fact that he counts more in the eyes of his creator than any other person.
Since he left secular music for evangelism in 1992 and returned to stage few years back, lovers of juju music have cyclically argued that there can never be a true substitute of his brand of juju (miliki) music, his thick and velvet voice and his exceptional dexterity in praise singing.
Nevertheless, if music really captures raw energy when delivered at its best, Obey's ageless works will continue to create nostalgic warmth and passion among his wide spread of fans and lovers of good music all over the world.