Meet Rev. (Mrs.) Ethel Odungide, the ever-young and dynamic songstress, is a minister of God’s word. She started as a professional singer and later joined Dr. Uma Ukpai’s Ministry as a choir mistress. She shares insights on her career, prospects and all it takes to be at the top. Excerpts:
Tell us about the Brook Church Calabar experience
Calabar was good. The Brook church’s hospitality was very nice. I was well rested. The people were very receptive. We were there for two days and it was awesome. It was a very nice experience.
How was your performance at the Brook Church?
I performed a new song written in Ejagam – a beautiful fusion of high-life, African ballad and a bit of jazz. I had to throw that in to see the reaction of the people, the church went ballistic! It was nice. I also did a song from my new album ‘Jesus Must Be Known’ which was well received and ‘Jehovah Mmu’dim’ killed it finally. . . I tell you, it was awesome. The song traveled far and wide, it is a beautiful song God blessed us with.
Are you currently working on something?
I keep working on things and I release them here and there. The concerts are still on, I’m still doing some across the states concert and Ibom Heritage which comes up in September. Last year, we awarded 15 people and out of which about 10 gospel music artistes were honoured. The award was for their contribution to expansion of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not based on best this or best that. Everyone in Akwa Ibom is working hard to project Christ. Ibom Heritage is a unity concert that brings together different cultural heritages from Akwa Ibom State to celebrate them.
Those awarded included Anne Inyang, Freke Umoh, Nsikak Isong and some partners like Rev. Mrs Angela Ashong, Pastor Charis Essienobong, those who have hosted us, Rev. Dr. Uma Ukpai, Arch Bishop John Praise Daniel who hosted us in Abuja. We also have The Fireplace Concert on hand which we started in 2005.
It’s been 11 years now. We’ve had about 39 concerts across Nigeria and 4 in Johannesburg, South Africa. We’re on the verge of signing a huge partnership deal with a recording company in South Africa. They are going to take care of all the things we’ll be doing from October. I will be in Berkeley Summer School in June, I have a tour in the US; I will facilitate training sessions for Music Ministers in Atlanta, Georgia, and I have two conferences in Dallas, Texas then I have to be in New York. I will do all of these within a month, then I’m back to Uyo. I’ve been in and out of the state to push what we are doing. It is passion actually, I’m just following my heart.
How do you rate gospel music in Akwa Ibom State and Nigeria in general today?
Gospel music is doing great especially the worship ministry. Gospel musicians are now embracing intimacy with God. Before now, it was all about singing commercial songs. All that have changed now, it is no longer about getting the people to dance, jump here and there, but helping our audience to have a one-on-one relationship and intimacy with Jesus through our music. The Nigerian gospel music scene is now in a stage where so many people are into worship. You can judge from songs played these days by people like Steve Crown, our brother Nathaniel Bassey, Frank Edwards, Sinach – who incidentally we were in the same choir (Redemption Club) in those days. Gospel music in Nigeria is doing very well.
Who is richer between the gospel music and secular music artistes?
We are richer actually. Financially, yes! The challenge is that our people have not seen the need to invest in us. The wealth of secular musicians are from the people around (like companies), who invest in them and look at their music as something viable. If we are given the same platform, we can do better! It is just a matter of our people not having the foresight or the heart to invest in what we are doing. For example, the song ‘Jehovah Mmudim’ has got a lot of acceptance in South Africa when they don’t even understand what I say! There, they are trying to invest in what we do! Someone once said to me “Hey Ethel, you are manni (money)!” and I answered “Yes, I am money”. A lot of times, we don’t want to sign those deals that will sell us out. You don’t want to sell yourself because of money. But if there are Christian brethren who come together, look at what you are doing, and also weigh your spiritual side to see that you are not just an artiste but a Minister, they will try and package your artiste side, then they also help you, protect you and create a platform where you don’t lose your sense of Christianity and your spirituality, in the name of trying to sing because there is nothing we don’t want to do to get to the billboard.
People want to do all kind of things, people want to be in the big space, they want to be heard everywhere! For me, the greatest thing God has given me is this thing about my relationship with him. I know that He has a plan. I’m doing what I have to do, I’m asking Him for the help I need to get and I’m working hard at it, believing that He will do what He has to do per time. I am more interested in Him preparing me to be strong as I grow than He picking me up and throwing me somewhere I’m not able to impact. My character has to be able to hold me, when I get to that space that I can call big space. To me every space is big. Whatever you are doing, once you win one soul, it is a big space for me; that consistency is what we need and our people need to invest in us.
What’s it with personal branding and Gospel Music Artiste?
In this case, most people are ignorant. That is why we need people like WetinhappenPR to coach some of these artistes in this area. I was talking to one of my young ladies, she just took one picture, put it on Facebook and she’s ready to release her album. I told her, ‘I cannot pay money for this face’. Branding is like a 99.9% plus for gospel music artiste or any individual who has anything to sell. Even if you are not a gospel musician, what about Pastors who have Jesus to sell? Some people come on Facebook looking like they came from one bush, you understand (chuckles)… It is important to know how to package ourselves, to know what face we are showing the world, our carriage etc.
Years ago, a friend advised me to repackage when I thought I was ‘so anointed’ but then, when I took action, it gave me a new attraction and different new platforms. It is important for us to package well. We need you to intervene in this area. We need to get more knowledge on these things individually. The conference I’m attending in Atlanta is called GoGlobal. They are teaching us how to be on the internet, how to package, how to go on the TV, how to cut your excesses, put yourself together in your little office but the whole world is hearing you. Then I’m organizing training sessions for the worship leaders there in the US.
How do you manage all these with family life?
My husband is a great man! I give it to him. In fact, this morning he was telling me “I see you preaching! I see you going to the US like, over a hundred times in a year”. So, I look at him and I knew he’s prophesying. Every step I’ve taken, everything around me that became big, started with him noticing something about me. He sees me ahead. It is a unity of purpose that makes things easy for me. It’s been 24 years! Before we got married, I was already on the billboard so he understands me a lot being that we started out together as Ethel and Bassey years ago. He is a good choir director and a good voice trainer. He’s a passionate worshiper. He is a man of many parts. We are just two hearts merged together, crazy about each other, passionate about what we do and we encourage each other. My children are wonderful. We were together in Calabar. From time to time, we travel together. They all understand their mother’s life.
How would you assess Governor Udom Emmanuel’s one year in office?
Governor Udom Emmanuel is God-sent. Because I can’t see why God takes a man from one extreme space to another extreme space. His dreams will unfold. I’ve not gone round the local government areas but I read his manifesto, I’ve gone through the things he wants to do and I can say he’s doing great! A baby that is one year old is just learning to walk, so we need to pray for him. We need to support him. We need to raise alters of worship around the state. We need to hold the spiritual atmosphere because it is not easy to seat on that seat. We worshipers, me particularly, the things I do best is worship warfare. I know he has good intentions but he can seat there and not achieve anything till he goes. So time to time, what I do as a person is to uphold him, get into battles and uphold him in praise and in worship to the Lord. This is not something a world has to see though.
The day our Governor was at the stadium, he made a declaration that Akwa Ibom belongs to the Lord, my heart-leaped! All the way from Atlanta, I was saying “Amen! Amen! So shall it be, so shall it be Oh God unto us!” We’ll just watch and see what God will do with him, we need to constantly pray for him and allow God manifest in him.
What word do you have for upcoming artistes?
Akwa Ibom is a destination but we need to build it. We need to build gospel music. We need to grow what we are doing. We need to stand up for the things we are doing. We need to realign. We need to be mentored. We need to be trained. It is not everything that is good for the market. We need to be packaged properly. So, look for mentors; hook up to life-lines. We need to be able to spread ourselves. Meet people who have something that you like, those who have excelled in their different fields. Don’t hang around from Ikot Ibritam and you’re just there, as a local champion… No! You need to work yourself to deliver anywhere God takes you to. We are good enough! We have the product but we need to package the product. So, get packaged Akwa Ibom artiste! We need to repackage and get all the information needed so that we can be whatsoever God wants to be.
What is your message to your fans?
I cannot do without you guys! There is no Ethel without the fans. There is no music that can be appreciated without people listening to it and giving me feedback. Thank you so much for being great and patriotic to me as a person. For standing by me, praying for me, encouraging me, clapping for me, just telling ‘Just go on, we are there’, my fans from Facebook and all other platforms, my fans in Akwa Ibom State, I am very celebrated in Akwa Ibom State, and that’s the more reason we are pushing through boundaries for the world to see what we have because what we have is good.
Give us your two must-listen tracks for this week
My must-listen tracts for this week are: Jesus Must Be Known, Jehovah Mmudim and most specially ‘Nani Jesus’. Songs can be downloaded at reverbnation.com. (Culled from wetinhappen.com).