The Hallelujah Challenge (like the Tongue challenge) started "innocently" and before mid June, had become a revolution that even its Convener (Nathaniel Bassey) did not envisage. Many hearts were drawn to heartfelt worship of God. But none of it was a surprise to me really. I'd seen his service and heart for God over 12 years ago when I attended at The City of David and UNILAG back in the day. I was privileged to catch up with him at our Song 23 Studios just after he recorded his vocals for the Olowogbogboro Anthem. Enjoy.
Q:I'm aware that this Hallelujah challenge came as a divine instruction. What was your very first reaction to this instruction?
A: The easy part was that we had just come back from a tongue challenge. There was a prayer challenge in May and so at the grand finale of the prayer challenge, I sort of sensed and I told the guys-I mean those that were part of it-that I was not under pressure to do any other thing,but I was sensing that God will have us praise Him and in the coming week, God sort of confirmed it and so we began, I just thought it will be another prayer challenge, I mean the prayer challenge had some awareness but it wasn't as explosive as this.
Q: The tongue challenge didn’t have as much awareness but I know that had a lot of testimonies followed that as well. Please tell us about that.
A: We had just returned from Israel in April and a friend of mine, Pastor Banjo who runs the Olive Tree Tours, said to me in January this year: "man of God, I sense that God wants you to be in Israel to sound your trumpet". We were there the previous year, so I just said, "okay it's another tour", but I sensed in my heart also that God will have me be in Israel and so we went. I went via London, had a service at the Liberty church and I was going to buy myself a new trumpet in London too. I just felt," okay let me sound a new trumpet in Israel " and it was a day before going to Israel. That night in the church after playing, a man walks up to me to say whilst you prayed, God said to me to buy you a new trumpet and I'm like "oh, really I was going to do that". So that was a confirmation. When we got to Israel, we got many words of confirmation. We got there and realised it was the Jubilee year in Israel.
We had various words and had prophecies from various people and we sensed it was a new season. You know when you have prophecies - Paul said to Timothy - wage war with the prophecies.. It was Elijah who heard the sound of abundance of rain and when he perceived something in the spirit, he didn't go to sleep, he went to pray. So I just thought, "you know what, we've got all these words of prophesy, I think it's time to pray". That was what informed the tongue challenge. I just thought, "It's a new season, let's just pray through". The tongue challenge really inspired a lot of people because people who had never prayed for an hour before did that and they had amazing encounters, revelations, growth and healing and stuff. And that led us to the praise challenge
Q: The effect has been unprecedented - I'm sure you never imagined it... So what do you personally make of all this, I know even some of this can get overwhelming.
A: For me it just shows the awesomeness of God. One of the things that gladdens my mind the most is that our generation is being introduced to the real God... A God who isn't just some figment of our imagination. And yes, about being overwhelmed, I'm truly overwhelmed because as I travel the world, the effect is just incredibly far and wide, churches abroad plugged in I meet people at the airport whose lives have changed and all, so, for me it blows my mind but at the same time it just says to me, you know what, God is real. I mean what do you expect from a God whose hands are unlimited, who does great things, who does brilliant things so it's been an awesome experience, a renaissance for Christians.
I'll tell you a story which I've not told anyone. We were in London on a Saturday night and the cab man was running late. I don't know why but anyway we got into the street where we had the challenge and we saw this.. I mean He( the driver) looked back with his rear view mirror and saw some young people running, just running and he was almost speeding away because he thought it was another terror attack so he just said "let's go". We looked again and lo and behold it was young people just running to meet up towards midnight. I mean these are people who probably would have been in clubhouses but I've seen people hunger for God beyond the material things.... I've met people who say to me "You know what? I just feel this joy in my heart, I wish it wouldn't end and that's really a revival. That's just an awakening in our generation, you know David said "I long to come into your sanctuary that I might experience the living God" so we're seeing that in our generation. I mean what could be better than people having a revelation of God? So it's been exciting
Credit: Chyder 5 Photography
Q: Yes... And then for me, I personally observed that..... (now I'm veering away from the challenge into the Music Industry) ... I observed that you do not hustle for self promotion because the industry right now, whether gospel or not gospel, is a very tough one abroad and especially around here because of all the drama that we have around here structure issues and all of that and I observed you personally don't go for self promotion, trying to market yourself, trying to do stuff, you know what a lot of people might do, which is the reality so.. On top of that, you're skilled and anointed and you surpass them. I'm sure you're not aware of this...even back in Unilag days as at 2007. I'll find that I'll come to the chapel, I'll find you praying there, I'll leave the chapel after praying and you're still there.. The biggest stories around the world, the are a lot of back stories that people don't know, all the back end work that people did not see, people are not aware of. tell us a bit about your journey
A: I think my story is just a story of God's grace because I know what it is to want to succeed, want to make it and have ambition. I mean I had all of that. I was going to be a jazz trumpet player, I had all the ambition that a normal musician would have and wanted to tour the world, I wanted to make a name for myself just to cut the long story short, somewhere along the line, I had this encounter with God and from that moment music ceased to be an end in itself. For many people, it's an end in itself but I realised that music just became a platform, an instrument, a vehicle to convey our love and an opportunity to let your love for God flow out. So, God captured my heart and I was now more interested in spending time with Him than in wanting to be this big, famous musician because one of the things He does is when you find God, He "kills" you first. He "kills" you, He "kills" everything you stand for, everything you want and then He raises you back up again. It's the principle of "except a corn of wheat falls down and dies, it abides alone" . It's like your Isaac, your dream, what you've always waited for and then He says "give me", lay it on the altar so I went through all of that and my yearning became, God, I want to know you. I was not interested in doing albums or stuff but I didn't leave music. What I realised He was doing what he said to the asking me to put the “bread in My Hands first and then I'll give it back” . So when He gives back the bread to you then you can feed people. Your life becomes that bread that blesses people so my desire, my penchant to…God just killed everything, I couldn't be bothered about what people thought and then it was at that point, He then says, now it's time to do this. So when you do it when He says to do it, your motive is pure and every time you do it that way, the Bible says His strength is made perfect in our weakness so grace now becomes available and when the grace of God comes on a man, he breathes on everything you do . People thought I had lost my mind, From the back to "hey guys we have to go to bed playing music, we have to win this scholarship, let's practice night and day”, to spending time in God's presence and praying everyday and they are like “this guy is nuts, he's crazy”. but what I found out is God was pouring Himself in me and when there's an overflow the world now says "Where is this coming from?" that's it in a nutshell.. God capturing your heart and when he does that, nothing else matters.
Credit: Chyder 5 Photography
Q: So briefly what word of advice would you give to upcoming gospel artistes and even artistes generally in the music industry who are not gospel. Everybody goes through a journey, what word of advice would you give? A lot of them at looking up to you especially now.
A: Well. I would recommend what happened to me. I would say find God and then you would find yourself, you'd find your sound. God gives everyone of us a voice and you may never find it until you find yourself in God. What makes you unique is the particular sound God has given you. So rather than chasing after your ambition, why don't you just chase after God? I'm not saying don't chase after music but the thing is when you press into God and you're lost in Him, you would engage your ministry with the right motive, approach, attitude so you're not imbalanced. He just balances everything and then you discover who you are and when He breathes on it then the world just receives you and you can be a blessing. So discover Him, be lost in Him and find yourself in Him , find your sound in Him. The world doesn't want to listen to another Ron Kenoly, there's a you that's waiting to emerge and the world is waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God and there's no better season than now. Just take advantage of this moment, this time of revival in the world.
Q: I know you've mentioned spending time with God and connecting with Him first. What other habits have you imbibed over the years that have been responsible for your growth?
A: One of the craziest habits I've had is praying in tongues, extensively. There was time we did a 24-hours non stop, I've done a 16 hours praying in tongues, I've done a couple of hours and I just found out by the Holy Ghost that it's one of the most potent instruments to fellowship with the spirit. Praying in the spirit is like a habit. You know, because when you do that you're doing many things at the same time. You accelerate spiritual growth , you speak to God directly, you're building your most holy faith, you're praying for things you may never know about, so you're praying the will of God over your life so you just find out that you're in God's will and then I will say swim in the word of God. Musicians don't read the word of God. We go to church and as soon as you're done with service or you're done playing, you check out of the very essence of life ... Over the years I sing the revelation of God that I find. The Bible says let the word of God dwell in you richly. Spend time growing character. Be consistent, get a mentor . I was blessed to be raised under pastor Eskor who -and for many years I didn't understand why - people would come from the US to ask "let's take this boy (Nathaniel), there's a platform in the States" and he will say to them blatantly "He's not going anywhere, he's not ready. He's got the gift but the character is not formed". And I thought sometimes, "this man, your children are abroad, they're living well and I'm here" But the day God opened my eyes, I understood personally that character is the infrastructure that hosts your gift and the weaker it was, the shorter you would last. The stronger it is, the longer you would last. Character ensures posterity. So take the fruits of the spirit seriously and that comes over time, that is progressive spiritual growth.
And then practice your music , engage, give yourself to your craft. I teach on the concept of the total music minister which is to have spirit, to have skill, to have character. I mean it wasn't tongues that opened the door to the palace for David. The Bible says bring me a man...Saul said bring me a man who can play well not who can pray well. Unfortunately skill does not come by praying and fasting... It comes by engaging your craft and having a routine, doing the same thing again and again. Simple repetitive practice over time will just strengthen your gifting.
Q: Thank you for that. Okay, so final question. You have such a hectic schedule. So how do you relax aside from football (both of us laugh) because I know that's the first thing you'll say... So how do you relax because you're also a human being.
A: oh yes oh yes.... That's like my weak area. I'm beginning to be wise in that area. I love to spend time with my family, with my children and my wife, I've got a very lovely family , a very lovely wife so besides watching soccer , and then I love to laugh I like very healthy comedy. I just like to sit down and have a good laugh and…
Q: so comedy shows or comedians, stand up comedy?
A: Yeah, stand up comedians very healthy and clean comedy I like sit down and have a good laugh.
Q: Any favs?
A: oh.... I... I've got quite a number of them. I switch off when they begin to go vulgar, but my favourite now is ...Woli Agba and a couple of other young guys. I used to like Nkem Owoh a lot and then, I'm just open so long as they're clean and healthy so I don't mess up my mind
Q: Thank you very much I really appreciate such an honour and privilege.
A: my pleasure, my pleasure
Conducted by Ayodotun Rotimi-Akinfenwa
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