AITY DENNIS

For over 20 years, duty took popular Nigerian gospel musician, Aity Dennis, to many child christening events, either as a performer to entertain guests or a clergy to conduct formalities. Unknown to many, that feisty, smiling lady often returned home to cry for the inability to raise children of her own. At her recent golden jubilee, she recounted her varied experiences, and how she had a set of twins, three years after she hit menopause, to Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha

It is impossible to be around popular Nigerian gospel musician, Aity Dennis, and not share in the excitement which comes out of her so very easily. With Aity, the frequently used phrase, ‘no dull moment’, finds a practical expression as she literarily moves about in an energetic way and with more movement than necessary. None of these vigorous activities including her permanent smile is an affected nuance. It is just the way she is. The way she carries on, one would be hard put to believe that she ever has some sober moments when her head is not in the clouds.

If she was not a singer, Aity could easily have sustained a successful career as a comedian or an actress. Always an excellent company, she is never in want of jokes; being around her means signing up for a prolonged season of laughter. She does not even mind if the joke is on her. All she wants is to generate laughter and brighten an otherwise frowning face. Everyone was holding on to their sides to stop from bursting out of laughter when she said if God was not on her side, she would have been a failed musician. “Who would listen to a lady who sounds like a man”? Describing herself as the female baritone of Nigeria, she narrated how hotel staff members frequently mistake her for a male each time she makes an order on the phone.

Aity with husband, Dennis copyMany a guest at her recent 50th birthday celebration in Lagos was surprised to hear one of her best friends of over 30 years disclose her other side, her soft underbelly. The Aity many do not and may never know: Her moment of weakness, when she is overcome by a deluge of emotions. Not a few were amazed when Aidee made that revelation at the Sure Word Assembly in Okota, Lagos. It was almost unbelievable that the amiable woman who has been repeatedly and fittingly described as a vivacious lady could be weighed down. Anyone who knows Aity will easily attest to her sanguine temperament. To say the charming Akwa Ibom State-born musician had ever cried raised some eyebrows, particularly on this special day where friends, family and loved ones gathered to celebrate her.

How could anyone envision the bubbling and energetic singer in tears? In her dramatic manner, she leaned over the table between the reporters and herself, as if to tell them something in confidence.

“I cry o, but not all the time. My husband knows that if I want to cry, I cry wholesale, not retail. Sometimes some things will come upon me and I just break down. I remember those years, over 20 years of waiting for a baby. I am a pastor. Sometimes I come to the church and I dedicate babies and I’m happy-go-lucky person but when I’m done and I’m back from church, I am very fine. At other times, I’m like ‘excuse me, what really happened? Why don’t these babies know my address?’ I will just be very quiet and when my husband notices me in that mood, he knows the cloud has descended and he has to put humpty-dumpty back in shape again. I cry very well. I cry when I want to. I can easily come back to myself. When you cry, you ease the negative emotion instead of bottling it up,” she said.

It was an over-joyous Aity, looking resplendent in her red attire matched with a head gear and glittering accessories that waltzed into the hall, accompanied by her husband and a train of female friends and family members in similar attire. Dancing, singing, smiling and apparently charming in her outfit, heads magnetically turned to gaze at her and were soon enraptured by her lively mien.

That is the Aity the world knows. The Aity who danced and smiled away the burden of childlessness for close to 25 years, hiding her tears from the world.

For her golden jubilee, Aity put up a musical concert. Copious billboards displayed messages at the beginning of Greenfield Estate leading to the venue had gone ahead to heighten the frenzy. Ibiso, Queen Favour, Ola Hassan, winner of the most talented gospel music artiste in Nigeria contest, Broda Martins, Praise Machine, Emeka Aaron, were among the lined-up artistes.

The church’s resident musical groups -Tribe of Judah- split into two; a classical section that rendered hymnals and a contemporary ensemble that entertained with modern-day gospel tunes kept the audience on their feet for most part of the day. Even the married women of the church were not left out of the fare. Decked out in ethnic attire, they put up a scintillating dance performance at the event. From one performance to another, the atmosphere was supercharged with smooth melodies.

To say the hall spilled with guests would be an understatement. At a point, members of the church were begged to leave their seats for guests. Only few complied. Even if there were canopies outside with large screens displaying the action on stage, most people preferred to watch Aity live. Sanitation department volunteers worked extra hard to maintain a spick and span environment as more and more guests thronged the hall.

It may be said that Aity surpassed herself at her golden jubilee. She engulfed the gathering with her theatrics. Was it when she joined Queen Favour on stage to dance to the artiste’s hit ‘E Don Do Am? Or when she competed with Ibiso for who could wriggle her waist better.

By the time she came on stage to make some remarks, it turned out to be a performance. Taking the audience from one of her hit songs to another, she interspersed the performance with testimonies from her interesting even if eventful life. To say she brought the house down with her theatrics would be stating the obvious. It is not by coincidence that the season of joy that visited Aity last year extended to her golden jubilee.

This time last year, she was in a joyful mood. The Lord had given her a miracle. Just when she had resigned to the painful fate of childlessness, the unexpected happened. She put to bed two bouncing babies, after 25 years. Coming two years after she hit menopause, news of her miraculous twins spread like wild fire. Friends and family members from far and near thronged her church to rejoice with her and also to see the great miracle God had done for her. And it was just like Aity to think up ingenious names like Awesome and Gladsome for her twins.

Indeed the birth of her twins is a big testimony to Aity and husband, Dennis, who has written a book, ‘Waiting Dad’ out of the experience. Not one to be outdone, Aity also launched a book – He Kept Me – which captures the story of her life at her golden jubilee. The book recounts the experiences and childhood memories of the feisty singer.

In more than one way, Aity’s life is like a story from the Bible. For instance, you can relate the incident surrounding her pregnancy to that of Sarah, the wife of Abraham. Indeed, a chapter in her book discusses her understanding of Sarah’s mirth when she was told that she would be pregnant.

It was in 2008 that Aity first got the prophecy that she will have a set of twins while in the hospital. But in her humorous manner, she shrugged it off. After almost 18 years of marriage, there was little hope she would raise children of her own. Many times doctors had confirmed her pregnant only to tell her later that it was a mistake.

It didn’t help matter that her husband, Dennis Inyang, the presiding pastor of Sure Word Assembly, prayed for the fruit of the womb for other women and babies leapt out of their womb. So how come hers was different? To make matters worse, an unfriendly fertility treatment had ceased her period, making her chance of getting pregnant slimmer. Yet she wanted children with every fibre in her body.

It was at those times that Aity broke down. “In fact, on the day I got pregnant of my twins, I was crying. We usually go to Redemption Camp every year. We take our workers there. As we were about to leave our hotel to minister to others, my husband came out of the sitting room to meet me crying. He asked what the problem was and I told him I wanted a baby now. I was crying and held his leg, by this time my period had ceased for three years. In my culture when you go down and hold someone’s leg, it means that you have come to your wits end; that you need to be helped. I told him I wanted to have my baby this year. He told me not to worry that I will have mine. So I took a seed of N200,000 and sowed to him not as my husband now but as a man of God. I have seen him pray for others and they have babies so why should I be in his house and without babies. So he picked me up and comforted me. I also gave him a list of other women to pray for them too.”

After sowing the seed, Aity went about her business. Little did she know that the Lord had set in motion a miracle. Four or five months down the lane, she became pregnant but was unaware of it. She observed that she had frequent spells of dizziness but quickly attributed it to lack of multivitamins intake. Even when she visited the hospital and was told that she was pregnant, she laughed in doubt like Sarah. The doctor revealed to her that she was carrying twins but she still didn’t believe it. To be sure, her doubts didn’t spring from her lack of faith, but various medical reports from different doctors had resulted in false hopes. This time around, she was being careful not to get too excited by the news of her pregnancy. By March 2015, she put to bed two dazzling twins.

Call her an actor, comedian and you will not be far from the truth. However, the talent that has given her international prominence is music. She discovered her talent at an early age. After several years in the media, she dedicated herself to full-time music ministry. With over 3,000 songs to her credit, perhaps, her cutting edge is the propensity for singing in her native language. Nevertheless, she has also sang in other languages like Spanish, Ibo, and Yoruba. Her inspiration comes spontaneously. For instance, when she wrote her song ‘Ankpanidem’, she was on tour in Kenya.

Through her music, souls have been won, the dead raised and sick ones healed. “My music mission is to give people hope, no matter how bad the situation is. If you hook on to Jesus, it is still possible.”

Luckily for Aity, she is blessed with a loving husband, who not only supports her but is also a great influence to her music. “He has good musical ears. He vets my music thoroughly. He knows which song is going to be a hit. I can wake him up by 2:00a.m to listen to my song.”

One thing is certain; Aity will always be a free-spirited human being. Try as much as she can to be a quiet person, it never works for her. On many occasions she tried to be solemn at concerts, it always ended up the other way.

Her genuine smile and sense of humour keeps her aglow. “I think life is a mirror. If you smile at it, it will smile back at you, if you frown, it will frown back at you,” she quipped.