It was her album launch concert, but Vanessa Obioha reports that Onos Ariyo could not be easily singled out as she was very much part of the morass that needed some smoothening to set the stage for a captivating show
She can easily be mistaken for another face in the teeming audience at one of the halls at Landmark Event Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos. She is sitting at the back, watching the performances on stage. Despite her regal outfit, Onos Ariyo, manages not to pull everyone’s attention to herself even if the event is about her. Of course, she is not plain looking; her high cheek-bone which accentuated her smiles and her captivating eyes can easily melt anyone’s heart. Perhaps, the dimness of the hall helps to conceal her.
The expression on her face is very rapt. Often times when her attention is needed, she answers swiftly and immediately returns her eyes to the stage. She showed this uncanny trait earlier when we were in the dressing room. We had just left the red carpet, making our way through the sea of photographers and fans who couldn’t get enough of her. Her assistant is about to shut the door when Onos stops her.
“Who is singing?” she asks no one in particular, and then peeks, her ears are perched in that familiar manner of curiosity. After a few seconds, she concludes that someone is not performing her set. Next thing, she is adjusting her dress and smiling at the reporter. The outfit is made by Ayo Van Elmar and Goziri Afrique Couture. This act of thoroughness speaks volumes to her professionalism. Little wonder that she is able to attract huge fame within seven years of her music career. A good pointer to this is the number of awards she has accumulated. She won the Best Female Vocalist at the Nigeria
Gospel Music Awards 2012 and Crystal Awards 2013. She also won the Wise Women Awards 2015 in the Woman in Music category and Female Gospel Artist of the Year Eloy Awards 2015.
Another indicator is the turnout of celebrities at the event. They include gospel music big-weights like Frank Edwards, Nikki Laoye, Segun Obe, Nosa, as well as Lolo of Wazobia FM, Ufoma McDermott, Diekko, Emma oh my God, Chidinma ‘Chee’, Comedian Ushbebe and Pastor Ifeanyi Adefarasin of House On The Rock who is very proud of Onos for she is the lead vocalist and psalmist of the church’s choir.
We are at her third album launch concert, just nine days after her mind-blowing performance at the Rock Cathedral’s The African Praise Experience. The ambience is very charged with a motley crowd of worshippers belting out songs to the lined-up artistes on stage. Most of them are Onos’ friends and colleagues like Freke Umoh who doubles as the compere of the event. There is also Soulchy, a gospel songstress from Abuja. Her choice of worship songs and prayers moved the crowd so much that her presence was still felt minutes after her performance. Olumide Iyun mounted the stage next, turning the atmosphere to a rock affair. With his song ‘There’s a Shout’, he urged the audience to jump and they obeyed with delight. By the time Sammie Okposo came on stage, the handkerchiefs were out and everyone was ready to dance to one of his evergreen songs ‘Good God’. A loud ovation greeted Onos when she finally performed. Her performance of ‘Jehovah Ebenezer’ from the new album evokes a worship mood that engulfed the audience.
Titled ‘Songs from the Place of Prayer’, the album comes on the heels of Onos’ sophomore body of works, ‘No Limits’ which had the popular song ‘Alagbara’. Onos revealed she had been working on the album since 2015.
“That’s when I started recording songs for this particular album. I was not recording in 2016; I decided to put it out this year because I thought I will be very ready for everything that comes with releasing an album.” What she means by this statement is that she will be ready physically, emotionally and spiritually for the album release. It has become a signature of hers to launch an album with a concert. Times like these require her utmost attention. Yet there are some things that are beyond her control. For instance, she is always changing the password of her social media accounts because she can hardly remember them all. At the moment, she has given few suggestions to one of her assistants for one of her social media accounts that needs live updates on the concert. It’s simply beyond her to keep track of them all.
While she is busy paying attention to the affairs on the stage, her husband, Kunmi Ariyo, who is also her manager is backstage ensuring that the evening segues seamlessly. One minute he is seen talking to the ushers and protocol officers, the next minute, he is keeping tabs on the production team. The couple is blessed with two children.
Her album title is quite intriguing and definitely instigates a desire to know more. She sighs, then explains the muse behind the concept: “Why I pick that title for the album was because…before I started recording the album, usually I do this fasting programme at the beginning of the year for God’s direction. I have always had that kind of moments at different times. I pray more and seek God’s face. I noticed that, I developed the habit of doing so because I noticed that I sing a lot of songs that are not my songs or written by anyone during my prayer session. I got inspired mostly during prayers. When I play back after prayers, I realised that I have sang many unknown songs. That’s where I discovered ‘Have Your Way’, ‘Oghene Me’, and ‘Jehovah Ebenezer’. I hear them in bits so I go back to create beats, write verses and all that. As at 2015, I had about 80 per cent of the songs for the album.
So looking at the songs and the way they came, I can’t really say I sat down and wrote any of the songs on this album, that’s why I called it ‘Songs from the Place of Prayer.”
Like many successful Niger Deltans in the gospel music industry, Onos has carved a niche for herself with her voice and charisma. Some call her the diva of gospel music but she modestly declines to be addressed as one. The songstress from Isaba-a small town of Ijaw people located in the south of Warri, Delta state – rather thinks that the main goal is spreading the good news.
“I don’t think there is any such thing as the diva of Nigerian gospel music because the truth is we are all gifted differently and our expressions are quite different. My colleagues are doing amazing jobs as well and I think the main goal is spreading the good news we have with the world with our songs which is actually the most important part of what we do and not really trying to be a diva.”
Although she is from a small tribe in Delta State, Onos prides herself as a true daughter of the soil. There is no famous gospel musician from her place yet. She thinks highly of Niger Deltans in the entertainment industry. For her, they were born for the role.
Arguably, there is an element of truth in her assertion. Most popular comedians hail from that part of the country. There are also gospel artistes like Sammie Okposo, the late Kefee, who have helped in popularising the waving of white handkerchiefs while dancing. She adds that another unique trait of Niger Delta songs is the infusion of vernacular in the lyrics.
Born into a family of eight, Onos fell in love with music at a tender age. One of her most cherished childhood moments was when she learnt how to play the piano at her primary school, NNPC Staff School in Warri. It was her first introduction to the complex world of music. She was six years old when she started singing in choirs and different groups. Since then, music has never left her. At that young age, Onos knew that she could only sing for and about God. Nothing else comes close. She is aware of the quick fame and wealth that accompanies secular music, yet she will not be swayed. It is either gospel or nothing.
“I’m passionate about God. I love doing what I’m passionate about because I realise that there is this ease you experience when you are doing what you are passionate about. For me, it’s not about how I’m going to make money. The truth is the God that has given me the gift will open doors and bring the money my way. I love to sing about the God that I serve. I’m not ashamed at all. It’s easy. I’m proud to be a gospel artiste.”
Interestingly, she is not deterred by the slow pace of her industry. When she started out in 2010, things were done differently. Musicians back them depended on CD sales, coupled with the issue of piracy. Moreover, there were few gospel artistes who could boast of fame and wealth.
“A lot has changed since I launched my first album ‘Keep Moving’ in 2010. People are receiving music differently. The gospel music industry is getting more grants unlike before, there are more gospel blogs than before. Back in 2009, the social media platform wasn’t as strong as it is now. CDs were not selling as much. I think that has also affected the way people receive music, unlike when people felt that gospel music is staggering. Give it a few more years and you will see everything will definitely change.”
Despite this obvious wind of change, Onos is still leaning on the benefits of CDs. She understands that a segment of her target audience enjoy CDs’ physicality. These ones, according to her, love to play the tracks while driving to work, home or an occasion. However, the digital form which can be bought on iTunes has an extended play of 16
tracks. Of the 15 songs, she picks ‘Jehovah Ebenezer’ as the most outstanding one. The song which was released earlier turned out to be a hit and an anthem of some sorts in households. Onos nonetheless anticipates that the new album will be globally recognised and be a blessing to many that listen to it. Some of the artistes featured on the album include Preye Odede and Victor Atenega.