Gospel singer Oluwatoyin Rebecca Ibiyo is one of a kind. Her brand of music, which is unapologetically Christian, is a rare mix of Western and African traditional beats. Her latest album, Approved – a six tracker – features tracks such as Gbo Ohun Awon Angeli, You Are Beautiful and I Love This Family, a popular Nigerian Christian Corpers Fellowship, NCCF, family song, which she converted into apala, a Yoruba traditional beat.
The intriguing thing about the song is that its conversion into apala was spontaneous. Ibiyo, a Computer Science graduate of the Federal University of Technology, Akure told this magazine that the conversion came about by the boredom she felt during her national service year in Abia State. And what started as a joke later became a hit. “I used to be the sisters’ co-ordinator, which gave me the opportunity to live at the NCCF secretariat, popularly known as Family House. The secretariat was like a home for corps members, so we normally had hundreds of them. But there was a day few of us were around and so it was boring. To make the atmosphere lively, we started talking and we also sang the family song. Then after a while, the idea of singing an apala song came up, and since we were singing the family song, we decided to experiment,” she said.
That experiment paid off. The song later became the favourite of the corps members who thronged the NCCF secretariat. Buoyed by the popularity of the song, Ibiyo decided to improve on it, making it more creative and traditional. Ibiyo, whose music career started 11 years ago, said her mother, who also had a flair for singing, was a very big influence on her choice of career. As a child, she always accompanied her to rehearsals in church. She was also inspired by music aired on television at the time. She eventually joined the choir of St. Paul Anglican Church at Ojodu-Abiodun in Ogun State, as well as her school choir, where she honed her skills. That marked the genesis of her music career. In 2007 she joined Daystar Christian Centre Healing Streams of God/Praise Team. The following year, she stated leading worship sessions in the church. She also started a worship programme with a group called Praise Delight. “I later felt there was the need to be professional. To achieve that, I went through some training. I also felt the need to reach out to more people and do something more demanding,” she averred.
Ibiyo sees her music career as a calling. Asked why she titled the album Approved, she said: “There was a day I heard a voice saying, ‘I have chosen and approved you’. I didn’t understand the meaning initially, so I ignored the message. But later, the Biblical saying, Many are called but few are chosen came to mind and I realised that of the numerous vessels there are the chosen ones. I looked up the word, ‘chosen’ in the dictionary and I got the word ‘announced’. I further cross-checked the word ‘announced’ and I got the word ‘approved’. The word was like proof that I had been chosen to sing; and for everything we do in life to be effective, God has to approve it,” Ibiyo enthused.
Ibiyo, who believes her music is inspired, decried the contemporary musicians’ emphasis on rhythm rather than content. “The only aspect of music which I feel needs improvement is the message. The emphasis now is on the beat or rhythm. The challenge these days is that people don’t take time to write good songs. Nothing stops us from having a good beat with a blend of good message. A good song should have these elements of music: good message, rhythm, melody and must be pleasant to the ear. When we were growing up, we listened to songs that had spiritual, moral and social values, like, for instance, the music of Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey. But now the trend has changed.”
Speaking further on what influenced her music, Ibiyo said she listened to different kinds of songs when growing up, and loved opera, highlife and classical music. However, she later realised she needed as role model and guide, musicians of repute. “I’m inspired by Cece Winnas’ voice and style of singing. I appreciate Sola Allison’s voice. I love her traditional feel,” she said.
Ibiyo is not done yet. She believes her goal is not just to minister to people but also to impact positively on their lives. And she intends to achieve that by embarking on musical tours, organising concerts in secondary schools and tertiary institutions as well as starting a training centre for singers. “In a few years’ time I want to look back and say confidently that I have impacted lives through music,” she envisioned.
A native of Idona, Ijebu-Imusin in Ogun State, 31-year-old Ibiyo has worked in many organisations, including Upperlink and Tamarin Hotel. In 2009 she resigned her job to start a fish business, combining it with her worship ministry which anchors a periodic programme on television called Expression. Right now, she and her husband, Mr Abiodun Ibiyo, run Leadvoice, a Christian music production company that specialises in musical training, organising seminars, musical tours and concerts.