SUCCESS DESPITE ODDS – Wow Tells His Story
Ever since the age of nine, he has been singing but he has faced different challenges in his quest to express what God Almighty loaded in him for the world. A major challenge was finance! Yet when banks and advertising agencies offered his job, he turned them down in pursuit of what God has commanded him to do. “I have gotten jobs in banks that I turned down just because God told me that he wanted me to sing and make men worship Him. I also turned advertising agency jobs, just to do this – sing.” He says unapologetically. Today, God has blessed him greatly. Hear him: “Sometimes I can’t imagine that I feed people. Just a few years ago, I couldn’t feed myself. I’m a music minister and music producer… I have a studio of mine in Enugu where I recorded, mix, mastered most of the songs, in my album.” He dropped an 18-track album, entitled, Praise Project 1, last December and it sold like wildfire and is still selling. He is popularly known as WOW, but his parents named him Chuks Aniebonam. Recently, he stormed the UNN for the Student Christian Movement’s Praise Fiesta and Brojid World Chief Reporter cornered him to tell his life story. He talked about his days of little beginning, why his real name is WOW, how he overcame his financial challenges, and success secret for aspiring artists on what makes a great song, the choice of studio and producer. Please relax and enjoy this conversation with Mr. Wow. It’s for you!
Sir, please tell me a bit about yourself
My name is wow. I am a minister in songs basically but the ministry is quite expanding. There is the Word coming in and all that. I’m a mix of the Igbo and Rivers. My father is Igbo from Anambra state; my mother is from Rivers State and I am proud of both sides. I am married, I have a daughter that I adore so much.
When did you start singing?
I started singing when I was nine in a church where I went to learn how to play drums. One of those lesson days, I decided to stay back for the youth rehearsal. That was in Lagos; I was born and bred in Lagos. I didn’t know that it was that afternoon that is going to change my whole life. So I stayed back and a guy came up to lead worship for the opening of the rehearsal and he sang like I never heard anybody sing. I went to learn how to play drums, but something else hit me that day. He sang and I gazed at him while he sang, “Anointing, fall on me…” in the way nobody has sand in my presence before. At that point, something left him and hit me. Some of you know that guy, his name is Segun Obe. He is not very popular today, but that guy hit me with something.
Then I think he was in either JSIII or SSI; then I was in primary school. From that day, everything I held was a microphone. I held a spoon, I was singing with it, I held fork, I was singing with it. I sang everywhere around the house. Thank God that my parents didn’t shut me up. I didn’t have the best voices; my sister had a better voice and was a soloist in children’s choir while I was a drummer in the children’s choir.
So, from that day something struck me, a process started that has become an explosion in my life. I started singing since then and then entered professional; singing when I was thirteen. That was in my JS1. I was going from church to church singing and that’s how I got here.
Please what’s your real name?
When God gives you a name it becomes your real name. I have tried to be many things until one day, I think it was during NYSC, I know I was on the verge of life and ministry and I asked God, “Who do I introduce myself as? When I’m all by myself, when life has dealt me heavy blows and I feel like giving up, what do I remind myself that I am? What you call me? And God said, “Wow” I stopped praying because I was fasting that day and started laughing.
I started laughing because if I tell people that my name is wow, they will laugh, but God didn’t say a word after that. Two weeks later, I was about to teach and was looking up some words in the dictionary and God told me, “Check out the meaning of ‘wow’”. I did and it meant: “Anything exceedingly amazing”.
Since then, I tell people that my name is wow and when I tell them, they don’t forget. But of course the name my parents gave me is Chuks Aniebonam.
How did you move from obscurity to the limelight?
(Laughs) It’s called The Process. God is not a magician. He takes you from point one to point two and to point three. But when you don’t learn he doesn’t move you forward. So, it’s a mixture of work and sacrifices. When I was in secondary school, I go to night rehearsals five days in a week with my group which used to be called the voice at noon and my church choir. I did nothing but write and listen to music. I remember we went to sing in the church where there are about five to ten people and small churches and they didn’t appreciate us, not even to give us fare. But we continued to go. There used to be this guy, Bonny Akwue, he used to support the group since he has started working, he was a very low level civil servant, though God has greatly blessed him now. He used to provide us with fare; we will go and be a blessing to people then come back and drink our garri, thanking the Lord that people were blessed. From there God continued to work on me. I did five albums that nobody heard about.
Someof the songs in this album, I dug them out of the old album that nobody heard about. I have gotten jobs in banks that I turned down just because God told me that he wanted me to sing and make men worship Him. I also turned advertising agency jobs, just to do this – sing. If I turned down all those to do this, I better get my head straight,
Now, I’m not just a singer, I’m a minister and music producer because I have a studio of mine in Enugu where I recorded, mix, mastered most of the songs, in my album. From grace to grace God continues to bring us up. Meanwhile, this is not half the way of where we are going. Hard work and keeping a consistent worship life helped me get here. I see God in different dimensions in the place of worship. We put God first in all that we do; that’s why we have come this far. Wherever I’m invited to sing, I’m more concerned with being a blessing than any other thing.
Please could you share some of the challenges you met on the way?
First, people didn’t understand my style of singing. But it didn’t make stop, it only made me modify. So, I studied my audience, added a little of what they like to what I did. I didn’t give up
Secondly, people who knew me before didn’t believe I had something to offer. “Chucks ke, no bi that boy? Forget him” they should say. So, I found it heard convincing those who knew where I was coming from but I didn’t understand where I was going to.
Three is that I had lots of financial challenges. I don’t have money to record. I just started my recording studio last year. But before then I paid for every recording of the five albums that nobody heard about. During my youth service, I saved every single alawi (corpers monthly allowance). Once they pay me, I will travel down to Enugu from Benue state to give Decumzy all my alawi to record two songs for me and I did this for eight months.
Thank God for a father like my father, Rev. John. He will support me with 5k (#5, 000) and I will be enjoying myself – going back with 5k and two recorded songs. The album is nowhere but he harvest of the sacrifice is being reaped, though not completely yet.
People loved you when you perform, but when they wonder why you are not everywhere but money was the challenge.
Another thing that is when we (gospel artistes) go to church and pastors feels that you are a second class minister and treat as the same.
There are many artists who used to sing gospel, but now sings songs with bad lyrics. What do you think lead to their drift?
Pastors don’t think they should encourage young music ministers. Ministers are also Levites, and are not permitted to work. They are supposed to be fed from what comes into the church. Even if you don’t pay them, they should encourage these guys. Some of them make mistakes – music has a heavy spirit and sometimes become of the immaturity of youths, they drift. But that’s not a good reason to run them down. They run away because some pastors run them down in the church. They do church music, but don’t get paid and they go hungry. It’s not everybody that has the tenacity to stay. Some can stay long, whereas others may not be able to stay long.
So, once they do that for one or two years, they move, they sing in the church and there is no encouragement. They make one or two mistakes and you run them down. But the world is ever ready and open to receive them. Believe me they sing “shake your bum-bum” and make more money, more than the pastors and even the church. Think about it. Where are the elders to encourage them? Where are those whom God has blessed in church that can say to gospel artists “Come, let me pay for one recording”. If they bless your life, let them, know that they did. Nobody stays without motivation. Let the young man know that you blessed him. Give him a thousand Naira, you may think it’s too small but he will appreciate it. When they see that there is something coming out of this, they will stay.
Some of us have stayed through singing for years with nothing as a reward. Our pastors will give us suit, shirt and tie to come and pose on the stage. When we do that, people think that all is well with us not knowing that we are going to trek back home. I have trekked home from Hotel Presidential to Abapka (Enugu State) several times. I‘ve sang in a Wednesday service, having saved money to transport myself there. And not having anything to fall back on when I get to my house and someone will look at me in my cute suit and say, “Can I get transport money from you?” He thinks all is well with me and I have to give him fare. I will give him mine and beg for my own to go home. But we stayed through.
I had relocated to Lagos several times and it looks like things are happening; but God will say, “Go back to Enugu, I have given you that land” Then I came back to Enugu and it looks like what God said was a lie. But the Bible says, “You anoint my heads with oil and my cup begin to overflow. The anointing is weighty, it puts you in a process and when you stay enough, and your cup will overflow. We stayed through. We are not reaping, all that we should but we are staying through so that we can reap all.
For me, the blessing is in the worship. So, let the young people know that you appreciate them. Encourage them. The Church hosts programmes and pay artists nothing but hotels host programme and pay artists in millions. As a result, once they get better, they move and this is plaguing the church. It’s like an epidemic in the church. Every good artiste came from the church. Many of them start from the church once they find their bearings, they move. Let’s not allow that happen again. We need music ministers.
How were you able to surmount your financial challenges to the extent of owing you recording studio and record label?
Follow God! The earth is the Lords and everything in it. Silver and gold are His. I was broke, busted and disgusted; but God said, “Don’t do the bank Job.” So I stayed in my father’s house and asked God what he wants me do and He said, “Worship me, that’s what I want you to do, that’s your job”. I took it literally and started worshiping. So after general morning devotion I stayed back in my room and worshipped for two to three hours and sleep off; wake-up in the afternoon eat go back to my room and worship. Then in the middle of the night I wake up and worship asking for nothing. Then the next morning I continued. It was a routine for me for three weeks and calls started coming in. I had to fly, first, to Calabar just to sing the national anthem and it paid some good money and from there doors began to open and open and open. When God does it you don’t know how He does it. He’s blessed me so much; many things I have asked him for He has done. He has given me cars. He has given me a beautiful wife, a daughter and a beautiful crew. He has also given me a big house; people live I the houses with me. Sometimes I can’t imagine that I feed people. Just a few years ago, I couldn’t feed myself. I don’t know how it happened, but I knew that He said, “Worship me”.
People have come to me and say “Why not go to Lagos?” Your talent is not appreciated here and I did but came back by myself. I wowed the people around me and they can’t forget that Wow come to the estate. They keep asking “Why is it that when people are wowed you run away here. They dey remote you” But I said, ‘No! God wants me to start from somewhere I’m going to spread like a good virus; from Enugu to the outermost part of the world, making people worship God.
I can’t give the whole details but I know I made sacrifices; the way is sow your seeds give your time. There was no day I was not there for rehearsal. There was no programme I was not there doing praise and worship on the stage. I was not found wanting any day; when I don’t have money, I reported to my music pastor and he gave me money and I will come to church. I saved money; I told you that I used my alawi. I looked for people who believe in me and begged literally to give financial assistance and some will give you 5k. I just continued; kept at it God just open certain doors. Many times you don’t know when He opens those doors.
How do you get inspiration for your song?
There are many ways I get inspiration. I have gotten a few songs from my dream. But it doesn’t work for me much. When I worship, I get a lot of inspiration. I play the guitar and the piano, I get songs. But my best songs have been written when I asked the Holy Spirit. I’m not being religious or spiritual about what I just said. I can, from one note, write a song; I’m prolific. When someone gives me an ultmantum to out write him a song; once I get a chord, the song is out. But my best songs were written when I asked Holy Spirit. I will pray, “God, I need a song on this or that” and I will stick around with Him. Usually during the night I will just lie down half awake and expect something and it comes. I have written over three hundred songs. I have given people songs I thought were my best songs when I was hungry, I sell my very good song for ten thousand naira and thought I was finished thinking where can I get this kind of song again. Where?
See, just ask God for song and it will come. But it is important that artists learn how to play instrumentals it helps with the inspiration.
Sometimes I get write because I’m motivated to. If you pay me to write you a song, it’s a good as done; the moment you give me the money. (General laughter)
Did you study music?
I did a little. I did one month diploma course in music. That was before I gained admission into the university.
What did you study in the university?
I studied mass communication and majored in advertising and public relations.
But you are not practicing?
I’m practicing… what I did here (singing) was mass communication (General laughter).
What do you think am artistes should consider before choosing a recording studio or producer?
Friendship! Friendship!! Make sure that the producer is your friend. Make sure that the producer understands your kind of music. He must be your friend; so befriend him. Befriend him anyhow you know to be friend anybody.
Make sure the producer understands music itself and your kind of music. Many producers do day do not understand music; they just know how to put tones together.
Make sure that he is a patient person. A producer ought to be patient because if you are a starter, you need a patient producer.
For the studio, what you need is a studio that has a good vocal production, but it’s not the studio that matters more. It’s the producer. That’s why it’s the producer that brings artiste to the studio not the studio. If you choose a studio because it has a lot of hardware, equipment, but lacks a good producer, you will make a huge mistake. But if you have a good producer and he takes you to a small room, he has a system there and a microphone in one corner and right software, he will give you a beautiful song. Most beautiful songs you hear, if you are told the studio it was produced, you won’t believe it. It’s the brain not the system.
Do you think gospel artists should sing love songs?
Definitely, they should. God is love. They are permitted to sing it. In fact, they are the ones that should sing it. The world does not know love. The world has no love. They are the ones that are not permitted to sing about love because they have not meet love. Christians have not met love; love is their Father and they should sing about it. Both love for a man or a woman, beautiful! They should sing it because when they sing it, they sing it well, but when others sing it, they put pervasion. I have a love song in my album and my wife inspired all of them. In fact, I wrote them with her. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world….” the devil didn’t love, can’t love, knows no love. Nobody loves him. If they sing about love its fake. We should be the people singing love songs.
As a producer, what do you think makes a song a hit, the lyrics or instrumentals?
Many times, it’s nothing in particular. It’s usually a working together; a harmony of the good instrumental, good singer and simple but melodious song. What makes a great song is the song itself simple, and easy to learn, not verbose and strong melody.