Joseph Adelakun fondly called Ayewa is a gospel singer, songwriter and televangelist. He shares his life experience with Ademola Olonilua.
You have been a musician for over forty years. When you started out, did you ever imagine your brand would be this big?
I thank God for everything but if I say that I ever envisaged that I would be this great in life, I would be telling a lie. I was just like the biblical Joseph who did not know how great he would be in life even though he had visions and dreams. I was from a Muslim background. My father was an Alhaji and he built a mosque for the community. I had in a staunch Islamic background where we never drank alcohol not to talk of smoking.
In our house, once we woke up, the next point of call was the mosque and I loved God. I had dreams that I would be great like Joseph in the bible. Like they say, no pain, no gain; no cross, no crown. There is no one that has attained success in life that does not have a story. There are some dignitaries in our society that hawked several food items as kids just to survive but when it was the appointed time of God, their star came out. One has to go through some suffering in life before attaining success. I hawked food stuff as a child. After school, I would take the foodstuff and hawk; in fact I did this with my school uniform. My father was not a poor man but our mothers made us do it as a form of training. I was raised in a highly disciplined family, the kind of family where you dare not eat your meat till you had finished your meal. I am saying all this because if there is no glory, there would be no story until your life changes before you can tell your story.
How did someone with such a strong Islamic background become a pastor?
It happened miraculously through the will of God. Many people do not know that I did not go to secondary school and the reason is that the year I proposed to go to Olivet High School was the same year my father died. That was in August 1964. My father had five wives and 16 children and after his death, we were like a herd of sheep without a shepherd. The first son who had just left a school of agriculture could not fend for us because his salary was just a stipend. We all had to find our way. I did an exam to go to Olivet High School and I was accepted but I had no money. I passed exams to study at trade centres in Oyo and Osogbo but lack of funds hampered my admission. So when one of my elder brothers approached me asking what I wanted to do with my life, I told him I wanted to become an electrical engineer. My mother was devastated. She said it was the same job one of her friend’s children did before he was electrocuted, she began to cry but I maintained my stand. Luckily, someone came along and told her to let me do what I wanted so as not to regret it later in life. Then I was taken to Kareem Electrical Engineering Service in Ogunpa, Oyo State to become an apprentice.
Back then, Ogunpa could be likened to the rough parts of Ajegunle and Mushin in Lagos. There were a lot of urchins there. It was a very rough area. The gutter where we urinated was the same place we ate and our constant food was gari and groundnut. Most times, we had to help people sweep or do other menial jobs before we could get some food to eat.
My elder brother paid for my apprenticeship and I spent about two years there from 1966 till 1968 and when I left Kareem Electrical Engineering Service, I immediately joined the Nigerian army through one of my friends. He first enlisted into the army and when he came home to visit, he was spending money and we believed he was a rich man. We began to follow him everywhere but as of the time, I was only smoking cigarette till I went to visit him and I met him with some soldier friends of his smoking Indian hemp.
They offered me Indian hemp, initially I declined but shortly after, I joined them and that was the first time I took the substance. Till date, I do not know how I left that place. The next day I woke up with gari and milk all over my body. I was scared because my boss must not know what I was up to the previous day but I really thank God for the life of one of my boss’s wives who covered up for me on that fateful day.
Normally, whenever I woke up, I was charged with boiling water for my boss to have his bath but on that day because I was so messed up, I could not perform my normal duty. When my boss asked after me, his wife told him that I had fever and I was sleeping, so my boss permitted me to take the day off. I vowed never to smoke Indian hemp but shortly after, I broke the promise. Few days later, I accompanied my soldier friend to the cinema and when we were returning home, we stopped to buy Indian hemp again. That was how I started smoking marijuana in 1968. After moving around with my soldier friends, they advised me to join the army because they were recruiting in Agodi Ibadan. Even though I did not meet the required age qualification, my friend urged me to enlist with the promise that he would ask someone to influence it. That is how I joined the army without the knowledge or permission of any of my family members even though I am the only son of my mother. I was about 20 years at the time I joined the Nigerian army in 1969.
I went to Abeokuta depot and after I completed my training, I was posted to Nigerian Army Engineers due to my skills as an electrical engineer. In 1972, I met Christ when I was posted to the Nigerian army engineering regiment in Ede, Osun State. That year, we went to a compound in Ede to buy Indian hemp and as I was going back to the base, they were having a revival, so my friends and I decided to attend and look at what they were doing. We heard that a blind man was leading the ministration but he was very powerful. When I got home that night, I went to pray as a Muslim and in the middle of the night when I was sleeping, I heard someone speak to me in a loud voice saying, ‘I am the person you came to meet and if you allow me I would make you great. I am taking you to great places. I am Jesus whom you know as the Prophet Isah.’ Immediately I woke up, I rebuked the dream. Later that day, while I was sitting among my friends, I heard someone say, ‘I want to use you for my glory.’ I told my friends what I was hearing and I began to make jokes out of the message but they asked me to stop. I did not know that God had chosen and prepared me since I was in my mother’s womb. When I started going to church, my friends said it was because I was trying to get women. They believed I would get fed up but I went because of my conviction as a Christian. Gradually I began to attend church programmes and the Lord began to show me some revelations.
If your father did not die, do you think you would have become the man you are today?
What has been written has been written. Anything that pertains to covenant must come to pass. Even if my father were to be alive, I don’t think anybody could disturb the work of God. I don’t think my father would have disturbed me because he was not an irrational person. He was a staunch Muslim though. When I became a Christian, some of my uncles were unhappy. There was a particular one, although he is dead now, who said that if they had known I would convert to Christianity, they would have given out the ram for my naming ceremony to beggars and God would have been happy. They overreacted but the Lord told me to keep quiet.
What was your mother’s reaction?
Mothers would always be mothers. She was quite happy but she did not let the family members notice her excitement. The main reason she was happy was because I quit smoking Indian hemp after my conversion. She was very bothered about my smoking habit. She felt that as a soldier, no one could talk to me but after accepting Christ and I quit smoking Indian hemp, she was elated. I am glad that my mother later became a Christian before she died. She lived as a Christian for about 29 years before she died.
Before you ventured into music, was there any singer in your family?
There was no single singer.
How did you discover your talent?
I would say it was God. The spirit of music had been impacted in me right from my mother’s womb. The Yoruba have an adage, ‘it is from a black pot that a white pap is produced.’ We did not have any singer in my family but God had impacted that spirit in me because He knew He wanted to use me. Even before I became a Christian, I had always dreamt and anything I saw in my dreams always came to pass.
As a child, I could be going to the market with my mother and I would see some people walking with their head. Out of fear, I would hold my mother and yell that a certain person was walking with his head but my mother would shut me up because she knew the meaning. I saw a lot of strange things as a child, so my mother decided to take me to an Islamic cleric who did some things to me so that I would stop seeing those strange things. Despite that, could not hinder God’s plans in my life. In retrospect, I could have been a very powerful prophet if I was not taken to the Islamic cleric.
As someone without any musical background, how have you been able to produce some evergreen hits?
Sometimes when I listen to my music, I am always surprised. Someone asked me one day about the secret of my success and I told the person that if I knew the answer, it meant that God is no more God. You cannot know the secret of your success because the foundation of any success is God. I am a good composer but it is a God-given talent. I was never a composer till I met God. One of my hit songs, ‘Amona,’ I was just sitting down one day when I began to scribble down the chorus for my other band mate and the other lyrics of the song came to me effortlessly as we were recording the song. That is why I tell people that I was not the one that made the album, it was an angel. It was a covenant album. All my albums have solid messages but they cannot be compared to the album, Amona, because it was a covenant album after I accepted God’s call. God had been calling me since 1978 but I did not want to listen to his call because I was enjoying being a soldier.
It means that initially you were reluctant to heed to God’s call?
I did not want to listen to God’s call because I was doing well in the army. I was the orderly to a senior army officer, Gen. D.O Ajayi. I was in charge of everything; be it money, food, drinks, etc. but I never took what was not mine. I was comfortable in the army but when God’s call came, I was at the Command Staff College at Jaji with my boss. A prophet came to meet me and told me that I should either work in the military and wait for my pension after service or quit the military and receive what God had in store for me.
Do you regret or feel bad about the fact that you did not complete your education?
At times I feel bad but the main reason I don’t blame God is because he knows better than any man. Who knows, if I completed my education I could have been a ‘Mr. Know it all’ or I would not humble myself. There was a day I was thinking about it and God told me that he is the one that created man and he knows our capabilities. Since I heard that voice, I have stopped thinking about that.
Also, I would never forget Pastor Ashimolowo. I still have the letter of the first appointment he gave me in London. When I got to his office, he told me that he realised that I had potential but I should not be shy about speaking because I did not complete my education. He said that I should call some of my members and speak with them even if my English was not correct. Ashimolowo further told me that I should speak bravely and with time, I would improve. He advised that I invest in buying books. I went to a bookshop and spent over £200, that was in 1996. When I got back to Nigeria, I bought an English bible and also a Yoruba Bible. I would study the English Bible and if I came across a word I did not understand, I would check the Yoruba Bible for its meaning. That was how I trained myself gradually. I tried to employ a teacher at a time.
What were some of the challenges you faced when you founded your Ayewa group?
I faced a lot of challenges but our forefathers had witnessed worse. I was just able to overcome due to the discipline I learnt in the military. If it is possible for me to enlist in the military again, I would because I still like that job. I love the job so much because of its discipline. I don’t like lies, so I do not indulge in such. I faced a lot of challenges but I don’t dwell on them because I know that God is in control. I know that if I put those challenges at heart, that would be a burden to me and I would not be able to face what God wants me to do. I am just glad that there has been no history of conflict in the group and if any member wants to leave, I pray for them and we depart amicably. I am also thankful to God that I have never buried any of my band members. This time last year, we had an accident and even though some of my band members were hurt, I thank God that none of them lost their lives. Two of my sons were in the vehicle with my band members but I thank God there was no casuality.
How many albums have you released in your career and which would you say is your favourite?
I don’t normally pick a favourite album out of all my works. The Bible says all what God created are beautiful and fine. All the messages God gave to me are beautiful and fine. The grace in each record may differ from each other but they are all impactful. I don’t think I have any favourite album and I love them all.
At 67, do you have any plans of retiring from music?
Do people retire salt from soup? Until I die and God says it is time for me to come home, I would continue to sing. I love music a lot. Although I am a minister in CAC, the retirement age in the church is 75, I am praying to clock 75 years on time so that I can face my music squarely. I don’t think I can retire from music.
Why did you choose the name Joseph after you converted to Christianity?
When about nine of us from the military converted to Christianity, they asked us to line up and choose Christian names, I picked Joseph. Later, Pastor Akande told me that I would face what Joseph in the Bible faced. He said that it was an angel of God that opened my mouth and gave me that name. He said that I would face envy and jealousy but I would also emerge victorious in life. I thought it was a joke because I did not have anything worth being envious or jealous about. I did not know he was talking about the future. Till date, if I know that you don’t like my ministry, it does not move me. Everybody is my friend but I know where I am heading.
I don’t talk anyhow and my family members know that about me. That is why I said that being a military man has helped me a lot. Even when someone comes to backbite with me, all I do is watch and when it becomes too frequent, I tell the person that I do not like such an attitude. At first, people began to avoid me especially my family members but I pleaded with them not to do so because I need information but the correct one. Not information that would pollute my mind.
Does it mean that if you come back to this world, you would still want to be a military man?
Yes, I would want to be a military man because of the discipline in the army. If I had an opportunity to join the army again, I would do so.
How did you meet your wife?
I met her in a miraculous way and I know that God chose her for me. I went to Ile Ife to visit a pastor who is now late, Pastor Josiah. My wife also went there to see one of her students who was a prophet and her mother’s pastor. She was teaching in Gbogan, Osun State, at the time. When we met, another pastor was around and he said aloud that she was my wife. On the spot, I told him not to say such because we were about to embark on a spiritual journey to the mountain. Ironically, we left that location to another place and we met my wife there again to our surprise. Then another prophet saw us and called me aside to tell me that she was my wife. I went to pray about it because I am a very prayerful person and God told me she was my wife. He further told me the kind of woman she was and my visions about her turned out to be true.