Sunday, 1 June 2014

Panam Percy Paul: Icon Of Gospel Music

With over 14 albums and numerous accolades, Dr Panam Percy Paul is an icon in the gospel industry within Africa and an inspiration to all generations all over the world. Meeting him in person, one is awed by his humility and deep knowledge of all things music. 
As someone who has been around for more than four decades, you have become a celebrated musician and respected as the man who has seen it all.How does this make you feel?
Honestly, I feel good, happy and elated. The 40 years we are celebrating is my time as a gospel minister. Before I became a gospel singer, I had played secular music in the club for about 10 years. So, adding everything up, let’s say I’ve been in the game for about 50 years.   I feel very elated, not because of the longevity, but because I think I’ve been able to utilise my time well in affecting the society, moulding a whole generation and also igniting and, probably, starting a ministry that did not exist before. Today, it’s not only a ministry; it’s also an industry that is worth over N1bn. I am not, in any way, trying to take the glory for myself but I’m just giving gratitude to God. Despite all the rejection I went through – I was disowned by my father – I have become a global phenomenon. Also, the fact that there are reliable people who I can gladly pass the baton to makes me happy.
What are some of the challenges you have faced along the way?
There have been challenges, of course, but I thank God for making me overcome them. For me, music has been a calling and growing up was great, because my father taught me to play various instruments, especially the accordion, in 1961. I was also fascinated with the drums and my dad also took me to a music teacher who trained me on how to use my voice for about five years. That was the kind of background I had. So, this gave me the confidence I needed to overcome later problems in life. One major challenge I had was convincing my father to accept that I had become a gospel musician. He wanted me to join the army, since he was a major in the army. But I was so drawn to and overwhelmed by music. In fact, the attraction was too strong. My father said he would have understood if I had said I wanted to be a regular pastor and that he would give me every support. But (in his own words) “to be walking down the street with a guitar… I just don’t understand what kind of pastoring that is”. I had lots and lots of job offers just to keep me away from music but none of them worked out.
Then one day, I visited my father, not knowing that he had invited his lawyer. The lawyer came with my dad’s will and blotted out my name completely. At that time, I didn’t know what it meant, until I paid him a visit in Yola some years after he disowned me. I tried greeting him the normal way I used to but he did not respond. It was then it dawned on me that I had really been disowned. Nineteen years later, during the release of my album Master of the Universe in Yola, my father was there. The surprising thing was that, despite the fact that we were not on good terms, my father had all my albums. I mean, he loved them. He had finally come to terms with the fact that I was a gospel minister. It took him 19 years to accept that. After the concert I drove him home and while we were in the car, he said he was sorry. He also pointed out that, “for the first time in your life you did not obey me”.
Growing up, did you have any musical influences?
Yeah I had a few. Cliff Richards, Otis Redding, James Brown, the Everly Brothers, Sam Cook and a little bit of Elvis Presley. These guys had an impact on me while I was growing up. Gospel-wise, there was nobody at that time for me to look up to.
So, it is safe to conclude that you are the pioneer of African Gospel music?
Yes, it is quite safe to say that.
As a full-time minister, how have you been able to juggle your ministry and family life?
In all my years as a man, husband and father, I’ve come to realise that everything is based on timing. You can’t be a father, an engineer or a husband for 24 hours. So, whenever I’m with my children, I’m a father. Whenever I’m with my wife, I’m a husband. When I’m in church, I’m a pastor. When I’m on stage, I’m a music minister. I learnt from my father that you can do everything in one day. You just have to apportion time for everything. At a point, everything I did was music. I couldn’t function, think, eat or sleep. Everything was music. I once rehearsed for 27 hours straight. I had neither day nor night! I have also gone three weeks without a wink and I have done that three times. As shocking as it might sound, I went one and a half years without food. I was only drinking water and Lucozade boost and this was before the release of my album Bring Back the Glory 1. I lost appetite for food from May 1984 to December 12th 1986. When people ask me the reason for this, I just tell them I wanted to be close to God. I wanted to interact with him. At some point, I thought I was possessed – with the spirit of music, that is!
You have performed all over the world and at many concerts, but have you been able to survive off the proceeds of music alone? Do you have any other source of income?
I think the major thing is the satisfaction you derive from meeting the needs of people who in need of words of encouragement and life. That is the basic payment for me. What I want to achieve is passing on the scroll to the next generation. This is one of the reasons why I made the concert free for everybody. I could have asked people to pay and they would have but you cannot put a price on the anointing that people receive at my concerts. But then, if you want to know if gospel music pays, I can tell you that it does in the long run, especially when you have a good database of fans or followers who will gladly buy your CDs and support your music.
What do you think about gospel music in Nigeria? Has it come around the bend or has the quality of music released these days reduced drastically?
We have certainly grown. The quality of music and technology has improved considerably. From my day when you had to come into the studio with your band and rehearse then record a take. If you miss it, you had to start again. Today, you can record and correct as many times as you wants. So I’ll say musicianship, as well as quality of production, have improved. Our song writing, in terms of gospel music, hasn’t improved. There are a few great songwriters out there and this shows in the level of acceptability they enjoy. Generally, our lyrics are not rich enough to address issues completely.

What do you think is responsible for the increasing number of gospel musicians switching to secular music?
I think it’s the kind of foundation that today’s ‘born again’ people have. They have that exciting encounter (getting to repent, giving their lives to Jesus, etc.) and they are not renewed by it. Their foundation is shaky, as they are not deeply rooted in God’s word. They tend to follow the latest trend. One reason for this is because our pastors are not doing a good job of grounding their people. If the pastors dedicate more time to their followers, and ensure that they are well grounded in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, they will be unshakeable.
As a pastor, what do you think about the state of the church in Nigeria today, especially doctrinal error and the incidence of fake men and women of God everywhere?
Let me put it this way; there is a church within the church. There is the church universal and the church spiritual. So, if you are unable to decipher, then you would generalise that the church is really messed up. Yes, things are not that okay with us. For example, we have people in our churches who are, obviously, well-to-do but their flock know when they have erred, no matter how rich they are.

You have released over 14 albums, with the first released in 1976. Tell me, which is your favourite and why?
Certainly, I don’t have a favourite. Maybe, when it comes down to a few things that will draw me to them, like the recording quality. There are some where I got the mix-down very well while there are others which were downright bad. But in terms of message and relevance, I love all of them. They are my stories, testimonies of where I was at the time I wrote the song. So, they help me reconnect with the God who is mindful of me and who helped me pass through all the difficulties of life.

Someone with a vast experience like yourself must have memorable moments which you recall with nostalgia. Tell us some of them
Well, I have a lot of such moments. One of them was the first time I ministered at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium in Kaduna. I got there and the stadium was full, with about 20 to 30,000 people were in the stadium. Another moment was in September 6, 1993 when I gave a concert at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York City. It was memorable, because in 1967, I had watched, on television, James Brown performing at that same theatre. As I sat watching, I made a promise to myself that, one day, I would be on that stage. So, for a dream of 1967 to be fulfilled in 1993 was, for me, simply mind-blowing!

Have you had any embarrassing moments?
(Laughs) I have had a lot of them. Very embarrassing ones at that and remembering them is not something I want to do.

What do you think is responsible for relevance all these years? I mean, 40 years is no small time in the industry…
It’s simple, it is vision. I have a vision and the vision is mobile. It improves. The vision that I had in the ‘60s is still the same. They haven’t changed, they’ve just improved. So what I have done all this while is that I’ve been adjusting in the mode of delivery but the message itself has not changed. And I’ll carry this vision till my very last breath. My vow to God is that no one should stay or relate with me for one second and not get anything positive from me. There should be a positive impact in the life of the person because of his or her interaction with me. This is what makes me relevant.

So, what are your plans, hopes, dreams and desires for the future? Any plans to set up a gospel music television, show or radio station?
By God’s grace as for my desire to set up a TV and radio station, I’m going to start with the programmes. These programmes will run for one hour every day, until we build a relationship with other producers and programme owners. Only then can we proceed with the plans for the station. I will be hosting my own programmes, because I have the capacity and wherewithal to host and relate with the cast and crew.

Do you have anything ‘major’ that people do not know about you?
Well, I think people do not know how educated I am. They just know that I am Dr Panam Percy Paul and that’s it. They think my ‘Dr’ is just honorary, but it’s not. I am very widely read and I have three doctorate degrees – in sound, music and philosophy. For me it’s not just the acquisition of degrees [that classifies me as a ‘read’ man] but the acquisition of knowledge to be able to communicate with people. I read for two hours every day. Yes, I have received honorary degrees nonetheless, but, by God’s grace, I am very knowledgeable.

Any word for your fans?
I just want them to know that I’ll be delving into previously uncharted waters. One of my next albums will be an album of love songs. That is because we have people falling in love without knowing how to love. Some people just live together without really knowing each other. So, I am releasing this album that will address love and relationship in general. And I also might put out my jazz collection and some instrumentals that I have worked on over the years. And I’m also going on an international tour later in the year. I’ll be performing in the USA, England and South Africa, just to say thanks to my fans all over the world. My fans are all I’ve got, because without them I’ll still not be relevant today.

Any word of advice for upcoming musicians?
They should have a philosophy, know what they want and how they hope to achieve it. Also, they need to continuously improve on their craft and they should know that whatever level of success they have achieved is beneath them. More importantly, making heaven should be their goal.

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