From MAGNUS EZE, Abuja
For Johnbethel Ezeugo, stardom is sure knocking on his door. You may not have heard about him, but this 21 years old sophomore of the Department of Theatre and Film Studies, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), has made name for himself within the diplomatic circle in Nigeria albeit in a short time.
The way this young act bestrides the diplomatic lane with his guitar has sure made him one of Nigeria’s budding music ambassadors.
Johnbethel as he is fondly called has recently become a regular face at high profile events including those organised by embassies where a perfect blend of his guitar strings with sonorous acoustic rendition jazz up occasions.
There is no mistaking the voice of this multi-gifted Izzi, Ebonyi State-born act who said he is not playing for money, at least for now as according to him, many of his performances for the embassies are either at no cost or just for a token.
But, why would John Bethel perform without pay? He said: “It’s not that I don’t charge at all; I charge based on the event but most times I play for free. My music is a contribution to life. I do songs that have meaning; songs that influence the society.”
Ovation greets Johnbethel anytime and anywhere he performs. He was the toast at the Italian Embassy’s Diplomatic Jazz Night in Lagos recently; from there he thrilled guests at the Indian High Commission, Abuja. He undoubtedly had his day when the South African High Commission held the Nelson Mandela Day recently as his performance gave swell time to guests at the highbrow Congress Hall of Transcorp Hilton, Abuja.
Prior to this period, his music had taken him to the presidential villa, where he performed severally when Dr. Goodluck Jonathan held sway. Then, Johnbethel would perform at banquets on Children’s Day celebrations. He also performed at presidential banquet in honour of delegates of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) programme on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
How it started
Johnbethel is a young man but he said he has played music as long as he could remember; meaning it started from childhood. He led the children choir at Assemblies of God Church in Abakaliki; at seven while in primary school, he also led his school to a national music competition in Port Harcourt, Rivers State where his school emerged the overall best.
He said that it was actually from that completion that his music career started. The former student of Evangel Primary and Secondary Schools, Abakaliki had participated in Project Fame, Nigerian Idols and Nigeria Got Talents where he got to the semi-finals.
Speaking on the takeaways from the Nigeria Got Talent show, Johnbethel said, “It made me more exposed, made me compete with other musicians. It also exposed me to the business side of music”.
One other driving force for this young lad is his passion for the promotion of child rights. He represented Ebonyi State in the Children’s Parliament; this inspired him accordingly to compose his first album.
His music genre and future
Curiously, it is actually difficult for the act to situate his music genre. He calls it ‘Soul Jazz’, which according to him was branded by a writer, Onyeka Nwelue, after listening to him play.
“It was a writer, Onyeka Nwelue that branded my music; he classified it as Soul Jazz. He defined it this way and I chose to call it so until I get a better name for it,” he said.
But whatever name it is called, one thing that is certain is that Johnbethel’s music is creatively rich particularly in meaning and style. The strength is in its lyrics which are purely story-telling; it is a clear fusion of ancient and modern folklores that find expression in songs. His music is every bit African as he strings his songs from rich native folklores. Little wonder his soul jazzy song is loved by many; Nigerians and foreigners alike.
Pressed by Daily Sun to name who plays his kind of music in Nigeria; he said that only Asa plays what is close to it but emphasised that his is distinct.
John Bethel gave an insight into ‘Ezeugo,’ a track that might be the hit in his yet to be released album, rendered in Igbo Language. He said: “It tells a lot of folktales in Igbo. The stories I tell in the song, English Language can’t just express them. And that’s my style.”
The budding act who believes his future looks very promising deplored the manner musicians who play soul and jazz are regarded in Nigeria.
“We are not really celebrated here; most times it is when we escape that they begin to know that we are there. But I am happy that the society appreciates what I do. The only thing I want to do in my life is music, so I expect it to take me everywhere. I am giving everything in me to make sure I become the game changer,” he enthused.