By Chukwudi Nweje
Every saint has a past; every sinner has a future. Gospel reggae artiste, Buchi Enyioma Atuonwu simply known as Buchi, testifies to this. He, therefore, advises against writing people off as failures, insisting that when there is life there is also hope.
In this interview, Buchi tells the story of his life, revealing how he walked on the dark side and how he came into the light. He also speaks about the inspiration behind his songs. Please enjoy it.
How were you brought to the light after near death experience and cult-related activities?
I would not want, if you do not mind, to go into details of what happened. People were hurt and needed to heal. There are those who have not healed, there are things that if I tell, a full story would be exposed; so it should rather not be exposed.
There was the unfortunate incident where someone fell. However, all that is now gone, and I am a brand new man. We all have our past; in my case, it was the past that set my present in motion. I have drawn several lessons from my past; I have drawn a lifetime assignment from that past to reach out to people that are still of that past mindset. My past heightened my passion for souls, I have a pressing desire to reach out to people and bring them into the glorious light of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What advice do you have for those still walking the dark path?
It is not enough to get close to God; you must strive to know God. Religion tells us to get close to God but there is a place in God, not close to God, that there is joy and contentment. I will say to those in the dark to strive to meet Jesus, he is the one solution to all life’s problems. When I met Jesus, I stopped running from the gang, the police, and the bullet.
When are you dropping your next album after 17:59?
My fans may be wondering when my next album would drop. But my core fans, those who have followed Buchi since 1999 when the first album, These Days dropped, know that my album comes at intervals of three years. So, after 2020, the next album would be due in 2023. When exactly in 2023? I do not know yet, but when I am satisfied with the work I have done, I will let it out.
What’s the inspiration behind the album, These Days?
1999 was my breakout year. One of the songs in that first album, These Days, says ‘There is a bell ringing inside me, announcing that the time has come for me to proclaim to the world the gospel of the Lord in a different way, until people in the far east accept it and the United Nations respect it; I would preach it to the poor and the rich. I began that journey in 1999 and it broke out in a unique way.
What about What a Life released in 2005?
The inspiration that manured the song was the realisation that people suffer needless pain and pay for what has been given freely to them. I was in Naraguta Avenue, GRA, Jos, Plateau State a long time ago, and I saw mango trees heavy laden with fruits lined and dangling down the entire street; you could pluck as many mangoes as you wanted without climbing the tree. But by the street corner, I saw a young girl selling mangoes, and I wondered who would buy the mangoes in the midst of all these free mangoes. To my amazement, cars pulled up and people bought the mangoes. It then dawned on me that in life, we pay with tears, fasting and prayers, and all sorts of things for what God has given to us free of charge. We have a mindset that we must hustle, struggle and labour for everything. I exclaimed ‘what a life’ when I saw those cars pulling up to buy mangoes in the midst of so many mango fruits they could have plucked for free.
What of I See, which you dropped in 2014?
In this album, I was saying that I see beyond what other men see. I could see that this dispensation is winding up, what people call apocalypse. The church is talking about rapture, and scientists are talking about climate change, any way you look at it, something is about to happen, and the world is running around looking for answers. The song turned out to be prophetic because a few years later, COVID-19 struck, and the world began to run helter-skelter looking for the answer. The album, I See, was talking about the end of an era.
How were you able to combine being a lecturer and Disc Jockey?
At the University of Lagos (UNILAG), I was a lecturer during the day and a DJ at night; only those who moved at night knew I was a DJ in my private time. One day, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) came with cameras to capture scenes from the nightclub, and there I was behind the turntable, spinning and rapping, pushing songs with Ras Kimono; we did not have many television stations then. When the university authority saw it, the Dean of the Faculty summoned me to explain myself. I told him that I had not been found wanting in my responsibilities as a lecturer, and that what I did in my spare time was my business. Many people did not accept that explanation, but one professor from Ghana spoke on my behalf. He said, ‘the night turned into day with the TV cameras, and we saw what Buchi does with his spare time; if our own nights should turn to days, not many of us will stand, the world will not be able to behold what we do at our spare time’. That was it; the case was dismissed!
You have a pending doctorate from UNILAG, could you shed more light on this?
I am still pursuing a doctorate degree in Semantics and Social Linguistics, which I began at UNILAG. I will see it to conclusion. I believe in having a sense of closure because beginning something and completing it is a blessing.
What’s your opinion about entertainment being a healing balm for Nigeria?
Entertainment is about the strongest weapon left for us to unite Nigeria; it is one of the strongest options that we have presently to use in achieving nationhood. One of the few places where you do not find indigenous ethnic diversities interfering with our social cohesion is in entertainment and sports. There is a strong consciousness of where we hail from rather than what we aspire to be as a nation.
What’s your view about content and quality production in Nollywood?
Nollywood is following a natural course; before Nigerian literature got to the level it is now, there was Onitsha market literature and there was semi-literate literature where people wrote according to their ability and exposure. What we have today began with Living in Bondage, but before then there was theatre and soaps. The breakout of Nollywood movies revealed the minds of movie creators; some are so sordid in nature, displaying only fetish scenes and rituals, most are very pedestrian in presentation. We are, however, beginning to see more intelligent works coming out.
You have a signature headgear, what about it?
From the time I was a nightclub DJ, I always had a hat on. In the church, I did not fit into the culture that the Bishop would wear a cap and the members would not; people follow things they do not understand, they call you brother when their attitude towards you is so un-brotherly. I have kept my cap on because I have a definite assignment to reach the unchurched; I am able to reach them sometimes because of the way I dress. I do not believe in the Christianity of a white God and a white Jesus.
How do you explain your being a gospel minister and selling alcohol?
What is the position of the church on alcohol consumption? One section of the church will say ‘do not touch it at all’, another section will say ‘drink but do not get drunk’, while another will say that ‘strong drink is for fools’ and yet another would say that ‘the wine Jesus made from water is alcoholic’. We seek to replace God’s laws with human laws. It is religion that makes these laws, not Christ. My club is family-friendly; it is a place where you can come with your wife and children. We advocate responsible drinking; I do not see any conflict there.