By Christine Onwuachumba
Omotope Sobowale believes that charity should begin from the rural communities. In the past three years, she has been engaged in community and youth development activities. This she is doing alongside her budding career as a gospel artist.
Sobowale’s Rural Development Initiative (RUDI), which started in 2013, has seeing well over 500 children being awarded scholarship in primary and secondary schools.
However, the Mass Communication graduate recently did a duet with septuagenarian gospel singer, Mrs. D.A Fasoyin of the Good Women Choir fame. She speaks to TS Weekend about her projects.
Let’s talk about your music talent, where did it come from?
I have always been a singer. My uncle whom I lived with says I never shut my mouth, I was always singing. Interestingly, I never thought of music as a career. In the choir, while in the university, it always came up. But when I got married, things changed and I began to see the reality. When I came out of NYSC, there was no job for a pregnant woman. So, I had to look inwards to see what I could do. Luckily, I had a band in the university. I thought of what to do while also trying to further my education. I went to Pan African University where I got a certificate in Advanced Writing and Reporting, yet nobody was willing to give me a job.
Then, I started doing Mcee and Alaga Ijoko (hostess) at traditional weddings. Suddenly, I changed location from Ogun to Lagos State after marriage. No one knew me and it was really tough. I love singing Christian music, so I formed a band called The Praise and gradually we got noticed. We have between 10 and 12 people in the band. Along the line, I lost interest in getting a job and that was it.
Does your husband play any role in the band?
Yes, he plays the piano but we cannot pay him. My husband would tell me jokingly, ‘I am not your keyboardist; get that straight’. He has been a great pillar of support. He has been part of every vision like my going back to school. I am a mother of two boys with a first degree in Mass Communication from Olabisi Onabanjo University. Right now, I am doing my PhD in Christian Leadership Studies. My husband told me that even though I am not looking for a job, I should have a vision of being relevant. So, I have a vision and passion for nation building. For the past three years, I have been into community development and I run an NGO called Rural Development Initiative (RUDI). We started in 2013 and we have sponsored children in schools. The project reaches out to the less privileged who are rural based. We go to schools to talk to the children and sponsor their education. The education is free but they still pay PTA levies. However, some are so challenged that they can’t even pay (the levies). So, we pay for them.
How do you reach out to your targets?
I look out for intelligent children, most especially, those from poor background. I have always wanted to do something as a young girl, I have always wanted to reach out to neighbours that were less privileged. Interestingly, I went to school thinking it was all about going to school. It was not until around 2012 that the whole idea started coming back again. The focus is not just on children but also on the community and the people. We also do community health outreach. We take doctors to the community and offer free medical services to the people.
Which were some of the cases that made you happy?
Our first outreach was one of the most interesting moments for us. We never thought it was going to be anything huge. We had over 300 people to attend to and we ran out of medication. That year, we did not prepare food for them. That really challenged us to go back because we could only attend to a hundred plus. The community in question is in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State.
What are some of the challenges you encountered?
Acceptance is not an issue for me because I started from my hometown, convincing the people that it is actually free. Some thought that there was a motive for doing this and they would ask if there is a political agenda and so on. I don’t have a political agenda; it is a mission.
Is this your first album?
No, it is my second album. The first album came as an inspiration and it is titled, Forever Grateful. It is about being grateful to God for all that He has done for me. I would say that marriage took me not just by surprise, it was also not what I thought or imagined. In spite of the odds, God sustained me. I did not lose my mind, my personality, my ideals and focus. I was grateful for that and I encouraged others to be thankful to God. The second album was like a come back. God told me He would give me songs. At this point, I was married; I had left the choir and moved to the children’s church because I was nursing babies. Then the songs started coming and we did an album. This particular song, Ilu Yi Atura, meaning this country would be better, came as a surprise. I went to the studio to do an eight-track album. About a month later, I was wondering about the state of the economy and how things had become so expensive when I exclaimed, ‘ilu yi atura ko ni lekoko mo mi’ (This country would be better, it won’t be hard on me). My husband quickly asked where I got that line from, and I said nowhere. He said it was a good one even though it was someone’s original song. My husband then advised me to go for the copyright and that was how it all began. Ilu Yi Atura is a song for the moment. It is a song of encouragement and song of hope. It is a prophecy and declaration of a better future for Nigeria. In addition, it is about honesty, urging our leaders to be honest. We also prayed for a flourishing economy.
Is your husband also in the same field with you?
No. He is a business analyst, a problem solver. We met at a choir rehearsal and we went to the same secondary school. At school, he was our keyboardist. He didn’t know me then but I knew him from a distance. Music finally brought us together.
How do you combine music with the other things that you do?
My PhD programme is on and the NGO has a structure. We know the programmes that we have per quarter. I know when I am going to each community and I know when I am to do what. I have a number of people who work with me voluntarily. The report that we have is great and we have reached out to some students with scholarships, but we want to do more. Seeing some of the children interacting better, sometimes I wish we could take them all the way to the university.
At what point did you meet Mrs D.A Fasoyin, the lead vocalist of the Good Women Choir, who sang the original song, Ilu Yi Atura?
I knew I couldn’t go ahead with someone else’s song. So meeting her was the first thing to do, to tell her my vision and how I wanted to work with her. Her reaction was good and pleasant. My fear was would she want someone to change the message? Would she buy into the vision and the new message, which has a lot to do with the mood of the nation right now? She has been quite supportive and her voice is in the song. We took the first verse together, then I did the second and she did the third, leading us into the chorus. It is actually a dream come true. I felt very good and Mrs Fasoyin is also happy to be part of it.
What about the parents of these children, do you assist them in some way?
Yes, we do community health outreach, we take medical doctors to the community and offer free medical services to the people. Most of the parents are farmers, so my NGO will be working alongside the Ogun State Ministry of Rural and Urban Development. We hope to take them to the communities to talk to the farmers about mechanised farming, which is part of the Heal Our Land projects that I’m doing a theme song for. We believe there is famine, food shortages and all that. Therefore, we will teach these people how to be better farmers.
Do you think there are enough NGOs that are into rural community development?
I don’t know if there are enough, but for me, I went into NGO to complement whatever the government is doing. I look at it as a supplement, and to also bring to the attention of the government what is happening in the rural areas; what they may not see, because honestly, they are not doing enough. In fact, we need to work together with the government. In the past, we worked with the Ogun State Ministry of Health; we distributed mosquito nets and malaria drugs to some communities.
You are definitely touching a key area with your NGO. What has been the impact on the communities you have been to?
Enlightenment. You will be amazed at the level of ignorance and setbacks these people are going through. But most fulfilling for me is the happiness these children have and feel when they know they will be attending school the next term. The fear of not being sent away from school because their parents can’t afford to pay their school fees, believe me, it transforms their lives. Right now, two schools are under our scholarship scheme, we intend to extend it to others if we get enough funds. The principal of these schools always tell my volunteers and I that we are lifesavers.
Back to your musical collaboration, what was Mama Fasoyin’s initial reaction when you told her you wanted to remix her song?
Pleasant. My initial fear was would she allow someone to change the message to another message entirely? I was really surprised, pleasantly surprised when she gave me the go ahead. She said it is a good vision and she would like to support it, and she has been true to her words. She said my lyrics truly captured the spirit of what the nation is going through presently. Mama Fasoyin’s version is a New Year song, thanking God for the past year, but mine is talking about the present. I remixed the chorus, adding the dimension of the change we are going through, and how tough things are now. I also added that this country would get better while also encouraging Nigerians not to give up, not to lose hope.
Do you have people you admire or as mentors?
Yes. I have people I admire. My parents. I praise them for their hard work, and for their shortcomings. It is a challenge for me. I don’t look down on them for whatever they are not able to achieve. I also admire Pastor Adeboye.