Gospel singer and saxophonist, Mike Aremu, tells KEHINDE AJOSE about his career and other issues
Have you ever been under pressure to alter your style of music?
The answer to that is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Yes, in the sense that people have their expectations on how they want one to sound. They have an idea of the sound that should come from Mike Aremu. If one then deviates from that, they think one is losing it. I am known for playing the saxophone but whenever I decide to sing, some people would say, ‘We thought you are just a saxophone player’.
On the other hand, one must know what the (trending) sound out there is and one must make sure people can relate to one’s music. The popular afrobeats also has some influence on my sound. I am influenced by the times and seasons, so that a wider audience can identify with my music. There is no point releasing music when people cannot relate to it, and when it cannot minister to them or bless them.
Do you think gospel music in Nigeria has grown as much as it should?
We must appreciate the fact that though it might not be where it ought to be, it is certainly not where it used to be .There has been a lot of improvement. Now, a lot of Nigerian gospel artistes have millions of downloads of their music online. That is a major improvement from what it used to be. Gospel music, to be honest, is not the kind of music one can put in the background. There are so many artistes doing well in the gospel music industry, thanks to social media. Gospel music has not done too badly in Nigeria.
However, a lot more can be done. Corporate organisations should sponsor gospel music artistes and concert. People call Nigeria a secular state when it suits them. But, when it comes to gospel music, they say they don’t want to identify with a particular faith. At the end of the day, if it involves lives being turned around, they should do well by sponsoring gospel music events. Gospel music carries positive messages. So, why should any company not support something that influences society in a positive way? More corporate organisations should look into that. We can do a lot better with gospel music. Just like any brand will (readily) sponsor hip-hop or afrobeats, they should also do same for gospel music. Award platforms should include categories for gospel music. Most of the award platforms out there don’t have categories for gospel music.
The most important thing for me is to make heaven at the end of my sojourn on earth. The Bible says that, ‘What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul’? That is my first pursuit.
Also, I want to impact my world in a positive way; not just in Nigeria but all over the world. My goals include influencing people positively, bringing the message of Christ to them through my music, as well as bringing transformation and healing through my music. That is what will make sense for me in the end.
Do you think saxophonists get enough recognition compared to their colleagues who sing?
The same applies to gospel music. It is not the way it used to be. I think saxophone players are getting more recognition. However, because singing involves lyrics, it is easier for people to identify with that than those who just play the saxophone. Some people don’t connect with music led by saxophone artistes. That is why most saxophone players are doing songs that people already know. They are doing instrumentals of songs, including praise and worship tracks that people know. This helps them to be able to reach a wider audience. On my part, I try to write my music as it comes. If it’s just only for saxophone, so be it. If God inspires me to add vocals, so be it.
In conclusion, there are many saxophone players aside from me, who are doing great things. You see them on billboards. Saxophonists now headline major events and concerts .To a very large extent, we are getting recognised.
Why do you think young artistes, including those who started their music career from the church, prefer doing secular music to gospel?
A lot of it has to do with reward— the money they get from doing secular music. I think that is a major factor. Gospel music is not just about money; even though one needs money to practise it. It has a business side and a ‘calling’ part. There is a difference between a gospel artiste and a gospel minister. The primary assignment of a gospel minister is to minister the gospel.
But obviously, there is a business side of it where they deal with things such as how they manage their bookings, their requirements to be invited to different places, etc. For someone who started out in the church, if they are truly called to be gospel artistes, they will stay true to it. They would just have to work on how that can translate into finance for them. They will work on how they can manage and position their music, so that as they are ministering, they are also paying their bills. If one is truly a gospel artiste, one will stay true to it.