Sinach: The makings of an African superstar [Pulse Interview]
Sinach tells Pulse about Christ Embassy, Chris Oyakhilome, Way Maker, her upcoming album, watching Flatmates and more.
In November 1989, Osinachi Kalu Okoro Egbu was a 200-level Accounting student at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Born into a Christian family as the second of seven children, she had been a chorister before University, but she hadnâ€™t attended church for a while. She hadnâ€™t suddenly become a bad kid, but she wasnâ€™t as close to God. On a beautiful Sunday morning, some of her friends compelled her to attend church with them and she reluctantly obliged.
â€œWhen I got to the church, it was filled with young people and the music was so good, not the usual boring church songs and I was so drawn to that,â€ she says. â€œWhen the pastor made an altar call, I found myself in the front raising my hands [laughs]. I had never seen a church like that and the music was fantastic!â€
On that day, she gave her life to Christ and her path changed forever.
She says, â€œI felt like I was walking on airâ€¦ Becoming a christian was an out-of-body experience which changed my perspective on life and my life completelyâ€¦ I had been a chorister, but I never had an encounter with the Lord. Religion is the act, but there is the experience and the relationship.â€
That church was a branch of Christ Embassy in Port Harcourt.
How Sinach found music
After Sinach joined Christ Embassy, her faith got reignited and she rejoined the choir. Her intent and dedication to sing for God was reignited. In 1993, Sinach started listening to Pastor Chris Oyakhilome and in 1994, she met him for the first time after she caught his attention by delivering a spectacular performance in church.
â€œGodâ€™s passion became my passion and I couldnâ€™t see myself doing anything else but be for God. Have you ever seen a born again Christian? Their entire system changes and that happened to me,â€ she says while smiling. â€œI didnâ€™t even have to decide to sing, I found myself singing.â€
Christâ€™s Embassy is music-driven and its choir has a global reputation for excellence. If Sinach could already sing, the choir and its structure took her talent to another level with an intense development regimen that aimed to develop her voice, her poise, her personality, her stagecraft, her public outlook and her preferred creative direction.
Basically, that was artist development - a concept that the overall Nigerian music industry shirks, barring MAVIN Records. When you hear Sinach discuss the artist development regimen that has seen over 12 Gospel music stars in Nigeria over the past 15 years alone, one might argue that Christâ€™s Embassy has the best artist development regimen in Nigerian music.
The commendable part; the regimen is not even that intentional and itâ€™s not exactly geared towards producing superstar artists. Itâ€™s geared towards astute choral performances in church.
â€œThe idea is to ascertain that you are filled with the spirit first and everything that comes with that - including humility. Then you have to go through the gears and motions because itâ€™s always a choir filled with talent,â€ she enthused. â€œItâ€™s not about competition either, itâ€™s just the idea of making great music for God. If one or two people then get their shine, then so be it. That still doesnâ€™t mean they get preferential treatment in the choir.â€
By 1995, Osinachi who graduated University earlier than most people had an opportunity to travel out of the country without having an idea or a plan of what she planned to do in the US.
â€œToday, there are a lot of young people who think like I did in â€˜95. They want to travel out of the country without a core plan,â€ she stresses. â€œI donâ€™t blame these young people though, the country isnâ€™t good, but Iâ€™m not sure everybody needs to leave before they can make something out of life. The chances might just be better over there, but money still doesnâ€™t grow on trees.â€
â€œGod arrested me through my Pastor [Chris Oyakhilome], who was like â€˜You have a ministry here,â€™ [laughs],â€ she jokes. â€œI didnâ€™t even realize, but he told me that when I sang, it was like â€˜BOOM!â€™â€
â€œI loved singing and still love singing. My pastor also told me that I was special and it felt really good. For some reason, I felt like God was speaking to me,â€ she continues. â€œIt wasnâ€™t like money would grow on trees, fall down and I would pack my share and send home [laughs]. So, I was redirected from travelling out and Iâ€™m glad that I was - I feel fulfilled, but hungry.â€
In 2020, Sinach celebrated her 20th year in the ministry. She says, â€œWhen I say â€˜30,â€™ people shudder with disbelief because they didnâ€™t see all those years. Thatâ€™s 30 years of singing and writing and performing for God.â€
Taking music seriously
In 2000, Sinach knew she wanted to take music seriously.
â€œThey told us that the world would end [laughs], but my computer worked after that,â€ she jokes. â€œIt was a great reset, people were everywhere at that time going through the motion, but I realized that I wanted to be serious about music - maybe not make music professionally. I realized that my music had a great impact on people and God is interested in music.â€
â€œIf you can touch people with music, God is interested in you. People would come onto me to tell me about the impact my music and writing had on them and I used to be surprised by that,â€ she says. â€œIt made me feel like I could do more and God began to show me visions of what I could be.â€
â€œGospel music is arguably the most widely consumed genre in the world. Around the world, there is a lot of depression and fear. Recently, I had to tell my mom to stop with the WhatsApp messages,â€ Sinach continues. â€œThese things sucks the faith out of people, but Gospel music is faith-building music; itâ€™s the answer for situations like this. You can then mirror yourself as the solution, not the problem.â€
Around that time, Sinach also left her job to hold a managerial position in Church. She also moved from Port Harcourt to Lagos.
Sinach starts making albums
A lot of people seem to think that Sinachâ€™s debut album was the 2008 release, Chapter One. However, thatâ€™s totally wrong. In 2001, Sinach released her debut album, Itâ€™s A Miracle. According to her, the album sold 10,000 copies in one day.
â€œAt the time, a lot of people didnâ€™t really know about the earlier albums that I released because the music was very niche and rooted around my church and other christian fellowships,â€ she reminisces. â€œIn those days, it was also about trial and error; you also make a lot of mistakes as you learn and grow.â€
Then she went on a hiatus as she launched into another part of ministry, which prevented her from releasing more albums. Between 2004 and 2007, Sinach went back and released two more albums. Despite generating good numbers, none was on the level of her 2008 album.
â€œAt the time, I wasnâ€™t making commercial music, I was making church music that could aid meditation and prayers, so that might have affected reception,â€ she says. â€œThe albums were impactful, but it was also a time for learning. The mass market was also not as ready for that type of music as it is now.â€
How does Sinach create music
Gospel music is usually praise, worship or prayer-based. For Sinach, her music is usually Praise or Worship. Some people like creating around specific topics, but Sinach thinks that her faith usually leads the process, so she never forces anything. Usually, the music doesnâ€™t exactly start in the studio.
â€œItâ€™s like cooking; you desire something, you visualize it and you then go to create it. For me, music starts with anything... a word that somebody says to me, feeling of gratitude or anything,â€ she says. â€œDavid was a good writer who wrote from his experiences - good and bad - and relationships with God. I glean a lot from him [laughs]. I get mine from places of prayer or the word.â€
Sinach prefers to write, but on her new album, she performed a song without prior written lyrics.
â€œIf a song was divinely inspired, it would be timeless. Thatâ€™s why people get surprised when they see some of my songs popping off and winning awards 10 years later,â€ the new mother says. â€œThe word of God never dies, but your emotion can fizzle out. Sound can change and people can refix it, but the word of God remains steadfast.â€
I Know Who I AM, Great Are You Lord and Way Maker
In 2012, Sinachâ€™s run with smash hits began. Off her album, Shout It Loud came the smash hit, â€˜I Know Who I Am.â€™ Off the 2013 album, Glory To Glory came the smash hit, â€˜Great Are You Loud.â€™ And then â€˜Way Maker,â€™ which formed the basis of the 2016 album, Way Maker Live. There was also You Are So Good.
â€˜Way Makerâ€™ has since received many international certifications and has been covered by international superstars like Michael W. Smith, Mandisa, Leeland, Christafari, Passion Worship Band, and Bethel Music.
The song also had the most-streamed Nigerian music video on YouTube for many years. It then became a global favourite for Christian communities during uncertain COVID-19 periods. But before â€˜Way Maker,â€™ Sinach had the smash hit â€˜I Know Who I Am,â€™ which had a spectacular and intense four-year run.
â€˜Great Are You Lordâ€™ was also the precursor to â€˜Way Maker,â€™ for the beauty of worship. The former also had a spectacular four-year run of its own. Interestingly, a lot of these songs never go out of style.
â€œI recorded these songs like any other song, but there was something about â€˜Way Makerâ€™ because it was birthed out of a transition and I see transition happening once again. I think thatâ€™s why itâ€™s come up again now,â€ Sinach says. â€œAmericans and Europeans like to think they made it huge and thatâ€™s fine, but Africans and Islanders have loved it from day one.â€
â€œâ€˜Way Makerâ€™ was the moment that made more people know me outside my churchâ€¦ a lot. We toured a lot with it as well,â€ she reminisces. â€œItâ€™s also a privilege to see all these global people creating their versions of the song.â€
A lot of people think the Michael W. Smithâ€™s or Leelandâ€™s covers happened by some covert meetings somewhere, but Sinach laughs at such suggestions.
â€œWe donâ€™t have to meet or know each other, the world has moved beyond that. There are rights holders, labels, aggregators and all these people involved,â€ Sinach jokes and laughs. â€œWe donâ€™t have to see each other or meet before songs can be recreated. What had to happen was that the right people were involved and that the contracts were signed.â€
â€œIt was special to see all these international acts pick the song up, but importantly it was going to make me money, nobody says no to good money. It also made my song chart in the US,â€ she excitedly says. â€œI know we Nigerians can be very protective of each other, so I get why some os us attacked Michael Smith and Leeland even though they didnâ€™t steal anything [laughs].â€
Success and Suriname
On this day, Sinach hosted Pulse Nigeria at her huge creative hub thatâ€™s situated somewhere on the island. She is an employer of many people and a superstar with the treatment to match. But on most days, she doesnâ€™t feel like it. She just wants to chill, hang with her family, do cardio, garden and cook. But sometimes, she gets reminded of the power of her music.
â€œDuring our 2018 tour, something really blew me away. We had a show in Suriname and we were meant to go through South Africa, but we were touring so fast and couldnâ€™t put in our passports,â€ she reminisces. â€œSomehow, we couldnâ€™t be there due to visa issues and we had to postpone.â€
â€œThe next week was a holiday, so we rescheduled the tour after missing yet another flight. We eventually got there at 7 pm, for a programme that started at 4 pm [laughs],â€ she continues. â€œFrom the airport to that place, the road was blocked so we had to be airlifted by a helicopter. There were 20,000 people waiting for usâ€¦ excited. That is the most memorable thing Iâ€™ve ever seen.â€
She then says, â€œI donâ€™t think it was about me, it was about my musicâ€¦â€
Sinach has two books coming out and itâ€™s titled, Way Maker. It took Sinach a couple of months to put the book together by herself.
â€œMy passion has always been writing, you know. When I was growing up, my mum had a library and she loved books. She would make us read books, so I fell in love with writing as a child. I would even write my own fictional materials,â€ she reminisces. â€œMy dad also had a large library of songs, so I fell in love with music as I grew older.â€
Her new single titled, â€˜Greatest Godâ€™ is scheduled for release on January 29, 2020. Itâ€™s the lead single off her upcoming 13-track 13th studio album, Greatest God, which is said to drop in March. For the first time, a Sinach album will have a lot of features.
Acts like Travis Greene, Miranda Curtis, Darlene Check, Michael Stampley, Leeland, Nathanial Bassey and Panam Percy Paul will be on the album.
At the end of the dayâ€¦
Sinach hates the social media culture of pitching an artist against another. She says, â€œIâ€™m sorry for artists that latch onto that. The few times that I operate my social pages, I block one or two people.â€
She is only focused on doing more and spreading the peace of God. She feels like success is an opportunity to do more because you have a platform, more attention and more resources. Her primary goal is to make more impact for Jesus Christ.
â€œI am uninterested in hit records that give me short-term relevance even though that can be sweet, I want impactful records that can stand the test of time,â€ she says. â€œI go to certain events and people request some unpopular, old records - thatâ€™s what I like.â€
When Sinach isnâ€™t making music or hanging with her large family, she watches Flatmates with her husband.