From an early age, British-based Nigerian gospel singer Yemi Alafifuni showed an interest in music. From singing in choirs to becoming an usher, Alafifuni sought for ways to showcase his music to the world. Now in London, the singer recently released his debut album titled ‘Father’ which was inspired by his relationship with his biological father and the Supreme God. He shares his experience as a contemporary gospel artist in the United Kingdom:
How easy was it for you to penetrate into the British music industry?
Having started in the choir in Nigeria, it was natural for me to go back to church when I got to the U.K.
As things progressed, I began to understand my gifting; that the fact that I do this almost effortlessly must mean something.
So, in 2015, I did my first EP called ‘Uncensored Worship’. I didn’t understand then what I now understand: that you don’t just sing, release it and expect everybody to listen. You have to promote it. That was where the EP ended.
So, it wasn’t profitable?
People around me knew I did something. Some of them appreciated it. From then on, a few people started noticing and then I had a producer, did some little work between then and the debut of this ‘Father’.
But again, because of the quality of music wasn’t to my taste, I didn’t want to promote it. I didn’t want people to start saying that I did ‘Uncensored Worship’, how come this one is not in the same par.
The British gospel scene is tough. It requires you to be good. But beyond that, I think most of us in the gospel scene are just eager to showcase our talents beyond the church setting.
And I also didn’t want to be known as just a gospel singer. I want a situation where I can tell my own story, bring my perspective of how I have come this far. I’m still pushing through barriers of the British gospel scene.
Can you name one or two barriers?
Compared to the Americans, there is no appreciation of gospel music in England.
Even among the black communities?
Well, the black communities are accepting it a little bit. You have to be more Afrocentric to grab their attention.
But if you are contemporary like most of the songs I have done in ‘Father’, they are all contemporary, there is no main acceptance of those kind of music.
The thinking over there for an African gospel singer is that either you are a Nigerian doing those kinds of Nigerian Afrobeat or you are not singing gospel because I don’t see any other genre of gospel other than that in black community.
Even when you infuse indigenous languages. So, you are now in the face of education. For example, I have been to the US to minister and obviously down here (Nigeria).
Till date, the amount of invites I get from outside far outweighs the UK ones. Another barrier is platform; everybody is guarding their platform.
And these days, people are moving towards Bethel, the Hillsong; that is, music that highlights the guitar. But Africans are not guitarists. We are trying to imbibe those cultures.
Those are the challenges in the UK. Even the promoters are artists, he is thinking of promoting himself first before you. These are some of the things you face.
The British gospel scene is tough. It requires you to be good. But beyond that, I think most of us in the gospel scene are just eager to showcase our talents beyond the church setting
In what ways have music rewarded you so far?
My reward is in heaven. I had an opportunity to meet with Chevelle Franklin, she is a Jamaican.
I backed her up one time she came to our local church and she asked me why I haven’t released a CD out, that I got something and my response was that my music isn’t for sale.
Oh, she was upset. She was completely livid. She said “hang on, this CD I just released, it’s my story, where God has met me in different times and I put it in a package and you are probably buying it for five pounds.
Can you really buy my experience, can you pay for it? What you heard now has somehow liberated you because music liberates.
All you have experienced from that you can’t pay for it. There is no way you can pay for that. You are giving it to someone for five pounds, so what does that do?”
That was how my perception changed; because all I wanted was to grow inside church, help everyone out and play music.
That changed me so the reward for me is to see people liberated. God asked me to do Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.
I had only just done one and this project almost cost me 30,000 pounds sterling just to finish. But the ultimate reward is seeing people liberated.