Christened Samson Uche Mogekwu at birth, but popularly called Samsong, this artiste has come to be associated with contemporary gospel R’n’B music. A former banker, Samsong’s love for the art has made him to abandon his dream for the apex bank in Nigeria. Two decades gone by since he plunged into music, the singer, writer and label owner, talks about early years as a gospel act, marriage, philosophy and other issues in this interview with MERCY MICHAEL.
BIANULE, is one of your songs that is very popular. What inspired that song?
Bianule is just a thanksgiving song. I found out that there is a lot to be thankful for. God has done a lot for me. I’m married now. I’ve got two kids. And through all the struggles and challenges of being a gospel artiste, God gave me the grace to overcome most of them. I’m very happy. So that’s where the inspiration came from.
How long have you been doing gospel music?
Professionally, I started doing gospel music in 1990.
You did say God saw you through some struggles and challenges. Tell us about them?
Interestingly, gospel music is much better now than when I started. I sing contemporary gospel R’n’B. So when I started, the acceptability was a little shaky. ‘Samsong, why don’t you sing something that we can identify with? With this your voice, sing something traditional’, that’s all I get to hear most of the time. And I’d answered by saying ‘I can’t sing traditional music.’ But you know, as I grew in the industry. I realized that no matter where you are. No matter where you are from, it’s important for you to be able to reach out to your people. It’s interesting to know that even Americans sing their own traditional music. Though, their traditional music is not in the language. It’s in the genre. Those church songs you hear are American traditional music. For us, our traditional music is not in our genre. It’s in our language because we have diverse languages. So I thought, let me try Bianule, and it worked. And after then, I’ve done another album that’s titled Church Boy Reloaded Album. This was in 2010. And it’s doing very well.
There is this notion that gospel music isn’t as commercially successful as secular music. Was it easy for you to settle for gospel music then?
I didn’t start singing for commercial reason. I never really wanted to be a musician. I’ve always wanted to be a banker. I studied Accounting in school. When I left school, I worked in Central Bank of Nigeria. I later worked in Golf Bank. I actually wanted to be the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria. That was my dream. That was what I was working towards. But somewhere along the line, I started feeling like a square perk in a round hole. So I resigned from the bank and plunged into gospel entertainment. I love what I’m doing. I love to sing and to see that people are happy that I’m singing to them. That was my drive. But as much as possible, I knew that money would come. I was passionate about the art. I wasn’t so crazy about money. I didn’t have much money, but I just kept singing. I had too many offers to sing secular music, but I believe that music is not just about singing. It’s a lifestyle. If I’m living a Christian life, then I should sing gospel music. If I’m living a secular life, then I should sing secular music. It’s not about just picking up pen and writing lyrics. I should be able to write lyrics that are congruous with the kind of life that I live. There is no way I would have been singing secular music. I’m a Christian. I love God. And I love to sing gospel music. Basically I’m still here because it’s more than music to me. It’s a lifestyle.
I’m sure you didn’t just wake up one day and decided that today I’m leaving the bank. What were those incidents that culminated into you quitting your banking job for music?
Well, I have this brother whom, whenever we are watching R. Kelly; he’d says, “You’re just as good as this guy.” Whenever he says it, though I come up with the excuse that R. Kelly is in America, he has the opportunity, in my quiet time, I always think about it. Again, a pastor walked up to me one day and told me; ‘look, how much are you being paid in the bank? Do you know how much you can make if you take music seriously?’ Those comments helped to build my confidence. But then, I also had people who were like, people are rushing into the bank, you are thinking of leaving. So I had to choose which voice I wanted to listen to. At the end of the day, I followed my heart. And what my heart told me was to go into gospel music. So I left the bank. My friends who were in the bank with me then thought I was stupid, but today they are very proud of me. I guess most time; one has to just follow his heart.
How would you describe gospel music now in Nigeria?
It’s much better than it used to be. It’s more developed because the minds of the people too have developed to a level where they can appreciate lyrics. For me, I believe that gospel music is not all about the beats. It’s more about lyrics. You are trying to pass across a message. If you are able to achieve lyrics then you most likely would achieve gospel music. So, it’s much better than it used to be. When I started it was difficult. There are things people wanted to hear. And as a gospel artiste, you cannot say those things. But today, more people are even tilting towards gospel music. They are embracing decent life. I’m not marketing born-again (laughs). People appreciate good lyrics now than just hearing about drug, sex and money.
Certain people do gospel music but their lifestyles do not necessarily stand them out from those who do secular music. What’s your take on this?
I call it the double standard life. In short, that’s what the bible calls it. I would say its falsehood. It’s falsehood because writing a lyric that you are not living is double standard. If you write lyrics that are of good values, but you live a life of vices, it’s falsehood. You’re living a false life. That’s why I said before that music is a lifestyle to me. I don’t sing secular music, not because I cannot sing it, but because I do not live it. So how do I sing what I’m not living. That’s it for me.
To live a decent life doesn’t come cheap. It takes a lot of discipline. What’s your experience, especially when you were starting off?
Life is a choice for every one of us to make. We have our choices to make in life. There are people who are not Christians but they’ve chosen to life a decent life. It comes from that perspective. There are people who are not born-again. They’ve not accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and saviour but they will not go out there and drink, smoke or frolic with girls. What would you say about that? So for me, it’s a choice that everybody has to make. As a young artiste, I grew up in a Christian home. Though I had ladies come to me, I travelled a lot as an artiste and I had people come to me to introduce all sort to me, but I never gave in because I made a choice to live a good life. It’s not for the fact that I’m born-again, I decided right from time that I wanted to live a good life.
You’ve got great looks. How do you handle advances from the opposite sex?
Yes, ladies come. They are my friends. No, they are my fans. Not even my friends. They like the fame; they like the lifestyle, but don’t even know me. So there is no way I can expose myself to them like that. To a large extent I decided to life a decent life. It’s not difficult. The truth is that for every decision you make, you must put machineries in place to help you through it. When I decided I wanted to be a gospel artiste, I had to cut off from some friends. I made some new friends. I had to start being in church a lot. I had to start studying the Bible to help me build myself spiritually. So it’s not a difficult thing to do. It’s a process. It’s just like making a decision to be a banker or to be a dancer. That’s just it.
You are one the judges on Destiny Child, a gospel talent hunt reality show in the making. What are your thoughts about it?
I think it is a very fantastic initiative. I have craved to see this happen for a long time. And my philosophy about life is this, if you see this thing and you don’t like it, stop complaining, create a parallel. Now, we complain that most of the guys that win the secular reality show come from church and when they win they go secular. If you complain from now till thy kingdom come, it will not change. It’s been like that before now and it will remain like that. So the only thing that we must do is to create a parallel. Something that looks like it, but it’s not it that will accommodate our people, Christians, real Christians so when they come in and they win; they are signed under a record label that’s not going to tell them not to sing gospel music. So it’s a parallel of what we see. Like I always say, Destiny Child has come to write the wrongs.
It’s the first time you’re going to be a judge on a reality show? How do you feel?
I’ve done it before, but not to this magnitude. This is going to be like the biggest because it’s going to be on national TV. The ones I have done before now, have been within churches. Basically, it’s a great feeling.
When did you get married?
I got married in 2008.
How has marriage helped to balance out pressures from the opposite sex?
It was more difficult before I got married. Nigerian girls know how to respect marital union, I mean to some extent. I’m not trying to say I’m totally free from it but yeah, now, when they come around and they notice I’m married they just take a step back which is very good. Now, I handle less pressure.
You look quite glamourous with your hairstyle. Tell us about your style?
Let me start by saying I have a clothing line. That’s called ‘Boogie Down’ by Samsong. The hair thing is a style that I created about six years ago. I believe that everybody has to be known for something, especially in show business. If I’m not having this I would be like everybody else and there won’t be anything to me. So I thought let me do something that most people will find difficult to do. It takes a lot to keep this. Most people do it and after a while they get tired and they take it off. But for me, this is my image. It’s my signature.