In this interview, a popular gospel singer, Kenny Saint Best, shared her experiences in the music industry, as well as her journey into politics.
We are in a new year. What should we expect from your stable?
People should expect new music, most especially worship song. What I call ‘churchy’ music. My music has always been gospel but I veered into the mainstream some years back when I did what I term ‘street gospel,’ what they call afrobeats now. At the time, they were not calling it afrobeats.
At a point you were not visible in the Nigerian music industry, what happened?
I slowed down my career to attend to my family needs – my children – but I am back now. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, I started slowly but I am fully back as a gospel artiste. But now, I would be doing more of church songs – core worship songs. I was given this assignment by God with instructions.
In March, I will release an album and celebrate my 25 years on stage. Although I clocked 25 years on stage in 2021, I did not do a concert because I had not done an album. My plan is to use the concert to announce myself as a worshipper. Also, every week, I do a worship programme on all my social media platforms. By the side, I am working with my party to ensure victory at the poll.
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Also, on the home front, my first child would be graduating from the university in June. So, when people say that they did not hear from me for a while, it is because of that. The fruit of that is what I would be harvesting in June as my daughter would be graduating from the Pan Atlantic University, the undergraduate side of Lagos Business School.
Some people argue that males have an edge over females in the entertainment industry because oftentimes the women have to focus on their families at some point. Was that the case with you?
Partially, I agree with the argument because men do not do menstrual cycle. Men do not carry pregnancy for 9 months and have to breastfeed. They do not have to do school runs. So, partially it is true.
However, what pays some women in the entertainment industry is when they work with their husbands, especially in the gospel sector of the industry; for example, Tope Alabi and her husband. Her husband is the band leader and producer while Tope is just the singer. So, the brand called Tope Alabi is a combination of the singer, her husband and the band. Tope is tasked with getting the songs to sing while her husband handles the logistics. Tope just has to pray to God to inspire her, attend shows while her husband handles the business side of the music. More so, they run the home together. But it is not all women that have it like that.
You started singing gospel music 27 years ago at a time the genre was not popular in Nigeria. Why gospel songs?
I did not choose that path, it chose me. God called me; that was how it happened. I was a worker in the Redeemed Christian Church of God and I was like a prayer warrior. I love praying; in fact, I pray more than I sing. God wanted this work for me and he called me, so even when after 15 years of being a gospel singer I felt I was done with the career, thinking that I had done well and music had done me good, after about 10-year break he called me back. God told me that he was the one that called me so he would be the one to tell me when to stop. He started pouring music into me. Not everybody has the grace or enjoy such opportunities a second and third time like me. It is because the calling was original and authentic. It was a sure calling.
The Holy Spirit groomed me in music because I did not have a mentor or teacher. I was not part of any band; I was in the church choir for a very short period of time. So, music came to me as a reward for praying. Music always comes to me after I have prayed thoroughly. Most of the things I have prayed about come back to me as songs. That is how my journey has been. My hit songs were prayer request; for instance, the song, Turn Around, was a prayer point; I was asking God to turn my life around.
Also, God gave me the gift to be able to do futuristic songs because when we started, it was not called afrobeats. It did not have a name then, but look at the genre now. It is global. Then, I was seeing into the future of Nigerian music. Don’t forget that at the time, I was with Remedies, Tony Tetuila and others. There was a bit of hip hop that rubbed off on me. I was managing them when they were with Kennis Music. I started off with praise, then I did the street gospel, and now, I am back with the ‘pulpit worship,’ which I call the authentic throne room worship.
Some people believe that politics is a dirty game, yet in 2014 you ventured into it despite being a minister of God. Why?
Two things influenced me to go into politics at the time. The first was seeing the gap between the entertainment industry and the government at that time. We knew that the industry was growing and it would be global. We knew that we were reaching out to the rest of the world and they were accepting us. I knew that the music industry would become as huge as it is now. I knew all these because I was the vice president of Kennis Music.
I and a few others were major players in the music industry. And we knew that we could not handle what was coming because it was going to be huge.
Personally, I felt there was a way I could get into politics to bridge that gap. I felt that aside government giving us infrastructure, entertainment could have its ministry, and it would be funded.
I was going to go to the House of Assembly to raise such issues; to raise a bill where the government could start such initiative. I realised that to influence the Nigerian government you have to be a part of the government from the inside. It is hardly done on the outside. What people do on the outside is to criticise the government.
The second reason I went into politics was because at that time, I was slowing down on being an artiste. As an artiste there are some things you can do till a particular age, especially if you are a woman. You would get to a point where you cannot go on stage and display sexiness. You just have to slow down. I knew I was slowing down and I needed to pick up another vocation and it was politics.
I had to first come out to state that I was running for a particular position and use that to learn how to become a proper politician, learn political administration and become a force to reckon with in the political sector and the government.
When your party is in government, most of the people who would be lawmakers are your colleagues because we all worked together during campaign. That is how you become influential. These were my reasons.
I am a strong player in politics right now but I have not gotten an appointment. I was not there for the appointment sake but the influence that will benefit my industry. Between that time and now, there is a fantastic flow, influx from the government fund into the entertainment industry, especially the movie industry, which has benefitted more. Look at ‘Detty December’ and how the government has made it appealing to the youth who come to enjoy Nigeria, especially Lagos, in December.
The number of people coming into Lagos to have fun in December is a lot, and it has become a tourist attraction. A lot of people flew into Lagos in December and even other states like Cross Rivers. It was up to some people to talk to the government about entertainment initiatives; and they listened.
When you ran for a seat at the Lagos State House of Assembly you contested against some strong contenders, including the son of the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who you lost to. Did you have an inkling that you would lose; and when you heard the news, how did you feel?
It is politics. And at that time I was a fresh person going into politics, so I did not expect them to roll out the red carpet for me. I really tried. I went there to make my opinion known.
I met Jimi there and he already had his grassroots network and team. I lost to him, but since then I have been working as a political administrator.
Would you run for an elective post again?
By the time I ventured into politics, I was retiring from music. However, I discovered that music was preparing me for politics. It became like a familiar terrain getting to know the right people I needed to know. I became a grassroots person. I also became a party person at the state and national level. It became natural.
When they were about to give me an appointment, God called me and said I would not get it, instead, I was going to sing. He said I should not think that because someone had used eight years, it would be my turn. He called me again. All these he told me during COVID. He said that even if they gave me an appointment I would have to turn it down.
It was difficult and I cried for six months. I went everywhere asking people to talk to God on my behalf, but all they said was that if God called me back I should answer the call. That’s what birthed the worship song. I am no longer singing for commercial success, instead, it is to glorify God. It is God that would introduce the songs to the heart of men. It is God that would announce his daughter to the world.