Country music may not be the dominant sound on Nigerian radio anymore, but the genre retains a modest followership across the country.
Ogak Jay, one of such followers, has played country music for years, and has encouraged others to listen to the genre. He is currently president of Country Music Club of Port Harcourt (CMCPH), a country music club based in a city in south-south Nigeria.
Ogak Jay has just released his debut album of country and gospel songs. Titled Another Day, the album is a collection of ten 10 songs on such subjects as God, family, and spirituality.
In this interview with Music in Africa, Ogak Jay, a Christian, speaks about growing up a country music fan in Nigeria, his background, and how his semi-gospel album might be of value to the non-Christian.
My birth name is Mgboawajiogak Jonah Oke. I am mostly known as Ogak, so I adopted the stage name Ogak Jay. I was born to Christian parents in Ikuru Town in Rivers State, Nigeria but I grew up in the capital city Port Harcourt. I'm the first child of my parents, Mr & Mrs Jonah Oke.
My biggest influence in country music was my dad. Country and reggae music are his favourite genres. The music of Don Williams, Jim Reeves, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton were his best so at a tender age I got used to their songs as dad would hum or play on his radio in the morning and evening when back from work. Genetically, I think I must have inherited the musical gift from one or both of my parents. My mum’s got a good voice and I was told her late mum was the chief soloist of the women group in her days.
My interest in country music was sustained through a country music programme called Country Classics Show on Radio Rivers 99.1FM, hosted by Mr Tony Vite whom the fans call the “The Sweet Music Man”. His expository and interactive manner of presenting the show made fans including me to tune in every Monday 10pm - 12:00am to that show till date, .
The church, friends, and student Christian fellowship during my university days provided a platform for my training in music. I recall that in the 1990s, my pastor’s wife, Mrs Odum, asked the choir to take me in, that I have a good voice and can sing any part. But I didn't join the choir until I went to the university and joined the campus fellowship, Christ Ambassadors Students Outreach (CASOR) in 2002, and subsequently, the choir of the two major churches I’ve been with - Assemblies of God church and New Covenant Anglican Church in Elelenwo, Port Harcourt.
I learnt to play the guitar through some of my friends who would show me one or two things they know, and I enrolled for a tutorial with the money from my undergraduate savings.
I’m not a full time musician. I only have a strong passion for music such that I couldn’t let my other profession take the whole of my time. I have a Master of Engineering in Power Systems & Machine from the University of Port Harcourt where I obtained my Bachelor of Engineering degree in Electrical/Electronics Engineering.
I have also had professional training and a couple of years work experience as an instrumentation & automation technician. In addition to these, I hold a Postgraduate Diploma in Education, and currently work as a teacher with the state’s Ministry of Education. My dream is to be a lecturer and a part-time musician.
Another Day is both country and gospel; it was quite a daunting task for me to come up with something that will find an audience across religions. Six of the tracks are not purely gospel and anyone who has an element of spirituality in him or her, irrespective of religion, should be able to relate.
The album's title track, 'Another Day', is more of an inspirational song for anyone looking to make the best use of each day he or she sees. 'My Little Angel' is a dedication to the little children in our homes, so every family person should be fine with it.
Other tracks like 'He’s with Me' and 'Temptations' are purely spiritual and can cut across religions. Only four of the ten songs are pure gospel music for Christians.
I have plans for touring, though not on a massive scale. There is a network of country music fans in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Africa and elsewhere in the world. In Africa, outside of Nigeria, the network is even stronger as we have country music radio presenters, artists, and fans. Some presenter-friends were waiting for the official release of the album so they can play the album on their shows.
I will partner with the Country Music Club of Port Harcourt (CMCPH), a club whose mission is to promote country music and build friendships. I’m currently the president of the club, and will be performing my songs with other artists during our regular monthly “Together Again” and “Country Gospel” musical shows which takes place at various venues in Port Harcourt. Plans are also underway to encourage more radio stations to have a show for country music in their programmes.