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Can a person identify with their heritage, be passionate about their culture and still be a Christian? Of course they can; surprisingly, they are not mutually exclusive and British Gospel singer, songwriter and broadcaster Muyiwa Olarewaju wants to shout this from the roof tops. Weeks away from his dynamic and celebratory live show Eko Ile on 28th October, the Director of Premier Gospel shares his reasons behind his album and why his journey, heritage and culture means so much to him- and why ours should mean something to us.
Over the past few years the meaning of identity has been a massive point of discussion in the news. From gender and identity, to heritage and culture, we’ve had front row seats to some very public declarations by those in the public eye. Namely, former Cosby Show actress Raven Symone stating that she wasn’t African American and Clueless star Stacey Dash in her numerous racially controversial outbursts towards her fellow African American acquaintances. Stories like these have challenged people’s perception of identity and what it means to us individually.
“I think for a lot of people there is a disconnect, but the two are supposed to coexist. But unfortunately, we don’t believe that God knew what he was doing when he created black, white and brown.”
Some Christians can feel that there is a constant conflict between their faith and their culture; where one is chosen over the other. “Christians get very nervous about race and identity, I often hear people say, ‘let’s all be one’, my question is, ‘which one should we be?’”, asks Muyiwa. “I think for a lot of people there is a disconnect, but the two are supposed to coexist. But unfortunately, we don’t believe that God knew what he was doing when he created black, white and brown.”
Muyiwa is a proud Nigerian Christian and he will tell you this himself. However, he didn’t always feel this way. “I wasn’t always proud to be what God made me to be, there was a period where I would rather have been anything other than Black African and Christian!”, he says. Growing up as the first son to 4 siblings in his hometown Nigeria, Muyiwa was bullied at school as a young boy. “I remember hearing some kids talking to each other and questioning why my father didn’t marry someone lighter because it would have made things better for me- as though being dark was a problem. This was my first introduction to a world where colour mattered.”
"However, whether we want to admit it or not, colour does matter in the world we live in now and this is constantly conveyed in the news regarding the brutal treatment and portrayal of black Americans."
Revelations 7 verse 9 states that there will be no racial or cultural division in Heaven, “…After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands”. However, whether we want to admit it or not, colour does matter in the world we live in now and this is constantly conveyed in the news regarding the brutal treatment and portrayal of black Americans.
So, why is having pride in identity important, especially as a Christian? “Identity is very important because it’s the frame work through which you engage the world around you. That’s what helps you to figure out where you fit in the story. The prodigal son in the Bible had to realigned himself with his identity, knowing that it dictated his life’s direction.”
Moving to the UK at age 9 and tragically losing his dad at the age of 25 led Muyiwa to re-discover his purpose, homeland and his love and perception of it; some of the pertinent components in Muyiwa’s rich and meaningful journey, which (for the first time) he is sharing with the world in Eko Ile. “The songs on the album captures different chapters in my journey. The song, ‘I love my country’ (on the Eko Ile album) was the result of living through the moment when my father was assassinated. I had seen many headlines on the BBC and in national papers and even from Nigerians that said that Nigeria was in a terrible state and that no one in their right mind would go there. My father had been killed, so it made sense. However when I got on the plane and over 70% of the people in the class of the plane I was sitting in were Europeans, I began to ask myself ‘If this place was that bad, why are they going?!’”
"...despite our brokenness, God made no mistakes. Your colour or economic standing doesn’t define you."
Filled with nostalgia, affirmations and statements that debunk stereotypes and racial profiling, Muyiwa creatively inspires and educates listeners through his empowering lyrics: “We are more than corruption, we are more than brokenness, we are kings, princes and queens. Do you believe me?” he jovially sings in his song ‘Woza’, which is a Zulu word meaning ‘come and see’.
A visual show to his eclectic and colourful album, Muyiwa & Riversongz will be putting heart, faith and heritage on the stage. You will be uplifted and inspired to celebrate the notion that God made you who you are on purpose. “My hope is this album will help people like me to wake up to the fact that despite our brokenness, God made no mistakes. Your colour or economic standing doesn’t define you. There are many of us that live with what American sociologist W.E.B Du Bois calls double consciousness.
You can get beaten down by it all, but we need to wake up to ourselves and tell our story or else it will be told for us. At school I was called the ‘******* African’ and the children would leave bananas on my desk. I went from being broken and wanting to be something else so I could fit in, to realising what Romans 5:3-5 says in that we should rejoice when we run into problems and trials, because we know that they help us to develop endurance, and endurance develops strength of character and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation…”, encourages Muyiwa.
Describing his musically eclectic live show Eko Ile as “A weapon of mass destruction”, Muyiwa wants all who attends to have a blast, be entertained and inspired (in that order). So ‘Woza’ (come and see) that Christianity and identity can go perfectly hand in hand and be reminded that your identity, heritage or journey wasn’t a mistake, but rather an opportunity for God to show off the many facets of his wonderful creation.
Eko Ile The Live Show will be held at Transformation House, 58 St John's Hillon Friday October 28th.
For tickets go here: http://www.premiergospel.org.uk/News-Reviews/News/Muyiwa-announces-Eko-Ile-concert
or visit http://www.muyiwa.co.uk/
Written by Tamala Ceasar, Digital Producer at Premier