Uche Agu talks about the rise of Africa, teaming up with Americans & genuine friendships | @double2uche
There’s a fascinating trend slowly weaving its way into worship music and contemporary Christian culture. Africa has become a hotspot for powerful praise leaders, exporting incredibly popular worship warriors and songs, even as it welcomes many of today’s titans to its shores. African artists like Sinach, Sonnie Badu ad Joyous Celebration are charting around the globe. American artists like Israel Houghton, Bishop TD Jakes and Vashawn Mitchell have all recorded albums on the motherland. It’s the best of both worlds in a creative, Christ-centered collaborative environment. Adding to that climate of artistic synergy is Nigerian-born, American-based Uche Agu.
Ever since signing to Dream Gospel and releasing his powerful praise album, The Worship Experience: Live In Houston, Agu has shined a bright light on the continent of Africa, and made universal music more alluring to Americans. Hit songs like Make God Big and My God Is Good have propelled his profile before the American public and opened the door for more World music in the worship experience. BlackGospel.com talked with Uche Agu about the rise of Africa, the reasons behind this growing trend to team up between Americans and Africans and his genuine friendship with Tye Tribbett.
Christopher Heron: So what was the inspiration as a Nigerian, to record your album in Houston, Texas?
Uche Agu: The reason I decided to come to Houston to record an album is because I saw the need to bridge both cultures musically. America has the excellence, the standards, the blueprint and it’s more or less like the big brother for us, as Nigerians. We look up to you, imitate your styles; and want to be like you guys. You inspire us from far away. And in another way, Africa has something that is very good, which is the freshness of our music, the different sounds and dynamics, the dancing rhythms, all that excitement and celebration.
I always thought that if we were able to merge your excellence, your standards, your technicalities and
capabilities with the newness of what’s happening in Africa, the new sound, the new dimension of worship music, then that could be explosive. So we started looking for a producer, and I remember I went on Twitter and contacted Pastor William McDowell and asked for his producer Clay Bogan. So we got in touch with Clay Bogan, and he helped us put together a team of A-list producers, musicians, engineers and that’s how we were able to have that awesome project, The Glory Experience.
Christopher Heron: Are you surprised with the reception that your album has received in North America?
Uche Agu: I wasn’t really surprised because I’ve seen a foretaste from what my brother Israel Houghton on his song, Alpha And Omega as well as Tye Tribbett had with the song, You Are The Most High and we’ve seen the reaction. Back in Africa, we were already singing those songs, but when Israel took his song and put excellence to it, we were like, ‘’Wow!’’ he took it to the next level. The same thing with my Brother Tye. He’s very dynamic and a music genius. He took it to the next level. I knew that America is craving for more of that. We knew they would embrace it, they would love it, and would identify with it, which is what we really appreciate, we appreciate them for identifying with the album.
Christopher Heron: I’ve spoken to several artists who’ve been to Africa to minister or record and they say that the experience has been life-transforming. From Israel Houghton to Micah Stampley to Vashawn Mitchell. Is there something inherently different about the worship experience?
Uche Agu: I think worship is the same but the background of the worshipper is what really determines the difference. America is a developed country, there’s a lot of provision here, things are in order, there are a lot of things that we don’t have to pray for here that people pray for in Africa. In Africa, there are situations and conditions that don’t exist here. I think the level of genuineness of worship in Africa is very high, not to say that it’s not the same here, here you can find genuine worshippers too. Africans are very passionate about God. I think worship is part of our culture because religion is part of our culture, God is part of our culture, music is part of our culture, so we grow up worshiping, going to church and it becomes part of us.
I think that creates a very deep foundation. We’ve depended on God for even drinking water or for school fees, we’ve depended on God for almost everything. So you would thank God for water, whereas you come here and see how the government has provided so much for people, there will always be a difference. In Africa, I see wealthy people who have every supply met but still worship God. Maybe here, people worship God in thanksgiving, whereas in Africa, we worship God in request. I don’t know. We need to find out why because there is a difference.
Christopher Heron: It would surprise many people in America to know that Christianity is very popular in Nigeria, I’m talking about the many mega churches that have exploded in Nigeria. How do you account for the growth of these enormous independent ministries?
Uche Agu: Nigeria has a lot of big churches. The congregation is enormous. Winner’s Chapel has 50,000 people attend services. Redeemed Christian Church of God hosts conventions that run into hundreds of thousands. House On The Rock hosted a concert that had 400,000 people in one concert. We’re very used to seeing 20,000 memberships, 10,000 memberships, and I can attribute that to Nigerians being very religious. If you’re not a church-goer or don’t belong to a church, you will be looked upon as a devil. It’s become stylish to belong to a church, you cannot stay home on a Sunday morning in Nigeria because you’ve got to be in a church. We all grew up knowing God, praying and going to church. It’s become part of our lifestyle and culture. Our worship has become need-based. We have to be careful that we’re not going to church because of what we want from God but rather out of a relationship that we want with Him. In Nigeria, a bank manager is an usher, the highest ranked directors are choir members, we take church very seriously. I think all this is rooted in the way we’ve been brought up. Church is the number one priority in our lives.
Christopher Heron: How did you become such good friends with Tye Tribbett?
Uche Agu: I’ve looked, watched and followed Tye from afar while in South Africa and Nigeria. I never in my wildest dream ever thought of recording or performing with him. But in Chicago, there was a concert with myself, Ron Kenoly, Tye Tribbett and other artists so after the concert, I went to his dressing room, and we just connected. I shared some African songs with him. That’s when I found out that he’s a lover of Africa and the worship experience over there. That’s how we connected and we began to build a relationship. And you see where God has gotten us today. It’s been a relationship that’s built, nurtured and cultivated over years. it’s just an awesome privilege for me and a blessing to even know Tye Tribbett.
Christopher Heron: For those who’ve yet to listen to The Glory Experience, what are you hoping to introduce to them?
Uche Agu: The songs that I write are based upon my relationship with God, and upon my personal worship experience. I want people to experience the presence of God. The songs are covered in His presence. The songs that we release are like a gift wrapped and when they’re opened and received, they’re able to experience the aroma of the presence of God. I want them to experience the same anointing that we experienced in the nights in the studio, that sweet presence of God because the songs talk about God, they’re focused on Him alone, that’s what we want; we want them to have an incredible experience with God when they listen to the music.
For more information on Uche Agu and his breakthrough album, The Glory Experience, visit his official portal @ www.ucheagumusic.com.