Meet Testimony Jaga, the unconventional Nigerian gospel music popstar [Future Sounds Interview]

Testimony Jaga, a young and vibrant man, is determined to serve the gospel to the world in the best and most relatable way possible.

Testimony Jaga

Saliu Aliyu Olaiwola is a gospel singer better known as Testimony Jaga. His globe-trot into gospel music began in 2012, following a brief foray into secular music. He is the founder of the Street Gospel Movement, a ministry that uses music and social welfare service to spread the gospel to people in Lagos's streets.

Being a born Muslim who found his way not only into Christianity but also to the pinnacle of spreading the gospel through music with relatable melodies and life-changing lyrics distinguishes him from his peers.

Testimony Jaga, the August cover of Pulse Nigeria's Future Sounds playlist, discussed his journey thus far and his plans to make a strong statement with his soon-to-be-released debut album.

Testimony Jaga, whose father is a well-known Muslim Alhaji and mother who is an Alhaja, converted to Christianity in 2012.

"I started my career as a circular artist then in 2011. I was creating Afrobeats and Fuji when I was making worldly music. It's similar to the style of music I am doing now," he said.

Narrating how his name 'Testimony' and 'Jaga' came about, he said the circumstances surrounding his birth, the day of his naming ceremony and journey to adulthood is in summary a 'testimony'.

In his words, "There were complications on my naming ceremony when I was 8 days old. According to my Grandma, I was not breathing nor lively. My body was cold and I couldn't get me to move. They felt I was dead, they tried everything possible to get me up but I was not responding and they gave up on me 8 hours later. They decided to bury me and then I sneezed."

"I started making gospel music in 2012. I was born a muslim before repenting to follow Christ. The style of music remains the same, what changed is the message. My life has been testimony from my birth. I spent eleven months instead of 9.

"Even while growing up, I went through hell also," he added.

Uncovering how 'Jaga' came about, he said, "I was a comedian at some point in life and I was known as MC Jaga Jaga. So one day I was praying and God told me my name is testimony."

He said he had to turn 'Jaga' to an acronym which means "Jesus Associate God Ambassador"

The singer, who had an unusual encounter with God, was exposed to Christianity at a young age, having attended a Christian school during his high school years. Years later, while serving time in prison for a crime he did not commit, he surrendered his life to Christ. He described his time in jail after being wrongfully arrested for car theft and fraud. He mentioned getting into boxing after being cleared of the charges before deciding to take the gospel seriously.

"At some point, I was singing in choir in church and then go ahead to perform in the club at night. My songs were doing well at that time. I was getting airplays and all other support but then I had some alone time, processed my life and decided gospel music is my calling," he continued.

According to Testimony Jaga, he was making more progress with his gospel music than circular music at some point during the switch.

"One of the things gospel musicians lack is platforms," he said. Unlike in afrobeats or other genres of music in Nigeria where artists have rate cards for services, gigs performances and other engagements, there is nothing like that in gospel. Testimony Jaga narrates how this affects the industry as people who put price tags to their services and talents will be termed as sinners. Also, not getting support from fellow musicians is another thing to consider. "Some artists will not invite you to perform in their concerts or events simply because you are not a member of their church."

He also went on to talk about his dreams as a gospel artist which is to give more platform to new talents. In his words, "I have what I call Music Kitchen and Street Sounds. The music kitchen is discovering and shaping talents. We try to develop them to create better in our studio. Then move them to Street Sounds where I support them, shoot videos, offer them other services to support and empower them for free".

He discussed why it's taking him so much time to drop a debut album. According to him, he plans on going on a world tour on dropping his album. "The album is already ready. I'm just waiting for the right deal and time to do that."

Talking about the collaborations on the album, he had a few names to mention. "So far, I have a song with D Banj, King Sunny Ade, Eben, Sinach, Tim Godfrey, Ada Ehi, Moses Bliss, Frank Edwards, Sammie Okposo and a few more names on the album already."

On a collaboration that has not yet happened, he said, "I love Travis Greene, he has the same energy like I do. I am also looking to work with Mercy Chinwo."

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