Jeff Ukiri: Afro Hip-Hop Gospel
Jeff Ukiri is an Afro hip-hop musician originally from Nigeria. He relocated to Manchester in 2005 following his dream to move to a place that would afford him the exposure and opportunities to develop his music. Jeff does not consider himself a gospel musician in the general sense of the term, but rather a musician who seeks to 'preach' the gospel even within the secular space. As narrated below under Identity, Jeff believes the good news is not just a Christian ideology, but a general phenomenon which could include political, moral, or religious messages.
"I came to Manchester in 2014, when I thought I needed a change of environment to a place where I can develop my talent better. I came here because I had people who were willing to accommodate me. At the moment I’m working on a song I’m hoping to be able to release very soon. I’m also going to Germany to shoot a video very soon. The lockdown has been delaying a lot of things though. You don’t want to release a song and there’s no event to be invited to perform. I attend King’s Church in Manchester, though I’m not really committed there yet. I currently work with an NGO which is a Charity organisation - BHA for Equality - here in Manchester working to challenge health equality within Greater Manchester."
His musical journey started as a child in the children's church, the choir of which he later on led as a young man. He later formed a band - G Light which became popular around Delta State in Nigeria. He then moved to Rivers State Nigeria to join the De Nu Dimension band led by Asu Ekiye. De Nu Dimension became popular in Nigeria with their album WO EKILEMO which has won a gospel music award in Nigeria.
"I have the interest of wanting to sing from an early age and my parents were very much aware of this. My parents incorporated me into the church and I was leading the children's church choir at some point. From there I went to the adult church choir and became one of the dominant lead singers at a time. I later went to form a band called G Light. (Gospel Light). We then went on to join Christ Embassy church in Nigeria. That was at the early stages of the church. It was called Believers Love World. We were in Sapele, Delta State of Nigeria. We were quite dominant within that space at the time, going to University campuses and churches. We were very well known around the Delta region then. After some time, due to individual cravings, economic, and social issues, we all went into the diaspora. Some of us are in Germany, America, Africa.
I relocated from Delta State to Port Harcourt in Rivers State and joined a band called De Nu Dimension which was led by Asu Ekiye which produced the popular album WO EKILEMO."
Asu Ekiye plays African gospel using traditional musical instruments and dressed in proper native attire:
Jeff went on to form his own band - U.JEFF - following the same style as Asu Ekiye. Jeff's album Zion Lady was most representative of his philosophy of 'secularised gospel'.
"I later went on my own thing and did a song – Zion Lady, which was nominated for an award at that time. It was a gospel fused with secularism. It's about a Christian woman that a Christian man wants to get married to because of her Christian virtues:
I did the song under the name U Jeff. My music is designed to appeal to everybody and not just targeted towards Christians. Those who can identify with the story of my music. That makes my music appealing to them. Gospel music has been very narrow in its delivery. It's very limiting to ascribe gospel music to church only. It limits the gospel itself which means good news. The pastor preaches about love, sex, etc I wonder why gospel music doing the same is not considered to be gospel. Why is gospel music considered to be for worship only? This limits the talent of the musician. I considered myself as a Christian who is singing music and not a gospel musician as such. I sing songs that are reflective of Christianity and other aspects of life. We’ve left the secular space that should be occupied by Christians for others who sing secular music and they occupy that space with a lot of vulgarisms. Musicians should sing about injustice, love, etc, and not just be limited to the gospel. If you want to change society, it's not by preaching the gospel, it's your lifestyle that matters."
Jeff is currently working on his music which he hopes to release in the nearest future. He has so much hope in the city of Manchester and hopes to see the stakeholders of the city harness the multicultural talents available in and around Manchester especially with the presence of the Media City, offering endless opportunities.
"In every country, there’s usually a place where entertainment thrives and is propelled. In UK it is London. In Nigeria, it is Lagos. In America too, maybe California or New York. I think it is a collective responsibility for stakeholders within Manchester to see how they can harness the various music talent that abounds within the city especially from diverse communities. Manchester is growing in terms of diversity. Recently the Media City has become a big asset for Manchester to be used to network other artists even beyond Manchester."