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From Finland, Singing Sweet Songs
By Tunde Kolawole | USA
Born and raised in Finland, Rebecca Tampio, a.k.a. Rebecca Ore Ofe to thousands of her fans on Facebook, speaks Finnish (her native tongue) and English. But when it comes to praising and worshiping God Almighty, Tampio belts out soul-stirring Nigerian gospel songs in Yoruba, Igbo and occasionally in Hausa languages.
Her mastery of the language of expression, cadence and accent push her ministration beyond the realm of the average. Her repertoire is equally impressive. Apart from their eclectic nature, many of which are quite challenging in substance and depth (even to some native Yoruba speakers), vocal sounds, like gb and p, which are usually problematic for non-Yoruba speakers, roll off her tongue with ease and grace. Her selections evoke memories of the good old days when musicians actually wrote songs and composed music.
Among Tampio’s prodigious covers in the last few years are classics and evergreens such as “Odun nlo sopin” by CAC Good Women Choir led by Mrs. D. A. Fasoyin, “Sunmo Olorun” by Evangelist Ojo Ade, “Onye ga eme” by Rosemary Chukwu, “Nagode” by Solomon Lange and “Eru Jeje” by Dr. Bola Are featuring Yinka Adebukola. The last-named song featured a particularly difficult traditional-style chant (ekun iyawo) in reverence of God, yet Rebecca nailed it with a sprinkle of extras on top! Such is the abundance of grace within which this graceful young woman from Finland operates. Touched and impressed with her efforts and messages, we sought her out and found her, in Finland, and few weeks later, here in the United States. This is her story, in her own words.
“I was born in Finland and I have spent my whole life here. Growing up in Finland has been great, but to be honest, it has never really felt like home to me. I am quite different from my Finnish friends and family. I feel more at home when I’m abroad spending time with people from different backgrounds and cultures. Last year, I graduated from a practical catering school. I plan on going back to school this spring. I want to study social sciences in a university of applied sciences. I have two big sisters and one big brother. I am the baby of the family. When I was young, I was always singing a lot, hoping that maybe one day I could become an artist. God really heard my prayer and has blessed me with the gift of music and languages.”
You are known as Rebecca Ore Ofe, meaning “grace.” How did you come about the Yoruba part of that name?
That is a confirmation and acknowledgement of my belief and conviction that my whole life and salvation are based on the grace of God. Because most of the songs that I sing are in Yoruba, my pastor and I felt I should have a Yoruba stage name that reflects my encounter and relationship with God. After much thought, we came to the conclusion that grace fits me best because everything that I am, all the blessings that I have and all my answered prayers are only by the grace of God.
How have your family and Finnish friends reacted to your interest in Nigerian gospel music?
First they were a bit shocked because they didn`t really understand what`s going on but when they started to see how I’m growing in the Lord and how God has been working in people`s lives through the songs that I sing, they started to understand and respect my ministration more. Now they are very excited and supportive of me. Thus far, I have done about 40 Yoruba and Igbo songs.
What makes you choose a particular song to learn and perform?
In deciding on which song to learn and perform, the most important thing to me is the message in that particular song. I sing them to inspire and motivate people. To encourage them and keep them going even when it’s tough. And as I’m learning it, the song will lift me up as well. Most of the time, those olden day songs seem to be very close to Nigerians’ hearts. These were songs they listened to, and sang while growing up so it brings a lot of memories and hope into their lives.
Of all the languages in the world, why Nigerian languages, especially Yoruba and Igbo?
I believe it’s because I attend Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries where most of the members are Yoruba and Igbo. In my own branch in Finland, most of our members are Yoruba so I’m influenced by it mainly. I sing in English too but I believe it’s good and nice to learn some other languages as well. And since my audience are mostly Nigerians, those two native languages go first.
There are various music forms in Nigeria — why gospel?
As I gave my life to Christ, I told God I want to be used by Him. He has blessed me with the gift of singing and told me it’s my calling. Gospel music gives a greater meaning and effect into one’s life than all those worldly songs that are inspired by men. Music is a very powerful tool than can either inspire or destroy.
“When you sing to men, you just win their attention but when you sing to God, He will use you to win those men’s souls.”
When you sing in other languages, do you understand the lyrics of the songs?
I understand everything I sing. Otherwise I don’t think my ministration can be powerful or affective if I’m not aware of the actual content of the song.
How long does it normally take you to learn a song? What is the process?
Most times it takes one week for me to learn a song. Some are easier; some are harder depending on the length and the language of the song. First I just listen to it to get the melody, the lyrics and the beat. Then when I`ve learned it, I start to sing along. After that I try to memorize it with my heart by following the lyrics. During the week or the day before we shoot the video, I practice and finalize the song with my pastor who teaches me the songs.
When you sing in Yoruba, Igbo or in any other language different from your native tongue, what do you want the listeners or viewers on social media to take from your performances?
My purpose is mainly to motivate and inspire people. I also want to encourage people to be proud of their roots, especially when it comes to learning their mother tongue. Nigeria is a beautiful country with different cultures and languages. All of them are unique and I believe it’s very important to sustain and keep them alive for the next generations.
You recently visited Nigeria, what was it like?
It was such a wonderful experience for me. I thank God for everything He did on that trip. People were so welcoming and kind towards me. The atmosphere in Nigeria was very positive and energetic. Everybody was smiling and laughing no matter what the situation was. The food was delicious. The culture and nature are very beautiful. The way people praise God in Nigeria is so different from Finland. In Nigeria, I felt like I’m home. I went to minister in different churches in different parts of Lagos during those two weeks. People really took me as their family and I was so happy God was using me to minister into their lives. The whole trip from the beginning till the end was a great blessing. I also had the honor of meeting the general overseer and wife of our church. I believe I will go again this year, maybe in the summer or August, by God’s grace.
What’s your favorite Nigerian food?
“That one hard o! Because Nigerians have lots of nice foods o! If I have to choose, I’ll go with gbegiri. I’ve only tried it once but when I did, I felt like I was in heaven!”
Someone made it for me when I was in Nigeria. I was amazed at the skills of Nigerians in combining various food types to make a meal. It is one thing to make one stew here, and another there, but when Nigerians combine them, ha! That one is another story! I ate it with amala and I really like amala. So the answer to that has to be amala and gbegiri.
Can you make any of the Nigerian dishes?
I know how to make amala but not gbegiri. My friend has yet to teach me that.
Not only do you sing in Nigerian languages, you also speak English with a distinct Nigerian accent. I believe you’ve only been to Nigeria once in 2015, how did you pick up the accent so fast?
I spend a lot of time with my church members and one of them is my roommate so I’m influenced by the accent all the time. We have this saying in Finnish “Seura muuttaa kaltaisekseen.” It means “the company makes you alike.”
Apart from music, what are your other interests?
I love to read the word of God. I also like cycling and some winter sports like ice skating. I have started liking things I hated as a child, for example knitting. I also recently started Irish ball which is very interesting as football and volleyball have been combined in it.
Is there anything in particular that you want to add?
I want to encourage all my fans and people who will read this, to work for God and to find your place and part on this earth. God has given us a beautiful life and grace to live life to the fullest. Let us not get tired or give up easily but let us always push ourselves beyond our limits so that we can grow and achieve all goals in life.
“The enemy is already under our feet so don’t allow anybody, anything or even yourself to stop you from fulfilling your destiny. As you do this, God will bless you mightily in Jesus’ name.”
A version of this article appears in the print edition of USAfrica Journal, Vol. 3, Issue 1, 2016.