Blessing's joyful songs in the key of hope

As a Christian music artist just coming into his own, Blessing Offor is modest when I say I’m sure he’s going to be a superstar and he’ll be in way too much demand in a few years to speak to the likes of a journalist from Eternity.

“Oh, I don’t think that’s true,” says the Nigerian-born, Nashville-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose debut full-length album, My Tribe, is an immediately singable and danceable mixture of soul, pop, R&B and African styles.

“Honestly, I think this is the first year where people hear my music on the radio – just casually now as a matter of, that’s just what happens. I’m very grateful for that because, in 2018-19 when all this wasn’t happening, I was like, ‘Man, I can’t wait till that’s the case,’ and here we are.

“At the same time, I am grateful that when things were not this good, I still knew enough to know that music is what God had me here to do. So I’m grateful that this is happening, and I’m grateful that even if this wasn’t happening, I would still know that there’s a point to it all.”

Like the great 70s Motown artist Stevie Wonder, who is a clear inspiration, Blessing has a show-stopping voice, virtuosic piano ability and musical fluency. Like Wonder, he is also blind.

With five older siblings, Blessing left Nigeria at just six years old to live with his uncle in Connecticut. Glaucoma had left him blind in one eye, and his parents thought he might find better medical care in the United States.

But after losing sight in the other eye at ten years old in a water gun accident, Blessing turned to music, training his ear and developing virtuosic skills, while quickly building his musical range.

“The ambiguity is the design, not the flaw.” – Blessing Offor

Written and recorded in Nashville, the 14 tracks on My Tribe have a soundscape rooted in pop and Motown spirit, with an Afro-inspired melodic undercurrent. The lyrics are also brilliant in how they can be read on a personal or spiritual level. For example, on the track Grace, the lyrics seem to talk about God’s good gift to us – or are they about a girl?

“I think the ambiguity is the design, not the flaw. Christians are very used to being fed an answer. I could tell you yes [it’s about God’s grace.] But then what fun is that? It’s not because I’m afraid of saying ‘Jesus’ but because there’s an art form to writing a song that is a legitimate expression of either thing, like to personify grace and talk about how you’ve hurt Grace and how you’re at Grace’s door knocking and begging. It’s not an incorrect way to speak of theological grace, but it’s a creative way to speak of theological grace. Nor is it an incorrect way to speak of a woman named Grace. So is it about grace, the concept, or Grace the person? And I would just say ‘yes.’”

“It’s very easy for Christians and Christian artists to be pigeonholed and not allowed to be fully human.”

Blessing agrees that his Christian faith informs and inspires his music “because my faith tells me that ultimately there is hope life is redemptive and redeemable.” However, he has designed the record to challenge the concept of what it means to be a “Christian artist”.

“So when you ask about what grace means, that’s my favourite question because it goes to the heart of what I’m trying to do here, which is to say that Christians can also be human and have complex feelings about things and do more than just have praise and worship – it can be horizontal. You can still talk about your heart being broken and you can still talk about hopes and dreams and your friends because to think that Christians only worship 24/7 or somehow you’re bad if you’re listening to songs that aren’t immediately saying ‘hallelujah!’, is just not fair. And it makes us very one-dimensional, uninteresting people.

“So thank you for asking that grace question because that’s exactly what I want people to go, ‘Wait, does he mean God or a relationship?’ and I want the answer to be ‘Yes’ … I just want you to live in that ambiguity. It’s okay – because it’s very easy for Christians and Christian artists to be pigeonholed and not allowed to be fully human.”

Blessing Offor

Blessing says he receives emails from people complaining that he calls himself a Christian, but a song like Brighter Days doesn’t mention Jesus once.

“I used to want to argue theologically with them, but I realise that doesn’t do any good. It’s like people have these check boxes they think you have to click to be a Christian artist and that’s just cultural silliness and that has nothing to do with Jesus.”

In many ways, the opener Brighter Days sums up Blessing’s central message. Delicate piano uplifts the optimistic chant as he promises, “I know there’s gonna be some brighter days. I swear that love will find you in your pain.”

The track gave Blessing his first Top 5 hit, staying at No 2 on Christian Airplay radio for seven weeks and winning a 2022 ASCAP Christian award. It has since been used during key moments in Grey’s Anatomy, The Equalizer, and other major TV productions.

“The chorus is very bright and positive, but you go through the darkness to get there,” he says. “You’ve essentially worked for that moment – it isn’t just given to you.”

“We would all just want our own stories because that’s our wisdom; we gain from that.”

What struck this listener about the album, is that even in the sad, heartbreaking songs, Blessing takes you to an optimistic place. I ask him if his optimistic outlook on life is hard won because of the difficulties he went through with his sight.

“I think that’s a fair statement … That was hard won. Not because I think I have gone through anything particularly egregious – like, losing my vision is not a walk in the park. But also, being human isn’t a walk in the park. So if I can say that my optimism is hard won, then I can say that your optimism would also be just as hard won. I don’t know your story, but I’m sure if I knew it, I would want mine. We would all just want our own stories because that’s our wisdom; we gain from that.”

Asked how his faith had sustained him through his difficult childhood, he says growing up in Nigeria, he constantly saw people going through difficult times and yet those people still had faith.

“That made me personally realise that we have a cultural understanding that faith and hardship are not diametrically opposed things,” he reflects.

“So being born in Nigeria with vision in only one eye was not a cause for my family to lose all hope in God. They were just like, ‘Oh man, we really should get this fixed if we can.’ We were also lucky enough that we never worried about being hungry, and my dad had a very successful business, so we could see that we were blessed in [some] areas. And so if God sees fit to bless us in areas, then maybe it’s okay if we endure some uncomfortable moments in some other areas, you know?”

I asked Blessing what had been the darkest moments in his life journey so far. He takes a few seconds before responding:

“It’s funny, a lot of people would expect me to go, losing my vision was the darkest time, but, ironically, that’s not even like the top three of them,” he says.

“I would say that the darkest moment of my life would be a few years ago, when music started picking up.  I went to my pastor and I said, ‘Phil, I just really want to start meeting with you one-on-one.’”

As Phil mentored Blessing over these sessions, he hit a raw nerve. “He’d say to me, ‘How much do you miss your family?’ who I haven’t seen for 26 years?”

“When I tell people that you can’t fake happiness, I speak from experience.”

Despite Blessing insisting that everything was fine, Phil could see that he really missed his parents and needed his inner child to acknowledge that.

“Once I started getting in touch with that truth as opposed to glossing over it with like false happiness, there was this realisation of how really sad I was.

“And that was very dark because I’m so optimistic; I have a very strong ability to gloss over things. And this is why when I tell people that you can’t fake happiness, I speak from experience. It’s easy to, but when you really can say, ‘This is very sad, but yet I know that God is in it,’ then you’ve experienced the joy. So the darkest moment was when I really had to face the sadness of going, ‘Oh my God, I miss those people so much. And I haven’t even been realising it, like I’ve not allowed myself to realise it.’ So that, more than anything, hurt a lot.”

I asked Blessing if he always trusted in Jesus or was there a defining moment?

“When I was two, my first few English words were John 3: 16. I just remember learning, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave us his own begotten son.’ So from when I was born, from when all of us were born, my dad just fed us the gospel. I wish I could point to a moment. Now, I can tell you when I was baptised as a teenager, but it was never, ‘Is there a God or do I believe in Jesus?’ It was just, you get to the point where you have your adult faith versus your child faith. But I think I’ve always been a believer.”

“I take my name and all the connotations very seriously now.”

And as he’s matured, how has his faith changed him?

“I feel like being an adult Christian is more about working out your salvation with trembling and humility and figuring out what that looks like when things come up in the world that challenge your concepts. Figuring out that nuance is not a bad thing. I think it was Don Carson or one of these guys who came up to me and said, ‘I’m a Christian.’ And I said, ‘Already?’

“And so it’s like being a Christian is something to aspire to be as humbly as possible. Every day we’re trying to be little Christs, you know what I mean? It’s never a thing with arrogance. So the deeper I get into faith, the more I just really embrace the humility of it. There’s an ‘I don’t know about it’ that I’m more and more comfortable with, that it just feels less belligerent that way.”

“Being a Christian is something to aspire to be as humbly as possible.”

Finally, I couldn’t forget to ask him about his name and how he’s embraced it.

“My friends used to say, ‘You know, Blessing, you can’t ever commit a crime because you can’t be in court and they sentence Blessing to jail,’” he says.

“So it makes you just behave, I guess. I have a sister named Peace and a sister named Mercy. So my parents just gave us a lot and I didn’t like it as a kid, but I love it the older I get because naming someone is a powerful thing. Like in the New Testament, they’d say, ‘I’ll call you so and so for God has heard my cries’ or something like that. It’s like this very meaningful thing. So I take my name and all the connotations very seriously now.”

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