Every so often as a music reviewer I discover something that is a little bit special. A few months ago I reviewed an album called “Walk With Me” from singer / songwriter Sarah Téibo which scored a fantastic 9.1/10.
Apparently One Man in the Middle weren’t the only ones who appreciated Sarah’s brilliant debut as she was recently nominated for a MOBO award for Best Gospel Act. Read on to find out more about Sarah and her reaction to this nomination in this exclusive interview.
Sarah was born in London, but when she was young her parents moved back to Nigeria, as such she now calls herself a “Britsgerian”.
“My parents went back to Nigeria and I went with them. I always knew that I was going to come back to the UK,” Sarah explained. “I think for me it was a case that my Mum didn't want me to come back until she was sure that I would be safe and OK. It was something I always knew was going to happen.”
Sarah also received a prophetic confirmation of this return to the UK. “There was actually a conference that I went to many years ago, I sang a song and the Holy Spirit really moved in that place, the preacher didn't even preach. Whilst I was on my knees worshipping and caught up in the moment, God actually dropped a word in my Spirit. Now that you are asking me it's coming back - you know some things, you never really think back to them. God dropped a word into my Spirit that He was sending me back to the land of my birth. That was when it was confirmed that I would come back. I know it's for a season and it's for a reason, what God is doing in and through me now.”
Sarah credits her Mum’s love for music for her inspiration. “My mum has an extremely good taste in music. I grew up listening to all the classics from Motown, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, The Temptations, you name it and we had the Vinyl in our house and my Mum was really a huge fan of music - so much so that if she was a young girl today and she was going to have a baby she would probably name it Beyonce or Drake! That was what she was like. My older sister was named Diana because when she was pregnant she said if she had a girl she would name her Diana after Diana Ross and if she had a boy she would name him Ross! That was how into music Mum was and she was a huge, huge influence into my taste in music and my love for music as well. Just growing up listening to the likes of Marvin Gaye and asking about the music and the mind behind the writing and things like that really influenced me from a young age.”
“I started singing in choirs when I was 10, kind of developed from there, just backing up artists and things like that and just knowing that one day I was going to do my own thing, and here I am today.”
It’s never an easy process to get an album put together as a debut artist. Sarah explains “Well it was a really long journey, it took about a year to get the album finalised and ready for distribution. It was an interesting one because I'd never really had theexperience of owning a project of that size and magnitude. I always envisioned that it would be a really high quality end product. With the writing I worked with some really good producers and from the onset I said to them, "this is my first time doing this so I really need to have all the constructive feedback that you know I need because I don't want you to say "yeah, that's fine" - I want you to push me and make sure you get the best out of me." That is exactly what my producers did with me, I mean, for some of the songs where I wrote a first version and took it to the studio they were like You may want to revisit the lyrics, the phrasing, the melody or stuff like that for what you are trying to put out in that song. So it was a learning process, well an unlearning and learning as well, in terms of the songwriting, in terms of the singing, the delivery."
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Of course actually recording an album is only half of the battle. Once you have what you believe is a quality product you have to sell copies to make your money back.Sarah explains “as an independent artist I learnt a lot about being very versatile, being very persistent and just marketing myself. At the end of the day I don't have a label who will do it for me, so I have to do it myself. So I have learnt as well how to make noise about myself and not feel bad about it because ultimately it has to be done by somebody and who better than myself to do it.”
“I had to embrace the notion that I had to talk about myself. I struggled with it initially because I felt it might be arrogant and blowing my own horn, but when I felt that way the Lord laid on my heart, You say what you have to say and when people listen to the music they will agree. It would be bad if you say all that and you come up with a rubbish product, but you say what you have to say about the product and let people listen to it and let them agree with you. So far it's been the case where whoever I talk to and say "this album is really great, you won't put it down when you start playing it", they agree because they listen to it and say this is an extraordinarily well put together album!
Boxers are like this, they talk smack before the fight but if they go into the ring and get knocked out in the first round then who will listen to them again? If they do well, hold their own or even win then people will take notice and believe what they say. Although Sarah confesses that she struggled with this area at first it was through her self-promotion that saw both One Man in the Middle and our friends at AStepFWD find out about her music. At Creation Fest where Sarah was playing I believed in her music so I was encouraging people to come and see her performance. Sarah’s music speaks for itself, it’s just a case of getting people to hear it.
Sarah has recently been nominated for Best Gospel act at the 2016 MOBO awards. When she found out she was “elated, pleasantly surprised, grateful to put it in a few words”. She is up against some stiff competition in this category with Guvna B, Andrew Bello, S.O. and Volney Morgan and New-Ye but she doesn’t seem daunted by this. “It's a really diverse shortlist and I think very representative of UK Gospel which cuts across every style and genre. It is a little daunting when I think about the guys I'm up against. Some of whom have been in the game for nearly a decade and have established fan bases. Without doubt, they are really strong contenders but I'm hoping for the best. Maybe the 'underdog syndrome' would work in my favour!”
Sarah is honoured to be the only female nominated for her category, “The feeling is one of honour, when I think of the fact that I'm the only lady on the list. The support from other ladies within the genre has been simply overwhelming and I'm hoping I'll be able to bring it home for all the ladies.”
I wondered if she were to win if it would change her approach to music but she said “I've always been very tenacious with the promotion of my music and will continue in that vein. Winning would however help my efforts go further, as I believe the MOBOS is one of the UK's most prestigious awards and would help draw the right kind of attention to my work and music.”
Favourite Track / Hardest Track
Artists are normally close to one particular song on a project despite writing and recording all of them. It can open an insight into how they see the album and themselves. Sarah tells me “My favourite song is "I Long For You". The message of that song is a cry of my heart to God to spend more time with Him. It's a reflective song where I realise I am doing so much for myself, for my kids, for God, but maybe I'm not doing enough WITH God. Maybe I am not spending enough time with Him. So "I Long For You" talks about just wanting to take a step back and spend time with Him, and confessing to Him that actually I've looked at what I'm doing and actually feel like I haven't spent enough time with you. So it's an open and honest song to God to say I need to spend more time with you and it's my fault.”
For Sarah I get the impression that this whole experience is an act of worship. I think for worship to have value it costs the worshipper, so I asked which track cost her the most. “"Save Me" was the hardest. That song is another desperate cry to God to save me and bring me out of my current situation, and also it's a song that I have sung from the perspective of someone crying out to God to save their soul. So it's very, very emotional and very intense and spiritual as well.”
It wasn’t a straight forward song to record either. Sarah continues, “When I was producing that, when I recorded it the first time, I wasn't convinced myself. And that's me, I'm a perfectionist and really hard on myself. When I listened back I was like, no Sarah that doesn't make me want to give my life to Christ. I went back into the studio and I did it again, it wasn't clicking and I didn't feel like I had done enough for the song. I was literally telling my other producer that I'm probably going to take this song off. I do not want to bring something that is 99%, every single track has to be 100%. This is me to myself, not to somebody else. He was like 'maybe try getting another vocal producer' because the music and everything was fine, but I just wasn't happy with my vocal delivery on the song.”
“I really prayed about it and I got introduced to another vocal producer called Hypertone his name is Shaun Barrett, and I went into the studio with him and it was a completely different experience vocally. We prayed before we started as well because I said to God when my album comes out and people hear that song I want them to give their lives to you. There are other songs that are somewhere in the middle like "Steal My Joy" or "New Day" but that one is really deep and spiritual and it's the whole point of my evangelism to bring people to Christ. So I wanted that song to be a certain way so that it puts the message across and gets people into God's arms of love. When I went to the studio we prayed before we started and I just sailed through it. When I listened back I thought Yes! 'That's the one!'"
“It's amazing because "Save Me" is the song that many people say to me is the one that gets them on the album, but it really took a while, it was a process. It was a hard one. "Save Me" has resulted in so many things happening as a result of that difficult time because of the introductions and the connections I made through that struggle, I had to get a vocal coach, I just wasn't happy with myself and through that I made some really good connections and that has resulted in amazing things happening.”
For Sarah this song cost her many tears, but those tears have brought joy to her and those who have listened to the song on “Walk With Me”. As we concluded I asked Sarah if she was starting to think about the next album already and she confessed, “I am thinking about it. I recently did a concert with Lisa McClendon so I am thinking about things that we might do together. I am trying to push this album as much as I can, and then maybe in the next year or two I will start thinking of the next.”
I know that whatever the outcome at the MOBO awards God will continue to bless Sarah and she has been a blessing to me and others through her music. Sarah is an independent artist and when you buy her debut album digitally or a physical copy you are supporting her to continue bringing this immense talent to the UK church.