Blessing Offor Interview on Debut Album ‘My Tribe’
"That was a wild 36 hours in Santa Barbara," singer-songwriter and Contemporary Christian Music hitmaker Blessing Offor tells Billboard, recalling how a meeting with five-time Grammy winner Jon Batiste in November 2022 at the Google Zeitgeist Conference led to an impromptu writing session.
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"It felt like meeting an old friend kind of thing, just immediately cool," Offor says. "He asked what we were doing that afternoon, and if we wanted to do a session in L.A. My flight was supposed to leave that afternoon, but I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ I immediately called my travel guy and was like, ‘Do whatever you have to do to move my flight,’" he says, laughing. "It was just a great creative synergy. I’m not sure what will come of it, but I would love to collaborate again."
Collaboration has played a key role in Offor's career to date.
Offor, who earned a GMA Dove Awards nomination for new artist of the year in 2022, also registered a three-week No. 1 Christian Airplay hit in 2022 with his TobyMac collaboration "The Goodness" and has been featured on albums from Chris Tomlin and Lee Brice. He's also co-written songs with Dallas Davidson, Breland, Tyler Hubbard and Corey Crowder, among others. Offor's own "Brighter Days," the title track from his February 2022 EP, peaked at No. 2 on Christian Airplay.
On Friday, the Nigerian-born, Connecticut-raised artist will release his new full-length set, My Tribe, on Bowyer & Bow/Capitol CMG.
Offor, who co-wrote 14 of My Tribe's 16 tracks, begins the album with a spoken-word intro that thanks his family still living in Nigeria for their support. Later in the album, he includes "What a World (Akwa Uwa)," which incorporates a song he learned as a child.
"Towards the end of the album-making process, we had all the tracks done, but it felt like something was missing," Offor says. "What was missing was a little fingerprint of Nigeria, of my own journey. When I said I wanted to put that on my record, my team was very supportive, though I think we joked about how hard it would be to find whoever owns publishing on a song recorded in Nigeria in the ‘70s."
Offor was surprised by the success of "Brighter Days," which he also includes on his new full-length project.
"We didn't send ‘Brighter Days’ to radio thinking we have a massive song on our hands, because it doesn't even say ‘Jesus,’" Offor says. "In this industry, it's easier to market things that are crystal clear, I guess. I’ve gotten many a Facebook message, Instagram message from people asking, ‘How dare you call yourself a Christian artist? You didn't say "Jesus" one time in this song.’ It's been super interesting. I’m a theological nerd, so could I argue about it? Yes. But is it worth it? No, probably not. But because it didn't fit neatly in one particular box, it's gotten to a lot of places in the world where most songs that fit so tightly into that box probably don't get."
Alongside uptempo, retro-pop bops like "Feel Good" and "My Tribe" are soulful piano ballads like "Grace" and "Won't Be Long Now," which Offor calls "a mantra."
"I love songs like that, that massive groups can sing, songs that we need to get through specific moments — songs like, ‘Don't Worry, Be Happy,’" he says of "Won't Be Long Now," which he wrote with Hank Bentley and Jessie Early. "During the ‘60s, in the Civil Rights movement, people would say, ‘How long?’ and the answer was ‘Not long.’ That didn't mean literally two seconds from right now, but the fact that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. The song is just a mantra to hold on through whatever someone might be going through."
A Journey From Nigeria to Nashville
The album is filled with a blend of pop and soul and a constant uplifting message flowing throughout it — a testament to his own hard-fought journey.
Offor, who is legally blind, immigrated to the United States from Nigeria at age 6. He was born with glaucoma resulting in almost complete blindness in his left eye. and his parents sent him to live with his uncle in America to receive treatment. Then at age 11, a water gun accident damaged his retina, taking the sight from his right eye.
Growing up in Connecticut, Offor, the youngest of six siblings, listened to a range of music, including pop, Motown and jazz, and began playing piano at age 9. Still, he says it took commitment and passion to stick with his unconventional career path in music, especially when his family expected him to take a more professional path.
"For me, to be a singer-songwriter was not cool, you know? My uncle has a law firm and for me, going to law school would have been a glide path and then I could be a lawyer and that would really be the immigrant dream there," he says. "Nobody would have been mad if I quit to do some white-collar career, but I didn't give myself permission to quit."
He attended Nashville's Belmont University and then spent five years in New York's eclectic music scene around 2011, "just writing music and meeting people, working with the Snarky Puppy guys before they became Snarky Puppy," he says. He made his way to Los Angeles and was briefly a contestant on The Voice, before returning to Nashville in 2015, where he continued to showcase for labels and write songs.
After writing a song titled "Tin Roof" with Natalie Hemby, Offor saw the song recorded by a few artists and hoped it would lead to a publishing deal. The song did more than that — soon after, CCM luminary Chris Tomlin heard the song and recorded it for his 2020 Chris Tomlin & Friends album, featuring Offor's vocals on the recording. Offor also signed a recording deal with CCM luminary Chris Tomlin's Bowyer & Bow imprint, in partnership with Universal's Capitol Christian Music Group.
"After the song came out, there was the conversation of a longer-term relationship with Chris and Capitol CMG. I said, ‘You know being a worship leader is not my goal, per se. I’m a Christian who is an artist, but I always write music my own way.’ Chris said, ‘All you have to do is be yourself,’ and I said, ‘Well, I can do that.’ [Capitol CMG co-president] Brad O’Donnell and all the guys at Capitol felt there can be a place for my music in the faith market, but also in the faith-adjacent markets and mainstream markets. And so far, it's been as good as it sounded from the beginning, which is a really rare thing."
For Offor, finding his label home meant heeding the advice he was once given by a Nashville music executive.
"It's funny because I would do showcases in Los Angeles and they would be like, ‘Cool, you can be the next John Legend.’ But John Legend's still doing his thing; we don't need a next John Legend. I’d showcase for country labels and it's like, ‘OK, we can do a soul-country thing,’ so there was always this idea of doing a hybrid." Former Universal Music exec Joe Fisher gave advice that resonated with Offor: "He gave me the example of Chris Stapleton — when he first came to town, he was too soulful for country and too blues for soul. Joe said, ‘You want to get a deal where people are comfortable letting you find who you are. It might take a minute, but once you build your own genre, no one can kick you out of it.’"
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