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Kenneth: The basso fundo of Hymnodia

Kenneth

Having taken their turns on stage to showcase their mastery of hymns, the five hymntestants (contestants), who made it to the grand finale, returned for the final result; it was tension-soaked.

Besides, Dean of the Hymnstitute, Ben Ogbeiwi, who anchored the Hymncert, added salt to injury with his antics. Kenneth Ekhuemelo, Olumide Dada, Mobolanle Oladimeji, Abigael Nnadi and Rachael Darley all had their hearts in their mouths.

Held at the Shell Hall of MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos, the grand finale of Hymnodia, the first-ever reality TV show created around hymns and worship, ended the 14-week showpiece that offered triple ‘E’ (entertainment, education and edification) benefits to its continuously growing fan base.

 
But the duo of Kenneth and Olumide ‘the baritone’ Dada, have been sustaining their high tempo among the hymntestants in the closing stanzas of the Hymnodia competition, breaking away from them with different twist of renditions in classical and contemporary hymns.

In the end, it came down to both men, despite the spirited renditions by Mobolanle Oladimeji (who came third), Abigael Nnadi and Rachael Darley.

After Olumide had belted a superb rendition to a standing ovation by the judges and the audience, it seemed it was all over. But then Kenneth took the stage and splayed his own superlative rendition; the die was cast. The race was tight and the decision depended on a combination of public votes and the judges’ scores.

In what seems like a deliberate attempt to calm nerves, the producer of the show Ezinne Kufre-Ekanem called for a break to appreciate some individuals, including the judges and production team for their effort in making the project a reality. Indeed, her trick worked; the contestants obviously got some relief.

One of the highlights of the Hymncert was the presentation of awards to hymntestants that had excelled during their time at the Hymnstitute.

Kenneth Ekhuemelo received the award for Best in Arrangements, Uduakobong Akpan Jnr received the Most Improved Male award, Jemine Edukugho Most Improved Female, while Dada received two awards: the Most Consistent in Performances and Best Behaved Male. Nnadi clinched the Best Behaved Female, while Oladimeji secured the Most Prolific in Hymnwriting.

The whole hall went wild in jubilation as the host Ben announced Kenneth Ekhuemelo as winner of the grand prize, the ASAPH in a fiercely contested show. In addition to the ASAPH, a specially designed award named after David’s chief musician, Ekhuemelo also got cash reward of N5 million and a brand-new car.

Eulogising Ekhuemelo, Sunday Olawuwo, a music director and one of the judges said, “l must confess you added fuel to the stage that has already been set on fire.”
 
Seun Owoaje, Music Director of Hymnodia described Ekhuemelo’s rendition as, “absolutely fantastic,” adding, “Your appearance was like that of a Roman conqueror. You fought doggedly and had the right confidence of a great singer. You did very well throughout.”

Meanwhile, veteran musician Onyeka Onwenu and Dupe Ige Kachi (popularly known as Ige Sings) not only gave Kenneth a standing ovation after his rendition; they also extolled him for his excellent performance. On his part, Ogbeiwi, Dean of the Hymnstitute (who compered the Hymncert personally), showered accolades on the talented singer.

The Hymncert was enriched with superb ministrations from the Hymnodia Choir, the Mountain Top Chorale, the Lagos Archdiocesan Catholic Church Choir, the Cathedral Church Choir, Marina and the Royal School of Church Music choir for Nigeria.

Perhaps the biggest draw of the night outside the hymntestants themselves was the Divine Symphony Orchestra from the Mountain of Fire & Miracles Ministries that thrilled the audience with both fresh and popular hymns, a twist that was highly applauded.

In the stanzas, hymnviction from the show was by public votes after the judges had announced a probation list. Likewise, the finale that produced the winner was via a combination of public votes and judges’ scores audited by the reputable firm of Gbenga Badejo & Co.

Sharing his Hymnodia experience with Guardian Music, Kenneth recalled, “At the point we were waiting for the result, a lot of things were going through my mind. I was grateful I was able to perform because I had some setbacks before the performance; I was having a serious gas problem, belching every 30 seconds. So, few minutes to the performance, I couldn’t sing. I manage, prayed and was able to perform.

At that point, I was at peace because that was the point the power to win is no longer in your hands; it now depends on the judges and voters. If you noticed that day, I was actually smiling and cracking jokes with Olumide,” he revealed.

Though Olumide remains the strongest contender in the contest, for Kenneth, the Basso Profondo, it was more like a family game.

“We never saw ourselves as rivals,” he noted, adding, “When we came into the house, it was supposed to be a competition, but it didn’t come out that way; we all contributed to each other’s performances. It was amazing, not the atmosphere I was expecting; I had expected everyone to be uptight, but everybody was free sharing knowledge. Even before the final performance, we had seen each other’s performances and shared some ideas. So, on that stage, it was about us the same family in the house. In fact, we told ourselves, ‘however this thing goes, we meet at home; it’s still us.”

If Ben’s antics at the grand finale were to put the hymntestants under pressure, then he must have succeeded, especially with Kenneth, who couldn’t wait to know his fate.

“I wanted to just get it done with,” he said, beaming with smiles. “Truly, at that point, nobody really knew who the winner was. But I was optimistic,” he said.

Besides the grand prize, winning award for best Arrangement is a big deal for the music instructor.

“I was happy to have gotten that award; that’s actually my area of specialty as far as music is concerned. There are the good performers and those, who are good in writing music. You also have those, who are good in arrangement of music; that’s my specialty. I’m an organist, so, note music comes naturally to me.

“What this competition did was to help us enhance our strength, while building up the other parts that you don’t have. On the other hand, I had to learn how to write lyrics; that was my weakest point. I was surprised that I was even able to do it up to that point. Now, it’s much easier for me. Also, performance; I’m not the regular stage performer; I do one or two operas, but not really performance. So, I had to build my stage presence.”

Though all smiles now, Kenneth actually went through some sort of memory loss when his name came on as winner; it was unbelievable. In fact, his girlfriend, who was instrumental to his participating in the show, was very emotional, as tears of joy rolled down her cheek.

“From that point of the announcement to the point when I got into the bus, it was like a short movie; everything was just happening so fast. When they announced my name, I took some seconds for it to sink into my head that I was the one. Then, I had to congratulate Olumide; I gave him a hug. He’s a very formidable hymntestant; he’s a hard fighter. Then, it was pictures and interviews. It was when I was in the bus on my way home that it dawned on me that I just won the competition.”

Recalling how he got into the show, Kenneth said, “I will be sincere with you, I hardly go on Facebook but on this day, I was there and I saw Hymnodia; Daniel, a friend of mine, who was actually part of the choir, was auditioning for the show. So, I clicked on the hashtag and decided to watch some of the videos. They had some good entries, but I was wondering why hymns? Who builds up competition around hymns? What are they going to make out from hymns,” he quizzed.

Kenneth didn’t actually entre for the show until last minutes when a friend, who is part of the choir, confirmed the competition is real. At that point, his girlfriend stepped in.

“I asked her, ‘why didn’t you register?’ She told me she had some things to do. But my girlfriend told me, ‘you have to register, what do you have to lose?’ So, I called my mother just to inform her and she said the same thing. So, I just registered. The day of the first audition, I went there and saw the level of preparation that had gone into that competition; I knew that this people had to be serious.”

He continued: “For those, who passed the first day, they gave us an assignment to go and write a hymn before the next day; that was it. I went home, wrote that hymn that night. By next morning, I found myself in the Hymnstitute; I didn’t know how the journey would end. I just wanted to be the best that I could; I wanted to evolve, to grow and let the creative side of me open up. So, I went in expecting anything; I’m really grateful to God for this achievement.”

Asked how his girlfriend reacted to his winning the contest, he said, “there was the ‘I told you so…’ Then, she was really happy. But what made her happy the most was that before I went into the house, I told her, ‘I don’t really watch reality shows, but whatever I’m going to do, I will try to be safe until the final. So, you will only need to vote for me once.’

So, everything I did in that house from day one was just to achieve that one goal of getting to the finals without being on probation; I was never on probation. Olumide and myself were the only contestants, who were never on probation,” he hinted.

Commending his girlfriend for her role, the Warri brought up revealed, “She was actually responsible for getting votes, rallying around and meeting people; I’m really grateful to her for that. We both believe this is going to be an upliftment for me; it’s an introduction to the next level. So, this Hymnodia is the big leap to take me up there.”

On how he plans to spend his cash, Kenneth said, “well, it will do a lot; money brightens any relationship. Beyond that, it’s going to enable us put some plans in place; maybe get one or two assets and invest some of the money. It has given us the breathing space to just strategize and plan ahead.”

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