Popularly called Loverboy, Felix Lebarty was the toast of music lovers in the 80s. His music literally siezed the airwaves and no party was complete until popular tracks like Ngozi and Loverboy were played. But like smoke, Felix fizzled out and his whereabouts became a matter of speculation. ‘NONYE IWUAGWU, however, caught up with him and he narrated all that had been happening to him.
You were off the scene for a long time. What have you been doing all this while?
When the Lord is doing something about your life or preparing you for something, there is no way He will make you do the same thing that you have been doing. He will always make sure that He keeps you away from what you think is your god. That was what happened before I got the call.
When I got the call, I had to go to bible school. Now I am out of the bible school and I have to really go out for soul winning. That is what is happening to me.
So, you are a pastor.
By His grace.
Did you ever think you would become a pastor?
No. Like I said, no one goes to Christ because he wants to. He has to call you into His fold. It is all about the luck I have, because it is a very huge luck to be called into the kingdom of God.
Between the period you left music andâ€¦
(Cuts in) I have been in music and I am still in it till tomorrow.
Okay, between the time you left commercial music and now that you are a pastor, what were you doing?
I was doing a lot of things to keep body and soul together. I was doing business here and there, getting involved with politicians and all that, trying to get something to do to keep life going. But what God really wants me to do is the exact thing that I am doing right now. I loved the feeling of releasing commercial records. But when I lost that, there was nothing to do again.
In those days, I was always eager to release a new album, make some money and let people know that I was in town. All those faded away because I am no longer keen on whether people see me as good or bad. I am no longer interested in all those glamorous ways of life. Initially, I did not know that it was God that turned my eyes off those things. So, here I am. From now on, you are not going to see me hiding any more.
That means you are back to music.
I am back to music – the music of life. I am into soul winning. I am into travelling all over the world, winning souls for Christ. Anybody who connects to me right now is a medium to be used to expose the power of God, to be able to bring people back from darkness into light. That is what is happening now.
Obviously, your kind of music now will be gospelâ€¦
It is soul-winning music.
What is the title of your album?
The first one I did when I was in bible school was titled I surrender to Jesus.
The kind of music I am playing now is deeply spiritual. I don’t call it gospel, I call it soul-winning music.
A lot of people will find it amazing that you are now a pastor. Do you think they will be able to reconcile the Felix Lebarty they used to know with the new Felix Lebarty?
It is not about people reconciling you; it is about people understanding how it is. You have to understand that God is the one that changes everything. When His time comes, you can not run away from Him. As a journalist, what you and I hear is the voice of the Holy Ghost, using us to reach out to the world. I tell you today, if you take this thing very seriously, it will be like an interview you have never done before, and you will never forget it because He has given you that talent to be able to propagate his gospel. It is not until you go and preach His word. Do it in all that you are doing because His spirit is there and it is eternal.
Do you have a ministry?
By His Grace. I am not the owner of the ministry, the Lord Jesus Christ is. He has given me the vision to be able to actualise it. The name of the ministry is Soul Winners for Christ Ministry.
Is it based in Nigeria?
Yes, we are based in Nigeria and we will go everywhere winning souls.
That means you have left the US for good.
In those days that I was in the US, it was for a commercial purpose; a way of getting rich quick. But I had to come back. What made me come back, I don’t know, because we were making money then. I didn’t know that all my days over there were a prelude to what we are seeing right now. Things unfolded gradually. The first time I met Him, I asked why everything I did in those days worked for me. He told me, ‘When you come through this way, you will be able to go round the world.’ He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. You cannot question his action. So, we will go everywhere.
I know that you are a new creature and old things have passed away. Let us talk about the old times.
You know, everyone is looking at you. No matter the kind of business you are into, you have to think globally. If you don’t, you will end up as a local champion. That was why I moved to the US then. I saw New York as the capital of the world in entertainment, where I would be able to get to the top. But I did not understand God the way I do now. God cannot be wrong by taking you to any place, because wherever you are located is where God has designed you to be.
That was why Fela had all that wealth, recognition and other things witrhout leaving Lagos. But people like us were driven by the things we heard; we had a passion for money. You have to learn how to operate from your root. That was what we didn’t know. I am using this medium to tell young artistes that Nigeria is the greatest place to be. They can go anywhere to perform, but their base must not be forgotten, because once you lose your base, you are finished.
So, do you regret leaving Nigeria at the time you did?
I don’t have any regret at all, because I learnt a lesson. That is why I advise people. I made a lot of money, but all that is not important. Travelling all over the world is not the issue but understanding your base, because once you are not in tune with your base, nothing will work out.
Would you admit that you were living on the fast lane then and fame really went to your head?
When you are not spiritually founded, you will be out of tune. You will continue to misbehave to whoever you come across. If it were those days and you called me for this interview, I would not apologise that I came late, because you need me.
Fame leads to a lot of things. When you have fame, pride comes in. And pride is the basis for failure. No matter what you do or where you go to, when pride comes in, you are heading all the way down.
You used to be known as ‘Lover Boy’. Now that you are born again, will you answer if someone calls you by that name?
Whatever happened yesterday gave birth to what is happening today. Like I tell people, those old albums of mine, I won’t advise you to play them anymore.
They always ask why, and I tell them because they were not from the spirit. If you don’t like a particular food, you don’t have to take it, because it is not giving you any nutrient. The lover boy thing is just entertainment. It is just to make you feel good. It is not adding any thing to you. But the music we have now is the music of life. It talks about love, and God is love. It takes you to wherever you want to go, because the moment you start thinking about God above all things, the sky and beyond is your starting point.
But in your sober moments, do you ask yourself why you did all that?
It is bad. Let me tell you, all the women that were with me in those days saw hell. In fact, if you are a woman, don’t ever date any man who does not have the fear of God in him.
Why did you say the women in your life saw hell?
Because of the way I was. I didn’t know what I was doing. How can you be going out with a mad man. A mad man is not only someone that is sick. I just want to put it this way so that you can advise other young ladies. Forget about the fame and the money. A man that is not with the spirit of God is mad. I can’t be lying with a mad man in the same place. I was foolish then and I didn’t have respect for human beings. Women were like the people you had to carry around and have fun. That is not how God wants us to treat women. A woman has to be a person you care for and treat well. I didn’t know all these until the Spirit of God came into me.
So, you loved women?
That means all the Ifeoma and the Chi Chi and the Ngozi that you used in your songs were real?
Actually, I had a lot of fun with Igbo women and I love that area till tomorrow. They are the people that love me most. Most of the records that I sold were sold in that area. So, all the people I got involved with, especially the Igbo speaking people, gave me enough happiness. That was why you saw all those names. I love them till tomorrow. If an Igbo man sees you and has interest in you, you will get right to the top. So, that is why I was always into Chichi, Ngozi and all that. They are still the ones supporting us today in the ministry. I am not saying that other tribes are not doing the same, but once an Igbo man believes in you, he will always support you.
I am from Edo State and the only time I did a song in Benin was around 1984. We were able to sell about 11,000 copies. But Chichi and Ngozi sold about 200,000 copies within the first three months it was released. What am I saying is that these people have been so nice to me, that was why I got caught.
You must have had so much fun thenâ€¦
So much negative fun. Fun means understanding who God is. It is not about moneymaking. Even when you are out to make money, fun is about understanding the way God wants you to make money. Back then, I got drunk even when I didn’t have enough money. I remembered I had more than eight gold teeth, and people were asking why I was looking like that. I told them I was having fun. But it was negative fun I was trying to prove. To whom, I did not know.
We learnt that things became very tough for you before you left the USâ€¦
(Laughs) Let me tell you, I think it is a very big secret. Any man that understands what living a good life is, you cannot find him going broke for too long, because he will always find a means of making ends meet. He will always look at what is happening and fits himself into it. The only people that go broke are those who are not willing to condescend to the level they should; people who are proud. Even in my negativity, I would come to you and ask you how you are making it.
Was that what you did when you went to the US?
On my first visit to the United States, I was received like a star by my community. But when things became tough I asked them, ‘Oh boy, how una dey make money here?’ They told me it is either you sell drugs or get involved in 419, or drive a taxi.
So, you decided to become a cab driver.
Yes. I put all these things together and I said that people who were driving taxis were not doing an illegitimate job. They could make $80 per day at that time. If you drove from morning till 11 p.m. or midnight, you could make $300. I bought a cab and they started saying ‘oh, a star is driving taxi. These people are going to finish you.’ But I told them to tell everybody who cared to listen that I was a taxi driver here. I was even the person that broke the news. I bought three more cabs and employed drivers. So, when they drove, I would take $50 from them. So, I earned like $180 a day. As the money was coming in, I was investing it. I came to discover that I was better than those that were selling drugs.
But why didn’t you think of selling drugs or going into 419?
In my village, it is a taboo to smoke Igbo or do drugs. Again, going to jail was like you are a dead person. We were told not to do anything that could land us in jail otherwise you would be seen as an outcast.
In Benin, they would say he is dead and such a person must not be allowed to come near anybody, because he would put you in trouble. I couldn’t go into such things, so I just had to stick to driving a taxi. But a lot of people thought I was into drugs. Whatever kobo I made, I was investing it. By the time I built my first and second houses, I lost control. I went into cars.
I learnt you love exotic carsâ€¦
A lot in those days. The cars gave us a good image. They made people believe that we were successful and people love to hang around successful men. I believe that is what young people try to do now. But the only thing I would tell them is that they shouldn’t because of their image forget what they are supposed to do. If you don’t have a house, you are on your own. The cars might depreciate to a point that you cannot sell them, but your house can always serve as a collateral. So, it is very important when you are building your fame. You must be able to remember your credit base. So, I want to advise them to build a house so that they can fall back on it at any time.
You have said your kinsmen abhor drugs. But did you take it at that time?
I never liked cigarettes, cocaine and all that. It was when I got to the US that I got to know what cocaine was like. I never liked smoking because it takes my breath away, even alcohol. The only thing I did was to take a little wine to show that I also belonged (laughs).
What do you hope to achieve now?
I want people to come back to God. That is what I want to achieve. Jesus is the way the truth and the life. I am not preaching religion. You know I was a Muslim for a while.
When I was trying to come back, there were some people I had helped to go to the US, but they didn’t want to see me again. It was a kind of hatred. So, I was thinking of what could have happened. I came to realise that when you are in negativity, the devil would want to ruin you. The people that are supposed to be your friends, the devil would begin to turn them away from you. I was into my mother’s religion, worshipping Ogun, Obatala and all that. There was a guy who used to change dollars for me then. He was a very poor man. Anytime I was coming home, I would give him money to change. When I came back from the US, I discovered that the man was having a big office with about 34 people working for him. I asked him how he did it and he said it was God. And they were all speaking one language. They had so much love among them. That was when I decided I would join these people’s religion, because they have love for one another.
So, that was how I became a Muslim. I was a Muslim for more than six and a half years. I was very happy. Anytime you meet a Muslim and he knows you are also a Muslim, the first thing he will do is to take care of you before he takes care of another person. I enjoyed every bit of Islam. But the day I saw what I saw, it was in a dream and He said you are going to see a divine revelation. I saw what I saw, and that was the turning point. I slept as a Muslim and woke up looking for a Bible to read. That is how it has been till today. That was a divine encounter, so, it is not about religion. Jesus has given me a mandate to be able to reconcile all the children of God with the Almighty father. A lot of people may think I became a pastor so that people might know you again or because I want to become famous again. Jesus is the one that has brought me fame. I cannot because I want fame, become a pastor. Fame has been given to me some years ago. I have been exposed to money years ago and none of these things matter to me now. What matters to me now is how many souls I am going to win.
So you don’t miss the kind of life you were living before?
It is the other way round. When I see people doing those things I used to do, it is like seeing a child who does not know anything. When I saw a beautiful woman in those days, I would go after her. These days, I would go after her and I would tell her to use her beauty for Christ. I know what I am talking about. The urge for lust is gone.
But you must have broken a lot of ladies’ heartsâ€¦
What did you expect when I described myself as a mad man. There are so many mad people on the streets today that you don’t know. A lot of women today are not happy people. They would put all their love in one man who would shatter it. That is the reason we are saved to save other people. That is the reason I am preaching this gospel.
But did you break ladies’ hearts?
I broke a lot of hearts. Mad people always break people’s hearts. Was it only ladies that I broke their hearts? I broke men’s hearts too. Once you are not truthful, you would always break peoples’ hearts. Once you don’t have the fear of God, you don’t care what you do. You make promises that you cannot keep. What other way would you break peoples hearts? When you are dishonest and dubious, you are breaking people’s hearts.
How did start music?
My eldest brother had a band. From home, there was an instrument that we played. We started from there. Since my brother was the eldest, we had to go through him. The only thing he knew how to do then was the band business. For you to be able to help him, you have to be focused. It is either you are helping him by packing the instruments or you are a drummer or a guitarist.
You mother allowed you to be a musician?
Yes. She didn’t know better.
Your mother was a traditional worshipperâ€¦
Oh yes. She is still in her juju even as we speak. I am serious. We are begging God everyday so that she changes. We speak the word but the spirit changes you.
How come you didn’t join her to practice her religion?
We were very close. There was no way I would want to do a show without going to meet my mother. She would bathe me and do all sorts of nonsense. Oh, the kingdom of darkness is indeed a problem. When you are in the dark, you don’t see anything.
People could think her juju was the reason for your successâ€¦
I thought I was successful because my mother was behind me. But I didn’t know Jesus had been with me right from the first day.
You have not told us about your fatherâ€¦
My father is dead. I didn’t even get to know him. I lost him when I was three.
You must have married more than one wife.
I was not a married man. I was a lost man. I had children from different women. I would have a woman as long as she was pretty. I wasn’t joking when I told you I was a mad man.
How many children do you have?
My children are so many. It is not even good to mention it to people, because I want people to look at my life and change. When I heard that one of the young artistes is having children from different women, I told people to tell him to stop it quickly. That is the quickest way to ruin yourself. You cannot have more than one wife, because if you do, you will be in crisis. The nature of God is one man one woman. How can you have more than one wife? If you have more than one wife, you are going against the word of God. Fame is one good thing, but it depends on how you handle it. When a man is lost, fame becomes a problem.
Are you playing the role of a father to all your children?
Are you not just a man? Can you play the role of about 10 people at the same time? You asked me if I broke women’s hearts. It was not only women; I broke children’s hearts as well. I would have broken a lot of people’s hearts. I even broke God’s heart. That was why He told me to go and tell the world that what I did was wrong and none of my children should do that again. That is what I am doing now.
Do you have any regrets?
The only regret I have is that I have not been there for my children.
Are you still close to your contemporaries, like Kris Okotie and Jide Obi?
Yes. God even used Kris Okotie to get me into a Bible school. He paid all my fees. I still keep in touch with him.