THE EXPRIENCE 2009
IT is very ironic that the best show of the year, so far, is a free show. Yes. But this is not for the first time. Since its inception four years ago, The Experience, has consistently lived up to its billing as the biggest, most encompassing and most organized concert in Nigeria, and possibly in Africa. And this is saying a lot.
Organised by Pastor Paul Adefarasin of House on the Rock, The Experience, parades the best gospel musicians the world can boast of. They converge in Nigeria by this time every year and in one night give children of God an overdose of the gospel. Last year's edition was partially disrupted by rain, but this year's went on smoothly. This is an account of how it happened…
THE TAFAWA BALEWA SQUARE
Apart from being a symbol of national unity, having hosted our post-independence celebration parades and other state functions during the time of Lagos as the nation's capital, The TBS, has been the home of The Experience since it debuted in 2006. It took close to two weeks to get it in shape for this year's edition and the results of such elaborate preparations were evident on the night of Friday, December 4, 2009.
The seats in the main bowl were carefully and beautifully arranged in convenient patterns to cater for the heavy traffic of people that descended on the square. There were two sections, the VIPs and the popular stand. Then, there were the bleachers. These places were completely filled up and the crowd still spilled over to the cricket pitch where events were transmitted through giant screens. There were also giant screens placed at strategic positions in the main bowl to further transmit the event to the very large crowd. With banners and flyers everywhere.
Even though The Experience is primarily a Christian show, attendance was not restricted. People from all denominations and backgrounds were warmly welcomed into the presence of God. This year's attendance should be in the region of almost half a million, an almost 100,000 increase from last year's edition.
Among the notable attendees were Governor Babatunde 'Isaac' Fashola of Lagos State (the consortium of religious leaders present collectively changed his middle name, Raji, to Isaac). His wife, Mrs. Abimbola Fashola was also present. Former Head of State, Retired General Yakubu Gowon, Minister of State for Petroleum, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, SAN. Actresses Monalisa Chinda and Stephanie Okereke were also among the notable faces seated at the VIP section.
Resplendent gentleman, Mr. Femi Segun, was assisted by Muyiwa Olanrewaju, who came in from the UK. Comedians Gordons and MC Abbey; radio hosts, Yaw of Wazobia FM and Freeze of Cool FM, were the comperes of the night.
While Mr. Segun kept on announcing the arrival of special guests, Mr. Olanrewaju introduced the acts. Freeze and Yaw also introduced the guests, but remained in the background while Gordons and MC Abbey provided comic relief. It was a well worked out arrangement and there was never a dull moment throughout the proceedings.
The massive well-lit stage had The Experience written all over it. The background was a range of cascading lights which also spelt out the name of each performer. The lighting was excellent and the sound carried into the outside Lagos night. Particularly of note is the fact that at no point did the stage, lighting and sound system experience any technical hitch. Everything was seamlessly coordinated and everybody heard and saw the word of God and His servants in action, crisp and clear.
CLINIC AND LAB
For an event of such magnitude, emergency services were very visible. Members of the Nigerian Red Cross Society were at very vantage positions, looking out for the crowd. There was also a clinical stand on the premises. Here was where any accident, which was of a very negligible number and mostly minor, was taken. There was also a medical laboratory that offered various tests, free-of-charge, to any interested member of the audience.
Young designer and The Future Awards 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year, Uche Nnaji, who is also a member of the Household of God, had specially designed The Experience T-shirts on sale. There were six different designs out there, but they all had the same loud message. The number '4' was also ubiquitous because this was the fourth edition. Though the majority of the sales were made prior to the event so that people could wear them to the show, a few were still sold for N4,000 at the venue.
THE VUVUZELA AND WHISTLES
A Bible verse reads, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord!” People obeyed this to the letter on December 4, 2009. since the last FIFA Confederation Cup in South Africa, the plastic trumpet popularly called Vuvuzela in South Africa, has become a part of our sport supporters' paraphernalia. The Nigerian own is a shorter model, but seemingly makes as much noise as its South African counterpart. They were everywhere at The TBS on the night of the event and the people dutifully used them, together with all the other kinds of whistles on sale.
SERMONS AND PRAYERS
Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor and Bishop Tudor Bizmark, from Harare, Zimbabwe, delivered the sermons. There were also a couple of prayers for Lagos (done by Rev. Akinboboye) and another for Nigeria by the duo of Pastor Sam Adeyemi and Pastor Richardo Watson from South Africa. They prayed for God to displace bad leadership and enthrone leaders who have the people at heart in power. Other ministers of God and leaders of various congregations present were Bishop Mike Okonkwo, Bishop Obi Onubogu, Rev. Victor Adeyemi and so many others.
There were a couple of speeches from Mr. Ajumogobia and Governor Fashola. Ajumogobia commended Pastor Paul Adefarasin for putting together an event of such magnitude. Fashola's speech was also in the same vein but it took quite a while for the crowd who were excited at having their popular governor with them to quieten down and let him speak.
AUDITION FOR BLACK ENTERTAINMENT TELEVISION (BET) USA
Midway into the event, Muyiwa Olanrewaju, announced a competition. Singing youths who are not below 21 years of age were invited to Eko Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, on Sunday, December 6, 2009, to audition for a chance to travel to the USA and appear on The Sunday Show, hosted by Kirk Franklin. There is only one slot available, but they said they are open to appearances of not less than 1,000 people.
The Experience 2009 properly kicked off at 7.30 p.m. The first performers were the in-house choir of the House on the Rock, the Chosen Treasure with Lionel Peterson. Then, Sammie Okposo came up with the handkerchief and Wellu Wellu dance. He recently reconciled his differences with Pastor Adefarasin and his first performance at The Experience is an attestation to this fact. He raised the spirit of the people before Lara George came and got them speaking in tongues. Some people cried while others just marvelled at the delivery of the mother of one. Her song, Mu Mi Dele is one of the deepest songs to come out of this country.
Timi Dakolo, winner of the first Idols West Africa, was also a beauty to watch. After his song, Let It Shine, he went into a medley of some of the very popular gospel tunes around. His vocal talent was very evident, but some members of the audience felt he needs more original songs. Next was the beautiful Chevelle Franklin. She and her back-up singers had dresses made with the Jamaican flag and another one in the background.
At 9.30 p.m, Evangelist Ebenezer Obey Fabiyi, brought in a traditional flavour to the proceedings. Backed up with Gan gan drums, the Commander dished out some of his evergreen tunes for almost 30 minutes. It was very fulfilling to watch such an old hand happily singing to God's glory and carrying everybody along.
10.00 p.m was the turn of Mike Aremu. The gifted saxophonist was at his vintage best while dishing out saxophone gospel tunes and leading the audience in a dance session.
10.30 p.m saw the petite but energetic Nikki Laoye ascend the stage. A combination of excellent rap skills and well synchronized choreography session with her dancers earned her high marks from the audience.
11.00, multiple award winning Fred Hammond climbed the stage and took the crowd through varying emotions. There was serenity when he went slow but his Holy Ghost Party accelerated things. He even had to borrow an extra two minutes before he could conclude his planned performance.
The Rooftop MCs have gone completely rocky. This was the exclamation on a lot of people's mouths when the duo of Adeyoola 'Soulsnatcha' Adekunle and the new father, Olaitan 'Sokleva' Hughes, climbed the stage. Their rock rendition of their songs introduced a new flavour into the night showed their versatility as musicians. Phil Briscoll and Lara George did the national anthem, a verse apiece, after them.
12.50, Ron Kenoly, who it was later revealed was turning 65 the next day, was next. We are virtually all familiar with his music and the crowd happily joined him to do song after song. Phil Briscoll followed suit and his happiness at serving God was there for all to see. He sang, talked and trumpeted till Tom Brooks joined him on the stage. Pastor Adefarasin, later joined them and they sang, He's Alive Again, together.
When Don Moen appeared at about 3.00 a.m and wanted to leave about an hour later, the people were loath to see him go. Such is the power and appeal of this great man of God that after performing at all the editions so far, he still tops the list of those requested by the audience to come again.
The siblings, Bebe and Cece Winans, are also another every year visitor to The Experience. It was graceful to watch members of the same family fully dedicating their lives to the service of God.
It was when Donny Mclurkin came that the spill-over crowd in the adjoining cricket pitch was asked to make some noise. And they did and those in the main bowl heard it loud and clear. Donny's songs are also very popular among the Nigerian Christian populace and they showed this when they sang with him song after song.
KIRK FRANKLIN'S SHORTCOMINGS
Last year, the rains deprived Kirk Franklin a performance. This year, he was made the headliner of the event, so he was coming on last. He brought in some special equipment for his performance and while they were being fixed, there was a lull.
Yaw, who was appearing on stage for the first time after having operated from the background for most of the evening, teamed up with MC Abbey to provide comic relief. They did such a good job that Kirk Franklin joined them on the stage. And they took on him.
The high point of it came when MC Abbey, who though short, said he’s a shade taller than Kirk. He then referred to Kirk as having 'shortcomings' because of this. This really hit the spot with the crowd and they couldn't stop laughing for quite a while.
KIRK FRANKLIN'S PERFORAMNCE
As the last performer, Kirk Franklin, revealed that he had been given a free hand by Pastor Adefarasin, it was already dawning by this time. But a large number of the audience who had been standing all through the night were still very willing to sing and dance. Those in the popular area began scaling the short iron fence used to separate them from the VIPs and the guards and bouncers who had maintained perfect watch all through the night had to let them be.
Kirk demanded to be taught some Nigerian dance steps and there were a number of volunteers. Prominent among them was MC Abbey whose genuine dance steps makes a complete entertainment package.
When Kirk finally stopped, Pastor Paul Adefarasin invited back all the performers to the stage and they sang 'Happy Birthday' to Ron Kenoly. Ron also took the mic to do a Yoruba song to the admiration of the audience. They then spoke about their happiness to be part of The Experience 2009 and promised to come back for more.
FINAL BENEDICTION AND SEVEN HALLELUYAHS
The seven Halleluyahs were used to end the show and those that had given their lives to Christ were invited forward for a little chit-chat session while the rest were dismissed at exactly 6.30 a.m, Saturday, December 5, 2009. It was exactly 11 hours of non-stop Godly entertainment, not counting the hours that a large number of the audience who arrived the TBS in the morning of Friday, and those that came in from a different states spent to be in the presence of God. And all was for free.