Judah Nii Amaa Ollennu has been singing in church since 1992 at the age of 14, but he doesn’t mind how long Ghanaians take to notice his breathtaking musical artistry.
A personification of unwavering conviction in one’s God-given talent and shrewdness, Judah is a staunch adherer to the “my time will come, but I have to wait” mantra.
It has been 30 years since his debut with the Living Word Assemblies International Choir—Living Voices. And, in three weeks, his dogged patience will culminate into a live album recording session on March 6, 2022.
“It feels great,” Judah tells the Business and Financial Times’ in an exclusive chat. “When the time comes the feeling is different. I can’t really wait to give God worship that night,” he adds.
Born Ishmael Borketey Bortey (ALABI), Judah is a descendant of Wulomoi. The Wulomoi are priests – servants of God. Traditionally the Ga people were a Theocracy ruled by Wulomei, according to thegadangme.com. He was, thus, to be a Wulomo—a stark departure from his beliefs.
“My grandfather was then the fetish priest of Nungua…Nungua Wulomo. So, the thing runs in my line and at some point in time, my father started worrying me, urging me to consider being the Nungua Wulomo,” Judah states during the interview in his office at Accra Business School.
He believes his mother’s separation from his father quite early during his childhood saved his soul for the Almighty God. He was about six years when the parents separated—the mother assuming the responsibility of bringing him and his two siblings up in the Christian way.
“I look at the things that are happening around…my paternal side and I ask myself where are all those gods that they claim we have in that family house? But, the only God my mother introduced me to, every time I hear people mentioning His name…every time He’s doing new things,” he says—a conscious awakening that will inspire one of the six songs he will be recording live on March 6, 2022, at Pleasant Palace Church—titled Ancient of Days.
“…Because I have heard people mention some names of gods and before you know they fade out. But, since I was born, the God I came to meet my mother serving is still doing new things all the time and that inspired me to write that song,” he explains calmly with a fulfilling grin.
Unearthing the musical genius
The year was 1992 and it began with these words spoken to him by Bishop Francis Afotey Odai. “I think there is something in you…I will help you bring it out. Come to church.” Judah was 14 years then after his O Levels.
A Presbyterian by his mother’s association with that church, Judah honoured the invitation extended to him by Bishop Francis Afotey Odai of the then Living Word Assemblies International, a charismatic church around Teshie, a suburb of Accra, Ghana’s capital now Maranatha Power Ministries International.
That was the time every youth was running away from the orthodox churches to the charismatic ones to have a feel of the drums, keyboards, bass guitars—things they didn’t get to experience at the orthodox churches and Judah was no exception. He excitedly joined the bandwagon saying, “I thought it was very lively.”
Even though he knew instinctively that he could sing, he didn’t know he possessed the enviable ability for ministry. He was put in the church’s youth choir and during one of their session, the innocently lanky teenager wowed the congregation with his soothingly amazing skills and mastery of the music.
Despite holding the solid belief that he was gifted, Judah, like the church, was overwhelmed by what he just did. “To my amazement, the church was…like ‘wow where has he been hiding’,” he recalls. The senior choir director decided following that display that Judah didn’t belong to the youth choir. “So, he picked me from the youth choir and fixed me in the senior choir… and even though I was tall, the robes were bigger than me. It was quite funny,” Judah says.
Ahead of his peers
Fast forward, Judah would yet again rise to the occasion when called upon spontaneously. Describing the incident as “fortunately for me”, he recalls that the choirmaster who was the only person who did praise and worship couldn’t make it to church one Sunday, triggering the hunt for an urgent replacement.
With the search for a sort-of-quick-sit-in in full force, everybody turned to look at him. Assured by his inner conviction that he could do it, Judah picked the microphone and did the praise and worship as if it was something he had been doing all the time. “That day the pastor said no way, this young man is going to start doing praise and worship every time. That was how the whole thing started for me,” he says.
In four years, Judah would rise to become the music director of Living Voices—the church’s choir. He was 18 years old. He would later leave Living Word Assemblies International to handle the choir at Open Heavens after what he described as “few issues.”
In 2006, Judah was introduced to the then Sheepfold Chapel International, now Pleasant Place Church. Any time he attended the church he felt depressed by the performance of his new church’s choir, he says, but remained painfully aloof. He didn’t want to get involved, so, he hid his identity, until somebody came to the church and asked Bishop Gideon Titi-Ofei why would he have a musician in his church and still have a terrible choir?
“Bishop told me that when they told him he decided to wait and check my attitude to things before he would involve me. So, he ignored me for some time until he decided to talk to me saying: “you can’t be in the house of God and you have talent and you can’t use it to serve God,” Judah says, recalling his encounter with Bishop Gideon Titi-Ofei.
The Choirmaster then, now apostle in the church and Bishop Gideon Titi-Ofei handed the choir to him and since then he has handled the choir up to today. That was 2008, two years after joining the church.
The March 6 live album recording session—the project of patience
It’s a live recording session on March 6, 2022. Judah will be recording six songs live that day featuring some of the household names in the Ghanaian gospel industry including Joe Mettle, MOG (Nana Yaw Boakye) and Philip Adzale.
Explaining the reason behind the live recording session, Judah says it gives him that feeling of a “typical worship” where he can connect with the audience. “Just come and worship. Let’s just come together and lift the name of God high and worship him. If you look at the people on the bill…great worshipers. Believe me, I know we really going to worship God that night,” he reechoes.
Answering why it took him almost 30 years to come with an album, Judah explains that the time wasn’t right. Citing the launch of the album by the wife of Bishop Gideon Titi-Ofei, he says, “I said to myself then my time will come but I have to wait. The truth is when the time came, the ease at which I write songs, myself it’s amazing to me. It comes so easily, I see art and it’s music, I talk to somebody and it’s music. So, it is amazing.”
The songs, he says have been inspired by happenings around him.