The Ambassadors, an a cappella group from Nigeria, was one of the featured groups at the General Conference held in Toronto in 2000, singing five times for the meetings held in the SkyDome, the primary place of meeting, and also performing on the Global Mission Stage. The following is the story of their journey from obscurity to international acclaim.
The audience is mesmerized as the music, a mix of a-cappella close harmony and syncopated rhythm, surrounds them. It is enchanting music tempered by the life experiences of seven young men from Africa, a continent full of cultures that have intrigued outsiders for centuries. The music is from the heart and the listeners are deeply touched, as both the sound and the message transport them beyond the cares of the moment to a spiritual high.
It is a scene that happened literally hundreds of times throughout the world during the 1990's as The Ambassadors, a group of young men originally from the Adventist Seminary of West Africa in Nigeria, sang for thousands of listeners. The travels and successes of this group could be described as a modern day miracle.
The ensemble’s roots can be traced to a quartet called The King’s Ambassadors, which was formed at the Nigerian seminary in the 1960’s and perpetuated in subsequent years by remaining members inviting new singers and choosing a leader as members graduated. The present configuration and style emerged, however, when Ghoyega Adeniji was selected in 1990 to lead the group.
Under his leadership the membership expanded to six and then to eight, and the group was renamed simply The Ambassadors. The group also decided to add contemporary music to their traditional quartet repertoire. Success followed, and with it a cascade of performances and increasing clamor for a recording. In 1995 they began work on the latter and in 1996 released Come on Home in both cassette tape and CD formats.
They were one of only a few Nigerian groups to have made a CD and the response was overwhelming. Fame and numerous appearances on TV soon followed, as well as articles in major magazine and newspapers, frequent playings on top national radio programs, and opportunities for appearances at West African presidential summits, award shows, and other events, including a World Music Day concert organized by noted music mogul Steve Rhodes.
A single from the album, I go Make am (pidgin English meaning whatever you go through in life, if you have God by your side you will eventually succeed) was released also as a music video and enjoyed widespread and frequent playings. All of this exposure made The Ambassadors and their songs a household name in Nigeria and in other parts of Africa.
At the end of 1996 their album received three nominations for the AMEN awards (Award for Musical Excellence in Nigeria), Nigeria’s equivalent to America’s Grammy awards. The Nigerian Music Industry nominated them for Best New Artist of the Year, Best Producer of the Year, and Best Gospel Artist of the Year. While honored by the nominations, they were totally surprised when they received the AMEN award for Best Gospel Artist of the year.
During this busy time all were still studying at the Seminary, in some instances delaying graduation in order to keep the membership in the group stable. The administration and teachers were very supportive, feeling that the visibility of this group and its work and message were having a profound influence on the young people of Africa and providing a witness to the importance of getting an education.
They traveled to Europe and the United States, supported by friends, generous sponsors and three different managers, one being the earlier mentioned Rhodes, known warmly as "Uncle Steve." A Swedish businessman, Jeaneric Gustavsson, was their international tour manager in 1997.
A trip to Europe at that time was met with great enthusiasm and increased acclaim. In colorful African garb, the group sang on TV, in live concerts and at important events such as the annual famous Scandinavian National Christmas Concert, a program always sold out months in advance. The trip ended with a recording session for a second CD at a studio in Sweden.
The highpoint of that tour happened at the conclusion of a concert when an elderly woman approached an Ambassadors member and spoke with great emotion in Swedish while someone translated, "In the past, we as Europeans took the message to Africa as missionaries. Now that we are old, you are bringing the message back to us."
Net 98, the satellite evangelism series sponsored by the SDA church in the fall of 1998, chose The Ambassadors as the representative group from Africa. This exposure led to popularity around the globe and increased demand for appearances.
While in the United States, they met a physician and his wife, Donald and Sandy Weaver, who arranged for them to explore the possibility of doing graduate study at Andrews University. Since all of the members of the group had completed their undergraduate degrees in 1998, they were keenly interested in doing so, but could not because of the cost.
AU responded with scholarships, and the Weavers and other friends assisted with financial support and housing so that the men were able to register in the winter quarter of 1999. The group was elated at this turn of events which made it possible for them to not only continue their education but also to stay together as a group.
The Weavers continue today as the group’s sole sponsors, with Sandy, whom they affectionately call "mom," now serving as their manager. She coordinates their extensive tours and frequent performances throughout the United States.
Along with the success and fame of the last decade, including, most recently, first place at the Powerlife 99 Talent Search at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame which included a cash award, free recording sessions, and airing on gospel music stations nationally, there have also been times of difficulty. Tough choices about what music they would and would not sing as a gospel performing group, or where they should or should not perform, have been persistent challenges.
Working and living together as closely as they do has created a supportive family dynamic within the group, despite the fact that no two members are from the same area in Africa or speak the same language and that there have been continuing changes in personnel during the last ten years.
Several of them have had a number of close calls in near fatal accidents. In one such accident, member Emmanuel Osuyah sustained a complex leg fracture so serious that amputation seemed likely. Miraculously, twenty-one days later the leg started to heal and within a short time he was able to rejoin the group.
The challenges today for the group are similar to those of all students everywhere, except for the rigor of their performing schedule. Weekends and school breaks are totally consumed by travel and a daunting schedule of performances. Additionally, they are now working on a third and fourth CD with a major recording studio in Detroit. It is not an easy life, yet when they stand up front and begin to sing and see the effect of their ministry on the faces of their audiences, they find renewed strength and the passion to continue.
When The Ambassadors talk about their present ministry in music and their future together, they speak often of an enabling and indispensable eighth member of the group, the Holy Spirit. They are confident, given His leadings in the past, that they need not worry about the future.
This article was published in the Summer/Autumn 2000 issue of Notes, an IAMA publication