“It was a wild 36 hours in Santa Barbara,” singer-songwriter and Contemporary Christian Music hitmaker Blessing Offor tells Billboardthat recalls how a meeting with five-time Grammy winner Jon Batiste in November 2022 at the Google Zeitgeist conference led to an impromptu writing session.
“It felt like meeting an old friend, just instantly cool,” Offor says. “He asked what we were doing that afternoon and if we wanted to do a session in LA. My flight was leaving that afternoon, but I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ to move my plane,'” he says, laughing. “It was just a great creative synergy. I’m not sure what will come of it, but I would love to collaborate again.”
Collaboration has played a key role in Offor’s career thus far.
Offor, who earned a GMA Dove Awards nomination for 2022 New Artist of the Year, also recorded a three-week No. 1 Christian Airplay hit in 2022 with its TobyMac collaboration “The Goodness” and has featured on albums from Chris Tomlin and Lee Brice. He has also written songs with Dallas Davidson, Breland, Tyler Hubbard and Corey Crowder, among others. Offor’s own “Brighter Days,” the title track from his February 2022 EP, peaked at No. 2 on Christian Airplay.
On Friday, the Nigerian-born, Connecticut-raised artist will release his new full-length set, My tribeat Bowyer & Bow/Capitol CMG.
Offor, who helped write 14 of My tribe 16 tracks, the album begins with a spoken intro thanking his family, still living in Nigeria, for their support. Later on the album, he includes “What a World (Akwa Uwa),” which incorporates a song he learned as a child.
“Towards the end of the album-making process, we got all the tracks done, but it felt like something was missing,” says Offor. “What was missing was a little fingerprint of Nigeria, of my own journey. When I said I wanted to put it on my record, my team was very supportive, although I think we joked about how difficult would be to find whoever owns, to release a song recorded in Nigeria in the 70s.”
Offor was surprised by the success of “Brighter Days”, which he also included on his new full-length project.
“We didn’t send ‘Brighter Days’ to radio thinking we had a massive song on our hands, because it doesn’t even say ‘Jesus,'” Offor says. “In this business, it’s easier to market things that are crystal clear, I think. I’ve gotten a lot of Facebook messages, Instagram messages from people asking, ‘How dare you call yourself a Christian artist? You didn’t say “Jesus” once in this song.’ It’s been super interesting. I’m a theological geek, so could I argue about it? Yes. But is it worth it? No, probably not. But because it didn’t fit neatly into a particular box, it’s ended up in many places in world where most songs that fit so closely into that box probably won’t.”
Alongside uptempo retro pop bops like “Feel Good” and “My Tribe” are soulful piano ballads like “Grace” and “Won’t Be Long Now,” which Offor calls “a mantra.”
“I love the kind of songs that massive groups can sing, songs that we need to get through certain moments — songs like ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy,'” he says of “Won’t Be Long Now.” , which he wrote with Hank Bentley and Jessie Early. “During the ’60s, in the civil rights movement, people would say, ‘How long?’ and the answer was ‘Not long.’ It didn’t mean literally two seconds from now, but the fact that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. The song is just a mantra to hold on to whatever someone may be going through.”
A journey from Nigeria to Nashville
The album is filled with a mix of pop and soul and a constantly uplifting message that flows through it – a testament to his own hard-fought journey.
Offor, who is legally blind, immigrated to the United States from Nigeria at the age of 6. He was born with glaucoma, which resulted in near-total blindness in his left eye. and his parents sent him to live with his uncle in America to receive treatment. Then at age 11, a water gun accident damaged his retina and took the sight from his right eye.
Growing up in Connecticut, Offor, the youngest of six siblings, listened to a variety of music, including pop, Motown and jazz, and began playing the piano at age 9. Still, he says it took commitment and passion to sticking to his unconventional career path in music, especially when his family expected him to take a more professional path.
“For me, being a singer-songwriter wasn’t cool, you know? My uncle has a law office, and for me, going to law school would have been a slippery slope, and then I could be a lawyer, and that would really be the immigrant dream there ,’ he says. ‘Nobody would have been mad if I quit to pursue a white-collar career, but I didn’t give myself permission to quit.’
He attended Nashville’s Belmont University, then spent five years in New York’s eclectic music scene around 2011, “just writing music and meeting people, working with the Snarky Puppy guys before they became Snarky Puppy,” he says. He went to Los Angeles and was briefly a contestant on The voicebefore returning to Nashville in 2015 where he continued to showcase for labels and write songs.
After writing a song titled “Tin Roof” with Natalie Hemby, Offor saw the song recorded by a few artists and hoped it would lead to a publishing deal. The song did more than that – soon after, CCM luminary Chris Tomlin heard the song and recorded it for his 2020 Chris Tomlin and friends album, with Offor’s vocals on the recording. Offor also signed a record deal with CCM luminary Chris Tomlin’s Bowyer & Bow imprint, in association with Universal’s Capitol Christian Music Group.
“After the song came out, there was the conversation about a long-term relationship with Chris and Capitol CMG. I said, ‘You know it’s not my goal to be a worship leader per se. I’m a Christian who’s an artist, but I always write music in my own way.’ Chris said, ‘All you have to do is be yourself,’ and I said, ‘Well, I can do that.’ [Capitol CMG co-president] Brad O’Donnell and all the guys at Capitol thought there could be a place for my music in the faith market, but also in the faith-adjacent and mainstream markets. And so far it’s been as good as it sounded from the beginning, which is a really rare thing.”
For Offor, finding his label home meant heeding the advice he once received from a music executive in Nashville.
“It’s funny because I’d do showcases in Los Angeles and they’d be like, ‘Cool, you can be the next John Legend.’ But John Legend is still doing his thing; we don’t need another John Legend. I would show off landmarks and it’s like, ‘OK, we can do a Zealand thing,’ so there was always this idea of doing a hybrid. Former Universal Music boss Joe Fisher gave advice that resonated at Offor: “He gave me the example of Chris Stapleton—when he first came to town, he was too soulful for country and too bluesy for soul. Joe said: ‘You want an appointment where people are comfortable letting you find who you are. It may take a minute, but once you build your own genre, no one can kick you out of it.’