SOURCE: Lynn Saxberg
Ottawa gospel singer elated to be included in Grammy nod
Ottawa gospel singer Ryan Ofei was scrolling through his phone this week when he noticed the Grammy Award nominations were being announced.
Suddenly a familiar name popped up. An album called Jubilee: Juneteenth Edition was in the running for the year’s best gospel album. A live recording by the U.S. gospel collective Maverick City Music, it features a roster of young, talented guest artists — including Ofei.
“I was kind of chilling and then I saw that it was nominated and I started losing my mind,” Ofei, still on a high from the news, said with a chuckle. “It really is surreal.”
Ofei, who’s 27, is a worship pastor and musical director at Campus Rush, a church he and his friends launched in 2014, when they were in their first year of studies at Carleton University. It started on campus, but currently operates out of the Transforming Life Centre, a non-denominational church in Ottawa’s west end.
“When I moved away from home, I was dealing with depression, anxiety and stress from school,” said Ofei, who was born in the United Kingdom, but grew up in Ghana before his parents moved to the United States and then Canada in 2003. Ofei graduated from high school in Milton, Ont.
At Carleton, he and a group of friends started making faith-based music with a positive vibe. One friend, Kofi Dartey, is the son of Ralph and Regina Dartey, the couple who founded the Transforming Life Centre 10 years ago; Kofi is now the lead pastor at Campus Rush.
“We were making music that was uplifting and describing exactly where we were at the time as first-year students,” Ofei said. “We wanted to create music that gave us a haven, and out of that came our campus church.”
Their Thursday-night meetings are raucous affairs, featuring a live band on a big stage with multiple singers and a congregation that, before COVID-19, numbered upwards of 500 people, mostly young, Black and Christian. Pastor Kofi led this week’s meeting, declaring it the best place to be in Ottawa on a Thursday night, while Ofei gave an incredibly high-energy performance, bouncing across the stage in a green track suit as he sang to the heavens and harmonized with a quartet of female vocalists.
So how did he make the jump from a church stage in Ottawa to Grammy recognition?
During the pandemic, Ofei applied for an online songwriting camp conducted by Maverick City Music. The Atlanta-based collective, founded by Tony Brown and Jonathan Jay in 2018, aims to expand contemporary Christian music by developing new talent, often discovering it through these camps.
Ofei, who’s been singing and writing since he was a child, was a hit with them, and they invited him to Atlanta to write songs together in person and to do some recording, including the live sessions that make up the Jubilee: Juneteenth album. Ofei co-wrote two songs that made it to the record, and he’s featured on both of them.
In fact, one of his co-writes, Freedom Looks Good On You, is a nine-minute centrepiece of the album, elevated to inspirational heights by Ofei’s smooth and soaring voice. It was penned with gospel legend Israel Houghton, who also performs on the track.
“The album, at the core of it, speaks to freedom and how people in the Southern states didn’t know that freedom had been issued in the Northern states,” Ofei explained of the song’s origin. “We’re not free until everyone is free, that’s what the whole album is about.”
Ofei’s work with Maverick City didn’t end there. They invited him on their fall tour, a 26-date journey that criss-crossed the U.S. and attracted crowds of up to 20,000 people. Further collaborations are expected as Ofei, who’s on leave from his job in the public service, pursues a career in music.
Meanwhile, the Grammy Awards will be handed out during a live television ceremony in Los Angeles on Jan. 31, the same day Ofei celebrates his 28th birthday.