When Blessing Offor’s full-length debut album My Tribe was released on January 13, the singer-songwriter was not only celebrating the project’s launch, but he was also mourning the recent and sudden loss of his sister Mercy, who passed away unexpectedly on December 29.
The Nigerian-born singer-songwriter is no stranger to balancing joy and sorrow simultaneously. Born with glaucoma causing almost complete blindness in his left eye, Offor’s parents selflessly sent him to America at age six with his uncle to receive treatment. Unfortunately, a water gun accident when he was 11 years old damaged his retina, taking the sight from his right eye. Although legally blind, Offor often sees what others can’t, offering a unique perspective on life.
“In the West we have this idea, we say, how come bad things happen to good people? Where I’m from, it’s more just like, good and bad happens to everyone, so just whatever it is, it’s yours,” he tells Country Now.
That idea is expressed throughout the two-part track “What a World (Akwa Uwa)” of My Tribe, where Offor sings a song he grew up hearing from his uncle. “It has informed a lot of how I think and look at things,” says Offor. He even included his uncle on the track, who explains the meaning of the song. It was a late addition to the album as Offor felt something was missing. “Some quintessential aspect of me was missing. That’s when I said, I need to put this song in here.”
The album’s title track came from the origins of Offor’s African heritage. “I literally come from a village. I come from a tribe of people,” he says. “I do what’s called song hunting, and so at some point, I just sat down and I was like, what are the different ways you could call people yours? All the different ways you can say to somebody, you are this group that is my group and my in crowd as it were. And I had this idea, it was like just my people, my tribe, like my village.”
On the intro track of My Tribe, Offor addresses his family and homeland of Nigeria. “So what do you say to a family, a country, a continent that you haven’t seen in over 25 years? Because of course, it would be wrong to start this journey without addressing them. It is all of their prayers that’s put me on this stage that I’m on right now. Look at God,” he says, before speaking to them in his native language. When he recorded that introduction, he never expected that his sister Mercy would never get to hear it.
“There was a point where I went, oh my God, Mercy will never hear this,” Offor tells Country Now. “It’s like you think you’re used to something and then it hits you another way.” Offor is the youngest of six children, with Mercy being the sibling closest in age to him. “When I grew up in Nigeria, the six years I spent there, she was my play buddy,” he recalls. “So it was just like your best friend, you know?”
Offor says that Mercy’s sudden passing just four days after Christmas was the result of poor medical treatment. “To say it was a comedy of errors is an understatement because it was just like bad doctor after bad doctor, and eventually, what went from like a gastrointestinal issue, which is nothing that kills anyone, ended up killing her because of just like, awful third world medicine.” He added, “If she happened to be in Nashville, Tennessee, they would’ve just taken care of whatever it was and she would’ve been good.”
My Tribe now takes on a new meaning for Offor. “We’re all one, one unit of people, even with all the distance, it always just has felt like that,” he says. “So there are little ways where it just feels like the village is a little less complete than it was.”
Offor shared the heartbreaking news on Instagram, saying in part, “God is still good, but I can’t be out here telling you about brighter days if I’m not willing to tell you about the moments when it feels like my screams don’t make a sound. I miss my sister. I miss my family. It’s hard right now. It’s been too long. Yet I’m so grateful for all of you, for everything happening in my life. Funny how oftentimes the mind has to hold 2 contradictory feelings at once… Life is tragedy and comedy, broken and beautiful. Please keep my family in your prayers. Our village is one member short, and we feel it deeply.”
Offor originally wrote “Believe” to challenge people, but now, the song is challenging him. “I used to love this song. Now I hate it, but I respect it a lot more,” he shares. “It is an emotional challenge now to have to relate to the song, because it’s actually a very irksome song, ‘cause it’s asking you to challenge your notion of what God owes you.” He says that this song is for people who have never been to church or haven’t been in a long time, that there isn’t any “Christianese” in it, and it’s relatable. “To sing it now after my sister passed was and is just infinitely more gut-wrenching and painful. And I hate that song now. I mean, I love it, but I hate what it asks your heart to do, but I respect what it asks your heart to do even more.”
In contrast, “Brighter Days” offers hope in a song. Offor compares cheap happiness to a sugar rush, whereas joy is a satisfying meal. “Maybe it wasn’t always sweet, but it keeps you going for an infinitely longer time, you know? ‘Brighter Days’ is one of those songs where if you didn’t have the verses with heavier things, you would just have a bunch of diabetes, which is the chorus,” he jokes. He balances the verses and chorus with the reality of life and the hope of brighter days ahead.
When he was choosing songs for My Tribe, Offor was intentional about picking songs that were overtly faith-based as well as challenging and interesting. “I remember having a meeting going, guys, I’m not gonna pretend this isn’t a love song,” he recalls, laughing. “This is a love song, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Christians fall in love, Christians have heartbreak. I just think sometimes people are so in their box and all of a sudden being a Christian is like, oh, all you do is put your hands up every day… I don’t know about anybody else, but that is not how my life goes,” he laughs. “It turns out there are a lot of people interested in just being people. I’ve gotten into telling people that this is just the genre of humanity. It’s human music. It’s people music. Don’t think of it as anything else.” He says that if you strip away the shallow differences between people, everyone is asking the same questions. “They’re… hurting, happy, crying, sad, wanting to be understood, wanting to understand, wrestling with all of the same life. We’re here and we’re all doing the best we can.”
Signed to Capitol Christian Music Group, Offor admits that he doesn’t fit the traditional mold of a Christian artist, telling his label, “I don’t know what y’all are used to Christian music sounding like, but I’m a Christian who’s an artist. I don’t quite know what it is to be a Christian artist.” His authenticity is resonating with listeners, with My Tribe becoming the most streamed debut album from a male solo artist in the label’s history, with nearly 4 million streams.
Offor shared that the city of Nashville and country music songwriters heavily influenced this album. “I became the songwriter that could write these songs in Nashville, nowhere else. I wrote with people that made me better writers who are primarily country writers. We pulled each other in beautiful directions, I think and I think they would agree, at the end of the day, a song is a song. Genre is like the suit we put the song in, but it’s not the song.” He adds, “There’s so many beautiful pieces of music that are coming from Nashville that you might not call country, but the soil of it is good songwriting that is Nashville. This record doesn’t have the twang per se,” he laughs. “But this record is only made possible by the town, the country, the songwriting, the culture that is Nashville, Tennessee.”
Offor has been fully embraced by the country music community, even making his Grand Ole Opry debut in October 2022, hanging out with Dierks Bentley and Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts backstage. “I was so excited to meet those guys,” recalls Offor. “Like I knew every Rascal Flatts run ever. And he and I just started singing to each other, Gary and I, and it was so much fun. He goes, well, we should just go ahead and do a project. And I was like, ah, man, say when I’ll be there.” Offor recalled his love for Flatts songs like “Bless the Broken Road” and “Skin (Sarabeth)” that he would listen to as a kid. “Meeting Gary was like meeting someone from Boyz II Men, like meeting Wanya from Boyz II Men or something,” he laughed. “I was like, I learned your runs growing up!” He also enjoyed spending time in his dressing room with Dierks Bentley, calling him “just one of the nicest, kindest human beings in the world.”
Offor is hitting the road with Zach Williams this spring, starting March 3 in Knoxville, Tenn., and concluding in Indianapolis, Ind. on May 12. “I’m looking forward to hearing Zach live, ’cause I always tell people if there was a Christian Chris Stapleton,” he laughs. “That guy’s voice is just so soulful, you know what I mean? I love everything he sings. It’s got that honest grit to it.”
Fans can find Offor’s complete tour schedule and ticket details at http://www.blessingoffor.com