The rafters are afire and the roof is aglow. Good sound burns with sweetness as Gerald Eze, the master performer of Oja, the air-blown instrument of the Igbo, releases his momentous debut musical album entitled “Igbo Rising”.
For starters, Gerald Eze is kicking off the Christmas season with the release of his debut single “Rise and Shine” from the eagerly anticipated album.
It is indeed astounding that Gerald Eze who got his training in Western musicianship in the Academia has committed his energy totally to Igbo musicianship which makes him quite special.
The young maestro is also called GEM, an acronym drawn from the combination of his full name, Gerald Eze Mmaduabuchi, a befitting name in my book for an exceptionally gifted musician.
He has been studying and performing Igbo music for over 15 years. He learnt and mastered the musical instruments under the tutelage of master performers in various Igbo communities.
A multi-instrumentalist, he also plays the Ubo-aka, the Igbo musical instrument that would have gone completely extinct but for his effort in teaching it to children and his university students.
It is noteworthy that the “Igbo Rising” album project is a celebration of the heroic “Igbo Landing” incident of the Igbos who refused to be slaves and instead drowned at Dunbar Creek, St. Simons Island, Glynn County, Georgia in 1803.
The superhuman act of seizing the slave-ship and drowning via mass suicide during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade holds very symbolic memories up to this day and more.
The ace filmmaker and project partner, Jonathan Doster, filmed Gerald Eze at Dunbar Creek and at various parts of St. Simons Island as the music virtuoso honoured the memory of his ancestors with Oja, Ubo-aka, Ekpili and multiform Igbo chants.
Remarkably, on one of the evenings during this filming, Gerald shared Igbo folk music at the Hostel in The Forest with guests from different parts of the United States of America who were getting really curious about his mission and musical instruments.
Gerald Eze was the only African amongst other international artists at the Art Omi Music Residency, 2022, in the United States, where he gave quality representation of the Igbo, performing Oja and Ubo-aka with great mastery.
People received Gerald Eze’s music in the United States as spiritual, edifying and entertaining. In fact, most of the times, people where driven to tears and got elevated to higher planes.
In the words of Gerald Eze, “Igbo has hit the ground and the only way to go is to rise”. He amplifies his submission thusly: “We must pay attention to our heroic history, and extol the heroes, but we must also appease the spirits we have hurt, especially those we sold as slaves.”
He argues that though different Igbo groups and elders have paid tribute to the memories of those who died in the Igbo Landing, there is need to honour them musically also because such heroes should be honoured with the great music of the Oja, Igbo chants and drums.
It was while standing in front of St. Simons Island and watching the sunrise and contemplating the Igbo landing story that Gerald Eze was instantly inspired to name his debut musical album, “Igbo Rising”.
Gerald now feels free to release some tracks from the album which fit into the December season for the Igbo after having played music to appease the spirits of those Igbo who drowned at the Dunbar Creek.
“Rise and Shine”, the first single to be released, extols the legacy of doggedness and industry of the Igbo.
Gerald sees the album “Igbo Rising” as “all-encompassing, and nothing lifts the Igbo spirit more than music.”
According to Gerald Eze, “It is time for the Igbo musicianship I have acquired for years and honoured as sophisticated and classical tradition to come to the service of the Igbo and lovers of good music all over the world. I have seen people degrade Oja either by playing it as a beggar’s tool, or by playing it on stage with poor musicianship on the art. I took rigorous training to acquire the musicianship of the Igbo and to master the Oja, Ubo, Une, Ufie, Ogene and Opi, just the same way I took years to master classical piano pieces of Mozart and Beethoven. I play the clarinet, flute, harmonica and trumpet, and I am respected for all these instruments. In my public performances so far, people give me much respect for the Oja, and this is why this album will be historic for bringing the Oja, Ubo-aka and various instruments of the Igbo to the world stage in quality compositions and excellent delivery.”
Stressing that good music has no boundaries, Gerald Eze said: “This album is not just for the Igbo, and the Igbo do not live in isolation. This album is a journey from the village square where I was groomed musically to everywhere my sound can travel. But the identity remains deeply rooted in Igbo culture. I am convinced about the rebirth of the authentic Igbo spirit of excellence, doggedness, and industry. My duty is to simply put it in songs. That is what the ‘Igbo Rising’ album is about.”
As a professional who is determined to conquer vaster grounds, Gerald informed me: “I love my work as a University lecturer, but the spirit of the Igbo music and musical instruments are becoming impatient with me. They demand that I do this project now. They demand that I focus. I see this project as the ultimate lecture on Igbo music because Igbo music is not a museum piece that is just studied, analysed, or merely admired. It is essentially a living art that speaks to our beings and makes impact on lives. The task is to take this music globally in performance and research, and this is what I am doing.”
Blowing a tuneful note out of his Oja, Gerald added: “This album is spiritual, and that music is spiritual does not mean that it should be boring. The spirit is not a place of death; it is a space of life. So, Igbo music, as we will receive in my songs, is very lively, highly danceable, but with messages that inspire.”
“There are songs for various occasions in the album,” Gerald Eze said in conclusion, but for now, ‘Rise and Shine’ is the dance for this December. Darlington Chinemelum Oti (Dalorbeats) is the producer of this work and he did an amazing job. You will love it.”
There is no doubt whatsoever that Gerald Eze who earned a First Class degree in Music has done significantly enough to make Igbo music function as classical music in the Homeland. He has also taken the sound globally in very commendable ways.
This album “Igbo Rising” is for him the beginning of a new phase in his quest to globalize Igbo music through performance, lecture and research.