My Role As Ogbu-oja and Minstrel During The Morehouse College Glee Club Tour of Nigeria

by Gerald Eze
Gerald Eze with Tee Mac

I played the oja to the intro of Prof Laz Ekwueme’s “Obi Dimkpa”. This music urges one to “move about with a brave heart”. There is no Western musical instrument I know which could have introduced the music better. And I have a special way of being able to play in the key of the band or the choir I am accompanying with the oja. Our ancestors left enough resources for us in our indigenous instruments but because some people view indigenous musical instruments with the lens of Western education alone, and are not open to the rigors of mastering the instruments, they do not see the simple things that make all the difference.

At Nsukka, immediately I sounded the oja, the crowd in the Nsukka Stadium screamed out joyfully and applauded me. This made me know that the energy was right. And the choir then took the music to another level of crescendo as the cheers kept rising. The end of the music was glorious and you can tell that the glee club had good fun while thrilling the audience. I must appreciate Dr. David Morrow’s high spirit of excellence, as well as his ability to adapt and integrate cheerfully within the shortest possible time. This particularly made the “Obi Dimkpa” music work.

Such cultural exchange is good so that people from various cultures will meet and appreciate what is unique, as well as what is universal about them. I imagine this:  “If they had come and all I can play as a musicologist and performer is the piano, saxophone or flute, who would have played the oja the way I did it, and what would be the point of my education? Is it by playing Beethoven and Mozart without knowing how to play Igbo folk songs with the ubo-aka that I will show that I made First Class?” Indeed, the exchange and the way the “Obi Dimkpa” video was received is a reminder to Nigerians that we must hold onto our indigenous cultures and most importantly improve them. It is therefore important to note that the cultural exchange in a good way celebrated the growth of the oral traditions of the African-American musical cultures as well as that of the Nigerian musical cultures.

On June 6, on the invitation of Prof Aaron Carter-Enyi, I also gave a master class on the oja to the Morehouse College students (who had come earlier in June) and MUSON students at MUSON, Lagos. I equally gave a brief master class on the oja to the students and faculty at different occasions within the tour at University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I equally played the ubo-aka and sang some folk songs on the eve of the naming ceremony. All representing the Igbo cultural identity while learning from the students and faculty of Morehouse College.

The oja played an important role in the naming ceremony as I played each person’s Igbo name with the oja while also engaging in social commentaries. Some of the students and faculty members found some of the names challenging to pronounce. Because oja is a surrogate instrument and Igbo language is tonal, I played out some of the names for the students and this helped them with the pronunciation. I found this experience revealing. The naming ceremony was spiritual as much as it was entertaining; it was a psycho-spiritual homecoming of a sort and I am glad I was of service with my oja. I recommended Prof. Ngozi Ezenwa-Ohaeto’s book Ahamefuna, to the visiting Americans and they purchased forty copies for each of the students. It was from this very important book that they took their names.

Prof. Uzee Brown’s “I’m Building Me A Home” has been a tune I play on the harmonica since after the tour. It is therefore apt to say that though the faculty and students of Morehouse College have gone back to America, the memories of the exchange remains active in the minds of all the secondary school children they collaborated with, and indeed in all our minds.


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