The music was more arresting than a lover’s summons. Call it the music of the spirits that intervolves the ancient and the modern. It was revolutionary music being dished out by the Igbo classical music exponent Gerald Eze and his Ichoku Ensemble at Testimony Place, off Ukwu Aki Junction, on Ifite Road in the Anambra State capital city of Awka on Sunday, August 8, 2021.
The Igbo musical instrument Oja can summon the spirits with the accompaniment of Ubo-aka. The spirit in me was thus summoned to the grand performance of Gerald Eze, a First Class graduate of Music and a lecturer at Nnamdi Azikiwe University. With a supporting cast of multiform musicians he mentored and his students, Gerald Eze bestrode the stage like a revolutionary maestro of music.
The event titled “Uwa Mgbede”, to wit, eventide life, was graced by the resourceful Anambra State Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs, Culture and Tourism, Dr. Kenn Anierobi alongside other dignitaries.
The theme of the concert stood out in full panoply that the evening of life is the best life. According to Gerald Eze, “It is a tough world, yet it is a sweet world. Our ancestors always gathered in the evenings after work to relax, tell stories, share philosophies, share love, and play music, and so on. We shall do that with a combo of ancient and modern sounds.”
He adds for good measure: “I believe in a beautiful world and I have prepared so well with an amazing group of gifted persons to make you dance, smile, laugh and relax. Uwa Mgbede Ka Mma!”
The event tickets sold at N500 for students and N2000 for the adults. Twenty early attendees were allowed to go in free-of-charge.
In the drive to “create intentionally”, Gerald Eze and the Ichoku Ensemble brought spell-inducing music to the experience of children, the youth, the elderly ones, and the aged.
It was a rainy day, but even so all classes of people travelled from Nnewi, Onitsha, Ukpo etc. to bear witness to an outstanding event.
It was quite touching seeing students and pupils walking into the venue wielding their umbrellas. Whole families were around to enjoy the rare spectacle. The Uwa Mgbede experience was romantic in the best sense of the word.
Gerald Eze was full of gratitude to “Mmiri Mara Ugo who, though in Imo State, bought tickets for 20 students to attend.”
In the words of a fulfilled Gerald Eze, “We planned for only 20 student-tickets but 50 student-tickets sold out.”
The band in full play consists of Gerald Eze (Band leader), Alexander Ugwu (Xylophone), Dieudonne Ezeanyim (Trumpet), Victor Ikenna (Oja and Trumpet), Silver Momah (Ubo-aka), Bruno Okafor (Ubo-aka), Emmanuel Ezedimbu (Ubo-aka), Benita Amaluwa (Udu), Jennifer Okpalaoka (Ekpili), Somto Paul (Bass Guitar), Somto Onyejekwe (Percussions), and David Chiedozie (Drums).
The event also featured the Christi-Harris Family Singers, consisting of Oluoma Odimegwu (Ubo-aka), Ifunanya Odimegwu (Oja and Piano), and Nwabuogo Odimegwu (Voice and Ekpili). Their performance of the classic folk songs “Omalugo” and “Udara Asaa” ranked up there in the league with the renditions of Nelly Uchendu.
Oluoma Odimegwu told the interesting story of how she took the musical instrument, Ubo-aka, to her secondary school boarding house. It elicited a measure of resentment at first that she was bringing the strange instrument to school but it turned to astonishment and eventually to exquisite affection when she played the tunes.
The original folksy compositions of Gerald Eze kicked off the evening with a touch of class that never ebbed.
Classical music like Miriam Makeba’s “Pata-Pata” got served up with gusto by Gerald Eze and the Ichoku Ensemble together with hip and contemporary tunes of modern day Nigeria.
It was enlightening to notice that Igbo instruments like Oja and Ubo-aka could seamlessly mix with the xylophones, guitars and trumpets.
The music was pulsating enough to drag the young and old ones to the dance floor, dancing away soulfully.
It was remarkable for me to see that Emeka Anozie whom the filmmaker and novelist Onyeka Nwelue had sent to interview me for a documentary in Lagos was right there at Awka working behind the camera. Emeka Anozie undertook the comely artistic design of the concert flyer and the video coverage of both the rehearsals and the performance itself.
Gerald Chidi-Onuigbo served as the masterful sound engineer while Kingsley Ezeabasili took charge of still photography.
The support rendered by Professor Greg Obiamalu, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka gladdens the heart of the Global Ogbu-oja no end.
Gerald Eze was full of thanks for the couple who offered him free accommodation, Dr Ezeno Patrick Anayo and Barrister Amaka Ezeno. Such committed patrons of the arts are hard to find in these shores. .
Reverend Father Ifesinachi Uduh brought four Catholic priests from the Old Priests’ Home to grace the occasion.
“At this point I was emotional,” Gerald Eze said. “I kept imagining what classic entertainment events we have that can accommodate people of all ages and classes. Chukwu Daalu, thanks be to God that we thought out Uwa Mgbede!”
The folk music collector and performer Gerald Eze had unstinting praise for his musicians: “I thank my Band Mates, the best set of creative people you can find. Indeed, Uwa Mgbede Ka Mma!”
As Chinua Achebe said, “If one thing stands, another will stand beside it.” The Uwa Mgbede Concert by Gerald Eze has revolutionary companions to be hosted at the same venue such as the Nyokometer film-viewing introduced by Emeka Anozie and the Eagle Nest Book Club and Arts Movement facilitated by Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera and Obumneme Osuchukwu
It is indeed a revolutionary cultural spring in Awka, Anambra State.