By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
The ground floor of the tall building housing The Law Toomers Chambers in Awka, Anambra State raised the art of music to exhilarating heights on the evening of Sunday, September 8.
Mmaduabuchi Gerald Eze, a First Class graduate of Music, had assembled an exciting cast of music makers, young and old, and dared to put them on stage. Variously called Ogbu-Oja, Boy Wonder etc, Gerald Eze had undertaken to make rounded musicians out of adolescents, pre-teens and teenagers from three elite families of Prof Ike and Mrs. Christy Odimegwu, Dr. Chike and Barrister (Mrs.) Chinenye Ofoegbu, Dr. Patrick and Barrister (Mrs.) Amaka Ezeno.
To cap it all up, Gerald Eze brought the inventor of the Igbo musical instrument Uboaka, Mr. Emmanuel Nwankwo, to perform at the show.
The genial Gerald Eze informs that the Egwu Onwa concert is the fifth organized by the Ichoku Ensemble led by him.
The show kicked off with Oluomachukwu Odimegwu rendering Whitney Houston’s great hit, “Greatest Love of All.” She also performed “You Raise Me Up”.
Nwabuogochukwu Odimegwu sang “There Is Peace in Christ” by Claire Ryann and Dave Crosby, followed by “Ijoba Orun” by Lara George.
Ifunanyachukwu Odimegwu performed “Let It Be” by The Beatles and also rendered “Urioma” with the accompaniment of Ubo-aka of various sizes, the xylophone, guitar, saxophone, and the piano.
Chisimdi (Simdi) Ofoegbu revved up the audience with “Sound of Music”, “Favorite Things”, and “Edelweiss”, all from the classic movie, Sound of Music.
Charles Gounod’s performance of “Ave Maria” was done on the flute by Gerald Eze, while Simdi supplied the piano accompaniment to the tune which was originally Bach’s “Prelude No. 1.”
This was to mark the birthday of The Blessed Virgin Mary as celebrated by Catholics all over the world on that date, to wit, September 8.
Icheku ensemble in session
Simdi also played a very active role on the xylophone throughout the performances of Igbo songs in the course of the concert.
Beluchi Ofoegbu thrilled the crowd with Akuko na egwu of Mike Ejeagha with the folksy “Ka e si ree onye isi oche”. He also played the second xylophone during the renditions of other Igbo music.
Erika Ofoegbu performed “Viva la Vida” by Cold Play on the piano. She also performed the Uboaka.
Chikaima Ezeno displayed mastery of Saxophone and Oja and performed a medley of European
classical music such as Bach’s “Minuet in G”, “Dolly’s Dreaming and Awakening” by Theodore Oesten, “Arabesque” by Friedrich Burgmuller, and “Little Serenade” by Joseph Haydn.
Ebubechukwu Odimegwu performed “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, backed up by Chikaima Ezeno. Then he followed up with a rendition of “A Whole New World” from a 1992 Disney animated feature film, Aladdin. He also played the Nne-Ubo Bass.
Chikaima Ezeno sang and played “Akabueze by Nelly Uchendu with the Oja. Chinonoru Ezeno was a wonder to behold on Piano, Uboaka and vocals.
The highlight of the evening was Emmanuel Nwankwo (Onye-ubo) and Gerald Eze teaming up in an enthralling performance of “Obodo Ekwelugo”.
After Gerald Eze and. Emmanuel Nwankwo’s thrilling rendition, Oluomachukwu Odimegwu sustained the climax with her performance of “Nara Ekene” by Tim Godfrey with the double octave Uboaka. The double octave Uboaka, aka “Ubo-Nwangwu” was invented by Emmanuel Nwankwo.
Uzoamaka Mercy Obioha performed as the lead voice with Nzube Angelic-Favour Chukwunonso on guitar in a rousing performance of “Bia Nuru Onu Anyi” by Onyeka Onwenu and “Aluta Continua” by Miriam Makeba
In a surprising happening, Chima Frank Egwuonwu and Chukwubuikem Paschal-Zion Akaenyi thrilled the audience with a drama performance that captured and highlighted the identity crises plaguing the African person.
Chikanma Ezeno closed the concert with a saxophone and vocal rendition of Onyeka Onwenu’s “Alleluya Chimle”.
The MC was the masterly Nwabueze .C. Nwabueze who got the audience laughing when he revealed that his father asked him to always respect Physics and Math students because he was not up to par with science subjects.
The essentials of the renditions of Igbo and African music include Celestine Ukwu’s “Ijenu”, Nelly Uchendu’s “Onwunwa”, Onyeka Onwenu’s “Alleluya Chimle” and “Bianuru Olu Anyi”, Mike Ejeagha’s “Ka e si ree onye isi oche”, and Miriam Makeba’s “Aluta Continua”.
There is an interesting story about the venue of the concert, that is, Testimony Place, at No. 1 C.I.D Uyanwunne Close, Ifite-Awka. Barrister Amaka Ezeno owns Testimony Place, a three-storey building that houses the law firm called The Law Zoomers. She named the building “Testimony Place” because the completion of the building was a testimony of the good wish and prayers of the priest who came to bless the project at its commencement.
Talking about naming her building “Testimony Place”, she said in Igbo “Ihe oma melu ebea meelu onye obula batara ebea” (A good thing that happens here is for all who enters here.)
A talent hall at the ground floor of the building, detached from the offices, is used for social and values-oriented purposes like the training and performances of Ichoku Academy-cum-Ensemble.
She offered the use of the hall at the ground floor at no cost for the use of the Ichoku Academy in their training and performances of Egwu-Onwa. She deeply appreciates the concert and recounts that her colleague who attended said: “Nnaa, ihe m nwetere ebea taata, mmanya agaghi enye m ya. Kam gazie gbasibe mbo ike.” (The gain I got here cannot be given to me by boozing. Let me go and do more hard work).
According to Gerald Eze, “I find this interesting because, for me, the name of the hall, that is, “Talent Hall” is apt. The Testimony Place and the Egwu Onwa concert are enabling the growth of a new community of people of diverse professions, age and creed who are committed to societal development. This is the ultimate aim of the Egwu-Onwa gathering.
This is social entrepreneurship. Therefore, it has to be as minimalist and professional as possible so that it can be sustainable and efficient. Capitalism has made everything to almost become a commodity that can be sold.
Music can be sold but that is not all it can be. It can be used to engender societal growth, enhance the quality of life of people, develop the human mind and foster communal cooperation amongst members of the society.”
He continues: “The Egwu-Onwa in its essence is being reintroduced to the modern space because culture is what we make out of who we are.
Culture is not an artifact in the museum or just a book in the library, or just a masquerade dancing. It is the appreciation of all these, in essence what we make out of these experiences or knowledge.
It is a living thought that transforms our being. It is the expression of life itself on a daily basis. It is the thought that comes into this expression of life and it is ultimately what we make out of our knowledge of who we are.”
Gerald Eze could not have participated in the pristine moonlight games of yore given his young age, but he states: “I have heard of Egwu-Onwa and it interests me to adapt and share it with my immediate community. To see children performing, and after the show running and playing around, interacting with the members of the audience can be a beautiful memory. To see people after the show have conversations about what has happened, and have other conversations elicited by their experiences are satisfying. I was called into several of these conversations and I left smiling and fulfilled.
They can now go to the bar or anywhere and drink or relax. There are now more things to discuss than what the bars alone will offer. Life is supposed to be of multiple and beautiful colours, so we try to create more sparks.”
About the Ichoku concept, Gerald Eze reveals: “Ichoku Academy is an integrated performing arts training school for children. The children are trained in music, literature, drama and dance.
When out on performance, it takes the name Ichoku Ensemble. Initially the children were called only Academy but they are now good for band performances. Their training now prepares them to take up standard performances and not just to receive lessons. The academy therefore has produced an ensemble of talented children. The children are trained to appreciate and perform Igbo music. They are also trained to perform European classical and pop music. These were demonstrated in the concert.”
He concludes thus: “The modern Egwu-Onwa of Ichoku Ensemble is thus not a gathering where only Igbo music is performed. Music of other cultures is also integrated into the gathering. Igbo music and African music, however, dominate in the selection.
Maxim and other guests watching Ichoku
The concert was divided into two sections. The first entailed the renditions of Western music pieces, which started with ‘The Greatest Love of All’ and ended with ‘Edelweiss’ from The Sound Of Music. The second aspect consisted of Igbo music, and the performances elicited interactions and brief intellectual reflections on themes.
I enjoyed working with the team that assisted in training the children. There were lots to learn from them! The Academy will spread out to more families but it has long focused on three for now so as to perfect its special system of training. It was intended that when this is perfected, more families would be involved. This is to assure quality and sustainability. The Academy is now ready to take on a few more families.”
The teachers that work at Ichoku Academy include: Tochukwu Christian Ani, Ezichi Jennifer Okpalaoka and Chinemerem Favour Chukwunonyerum.
The fluidity of the gathering allowed Alvin Okpogba, a music student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka who was a member of the audience to give a spontaneous medley of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry”, “Don’t Worry” and “One Love” with his guitar.
The Sound Engineer was Kenechukwu Valentine Chidi-Onuigbo while Video Coverage was undertaken by Mikmel Studio, Roban Stores, Awka. Reverend Father Ositadimma Amakeze took charge of Still Photography.
The generational vision of the Ichoku Academy and Ensemble in their Egwu-Onwa concert cannot be celebrated enough.