It was past midday on September 10 in my hometown of Umuchu, Aguata LGA, Anambra State. The family had just completed the ceremony of the pulling-off of the funeral clothes, Iyipu-Akwa-Uju, of my late mother. My brother Isidore informed me of a concert entitled “Egwu Onwa” to be hosted in Awka by my talented nephew Gerald Eze, a newly-minted First Class graduate in Music of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. Without asking any questions whatsoever I jumped into my brother’s car and we were soon in the capital territory of Awka. Isidore had to make a handful of inquiries and detours before locating the Nelen Studios venue of the concert in Udoka Housing Estate, Awka.
Gerald Eze’s ensemble bears the name Ichoku. The ensemble has three arms, namely: Ichoku The Band, The Academy, and The Privileged. It is a modern wonder how Ichoku The Band makes use of the local instrument called Uboaka to play Igbo classical music, even as it plays other mellifluous genres and fusions. The Academy is made up of the kids who are currently undergoing musical training under the tutelage of Gerald and other members of Ichoku The Band.
The Privileged consists of physically-challenged musicians who were picked by Gerald and assembled to form a musical troupe. According to the irrepressible Gerald, “Ichoku intends to make of them independent-minded celebrities and not beggars.” He assembled the physically-challenged musicians and made them part of the Ichoku ensemble so that “they can challenge” the nation and indeed the world at large to rise above their limitations and challenges.”
Ichoku The Band had her first outing at Nike Arts Gallery, Lagos. Gerald performed with his Ichoku band alongside the legendary Jimi Solanke. The exquisite show was put up by the arts promoter and ambassador Tunde Dawodu.
The Egwu Onwa concert at the ultra-modern Nelen Studios, Awka, as the names suggests, showcases the moonlight play of traditional Igbo society. The show was aptly subtitled “The Moon, The Square & The Dance”. There is the Igbo saying “Onwa puta, obodo agwu n’ama”, to wit, “Once the moon appears, the town empties into the square.”
“In the days of yore, the moon bore a lot of symbolism,” Gerald Eze said, starring at his ubiquitous Oja instrument. “The Igbo people were pastoralists, farmers, hunters, etc. The people returned to their homes and at night they became philosophers within the Egwu Onwa moments.”
Gerald Eze offers this revelation: “Nelen Studios, owned and run by the personable Chinelo Enemuo, represents the modern-day Onwa beaming on Ichoku. Chinelo took an active role in the maiden outing of the Egwu by offering her theatre space at Nelen Studios and being actively part of the planning.”
In the words of Chinelo Enemuo, “Nelen Studios is an art initiative set to instill creativity and an appreciation of Nigerian culture through a variety of art programmes and events. Egwu Onwa as planned by the Ichoku Ensemble has thus become one of such creative outings that tell of the beautiful Nigerian culture happening at Nelen Studios.”
The Ichoku band is made up of Gerald Eze Mmaduabuchi, Nwachukwu Uwakwe, Chinelo Mbamalu and Charles Achufusi. The String quartet is known as The Serenade String Quartet. Chimaeche Ikegwuonu and Samvic Uche play Violins while Henry Nwigbo plays the Viola, and Michael Uzomah plays the Cello. The brass players include Chisom Ezeobiora on Trombone, Ezeanyim Kodichukwu Dieudonné on Trumpet and Israel Atuge on Percussion.
The indefatigable members of The Privileged are: Emenike Ezeiruaku (Oja, Ogene), Aloy Orjiakor (Nne Igba), Cosmas Nwoke (Oke Igba), and Chinedu Ezeanya (Ichaka). As Gerald Eze would want to put it he “was opportuned to play along the masters as he played the Oja for the Privileged ensemble.”
The young boys and girls of the Academy include: Afomachukwu Ezeno(Recorder and Voice), Chikaima Ezeno(Recorder and Voice), Chinonoru Ezeno(Voice and Udu), Oluoma Odimegwu(Vead voice and Uboaka), Ifunanya Odimegwu(Voice and Ogene), Nwabuogo Odimegwu(Voice and Ichaka), Chisimdi Ofoegbu(Lead voice and Piano), Beluchi Ofoegbu (Narrator), and Chimerika Ofoegbu (Voice and Drums).
The precocious musicians of The Academy put up a splendid performance that held the audience spellbound for an hour before The Privileged took over the stage with the appearance of two full-blown masquerades that nearly made the women and the children to run for dear life. It was a case of women and children seeing ancestral spirits at close quarters! The ladies were advised to give money to their husbands and other male spectators to offer to the dancing spirits. It was indeed a rollicking family outing.
The enthralling performance served as a very rewarding introduction of Nelen Studios, “the first of its kind in Awka, and one of a kind in Nigeria,” as penned in the flier.
The collaboration of Gerald Eze, who has the distinction of having represented Nigeria in China, and Chinelo Enemuo at Nelen Studios deserves celebration.