When Igbo Arts And Music Meet…

Gerald Eze image courtesy of Gerald Eze

A recent collaboration between a Visual Artist and designer, Chuma Anagbado and a musician, Gerald Eze, who also doubles as a university music lecturer, is likely to bring about a revolution in the Igbo culture, writes MARY NNAH

“Oja is classical music. It is high art. It is not a bagger’s tool. It is the tool of a master performer. It does not communicate to just anybody, it is played for men of substance. Its appeal cut across cultures, and talks about connected cultures. It is spontaneous, yet it is of high essence. It is a force. It evolves and uplifts us”, these are the words of Gerald Eze, a skilled musical artist and university don, describing the Oja, a vital instrument of the Igbo music and culture.

Eze, who plays over 14 Igbo musical instruments, including the Oja, is collaborating with Chuma Anagbado, a multi-talented artist and designer, whose work cuts across traditional, digital, and emerging creative mediums.

They are both embarking on collaborative missions driving on the indigenous musical instruments of the Igbo and how they both seek to reinterpret the essence and utility of these instruments for a global audience, thereby connecting cultures. Their arts, they say, “Reimagines Igbo culture and identity.”

The collaboration is in the sense that while Eze plays the Oja (flute), at the same time, Anagbado’s laptop synchronises the songs with the digital image of the flute.

The intention, for these two Igbo creative artists, is to preserve the culture for posterity and they are willing to extend the frontiers of the culture and take it to another height with the use of digital arts while also exploring the NFT (Non-Fungible Token) Technology.

This collaboration, according to them, essentially seeks to document and promote Igbo oral musical tradition, particularly through the Oja and Ogene, among other local and contemporary musical instruments in an exhibition to be held before the end of the year.

Speaking on the reason behind the collaboration during a recent press conference, Anagbado said, “In essence both of us are reimagining our culture, which is the Igbo culture. We are actually creating this culture but we are putting it out as NFTs so as to take our culture and put it where it is supposed to be. We imagine what we have and then make it more relevant. So, I am creating the art and he is scoring the music and that becomes a video – an animated piece that is then put out as NFT.”

Speaking further on the essence of the collaboration, Anagbado posited that, “Within the Igbo culture is an embedding consciousness that you have to travel. We are all raised like that. As you grow up, there are reminders, placements and statements that will always remind you that at some point you will need to leave the geographical space of the Igbo. That essentially makes the culture a diaspora culture.

”If you look at all major events and innovation leaps, key players and influencers in Igbo land are mostly diaspora influenced and when I say diaspora, even the Igbos living in Lagos are diaspora. So, there is that consciousness that culture connects diaspora and the homeland. Within the construct of the culture, you must at some point, travel out of the Igbo geographical area to go and learn.

“Now what comes with all of that is that you then have a culture that people experience all over the world. It is likened to the Chinese and the Jews. And because the Igbos travel out a lot, everybody knows about the Igbos. So, the Igbos are like a clue connecting every other person in the world. Igbo culture is one that you would want to preserve but within all of its offering – music, arts and all of that, you have infusions of diaspora influences, like elements that have been picked up from other cultures around the world and that make the culture very robust.

“I will say it’s a universal culture and in preserving it, that culture needs to also travel into all the possibilities and places that it can be. So, it is just natural that we would go into this because we have experienced other cultures. We are doing this, as they would say, for the culture”, Anagbado explained further the essence of this uncommon marriage that brings together the brushstrokes and music.

Anagbado, whose art is driving conversations on cultural heritage, particularly the Igbo oral traditions, believes he is naturally cut out for the Igbo culture and so cannot but always be at the vanguard of stimulating the culture through his various artistic expressions.

With his experience across the world, Anagbado constantly evaluates practical ways of using both material and non-material aspects of Igbo existence in designing new structures and narratives to build a sense of identity.

For him, it is more than just an art project. “We intend to showcase the traditional art which is painting alongside playing the music instrument to show the emotions of art. We enjoin every creator out there to look for deeper meaning in whatever they do and carry an identity. We are really putting it out there that it is very important for people with like-minds to try working together: we can’t grow the culture when we are apart, we need to create a community which is what the collaboration entails.”

Beyond the fusion of music and arts and being creative, Anagbado is of the belief that they both are embarking on a divine assignment to bring the various segments of Igbos together.

“It is well known that Igbos are deeply fragmented, even though you may see a community on the surface – the Igbos are deeply fragmented and highly competitive, so what we are just trying to do is to move from competition to collaboration and from fragmenting to synergy.”

In like manner, Eze, the musician and a lecturer of music at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, also promotes and researches indigenous cultures through his music.

Using the Igbo’s traditional musical instrument, particularly the Oja, Obuaka and other 14 instruments, including Ogene, he is out to take the indigenous sound flair of Igbo to a new height.

“Igbo music has always been integrative. Even the shapes of the Oja and Obuaka are pieces of art. Philosophy, literature, music, arts and psychology are all the elements that come together in each festival that we have in the Igbo culture. So it is not out of place to collaborate with Anagbado”, the university don explained.

He noted further that one interesting thing that they both are doing in this collaboration is to explore new opportunities while reimaging the culture and connecting it.

“We explore new opportunities and that is why we are looking at the NFT space. Our ancestors explored the Oja and Igba in the village square but I try to explore the Oja in Highlife, Hip-hop, and Afro beat and these have been very successful. If you check out my videos you will see how the Oja is interacting with the violin effortlessly like it has always been there but this took years of effort.

“Anagbado has been developing his own ideas in the arts and it has taken him years, so the time eventually came for us to meet and since both of us are like minds, we felt we should come together and put out something that is collaborative- Music and Arts- in the NFT space. So, like he said, it is for the culture – to engage people and to keep the narrative going.”

For his message for people from this synergy – for the Igbo culture and other cultures, just like his partner, he said, “A sense of community is very important for the Igbos at this very moment. And the artist is always taking a lead in creating the conscience of his race in making people think critically. The artist takes it upon himself to create and to think.

“When I say artists here, I mean serious musicians, creative fine artists, those in architecture who are really breaking bounds and not just the fine artist. So for both of us to collaborate on this project, we are really putting it out there that it is very important that those of us with like minds should keep coming together because we cannot grow independently. We can develop independently but to sustain the growth, we have to come together. And we also can`t grow the culture when we are apart.”

On this note, Eze is focusing on the message of community – building a sense of community, which is what this collaboration entails.

He noted: “These are the sounds and symbols of the Igbo. They are not just coming to you from one person but from two creative persons who have travelled far and wide collecting ideas, connecting to people, integrating different forms and then we are now together to push it on. So, when these works get to people, I believe it will communicate that essence and feeling of community because whatever we have embedded in the work is also that which truly belongs to the Igbos but that which has truly evolved.”


I will say it’s a universal culture and in preserving it, that culture needs to also travel into all the possibilities and places that it can be. So, it is just natural that we would go into this because we have experienced other cultures. We are doing this, as they would say, for the culture

--------------THIS DAY