By MCPHILIPS NWACHUKWU & Aisha Mohammade Tiffin
Can anything good come out of music? This may have been the question that shaped the minds of Emeka Nwodi’s parents in the early days of the young lad’s contemplation to make a career out of music.” Of all professions, is it music you found to study?” was the question posed to him by his supposedly caring parents from Ichida, Anambra State.
But when think about it, Nwokedi’s parents’ fear was not unfounded.The fear was not unfounded because at that time when young Emeka took up what apparently amounted to a suicidal decision, musicians in Nigeria were seen as efulefus, ( fools), the “ no do goods” , who merely revel about, entertaining people for small , small tips.
This negative feeling is also reinforced by the whole attitude of the Igbo regarding music as conceptualized in the Igbo theory of arts , which is epitomized in the tradition of Mbari, the art of building and destroying, a perception that is further concretised in the character of Chinua Achebe’s Okonkwo’s father, Unoka in Thing Fall Apart, who is only useful to his society during festival seasons as he uses his flute to entertain people.
Coming from this background of thought therefore, It was difficult for Nwokedi to convince his parents that music as a career can put food on his table. Hence the one million dollar question” do you want to die of poverty?” they asked him.
But the young man was not deterred. He followed the rhythm of his heart. He saw in the womb of music a future so irresistible, so alluring and gave all his energy to it.
The interesting story of Nwokedi as a music man began with his romance with the choir of his village Anglican Church at Ichida. At that relatively young age, when he practiced with the church choir, he says,” I had serious encounter with classical music.”
The church has always played significant role in the nurturing of music talents. For instance, most American pop musicians at one point or the other was a member of a church choir. A classical example is late pop star, Whitney Huston, who horned the art of her very intimidating musical career with New Hope Baptist Church, Newark.
So also did the interest which Nwokedi sowed in his village church at that tender age, like a mustard seed began to grow bigger by the day. Despite his parents initial resentment against his decision, he remained undeterred and proceeded in the path that he has chosen for himself.
Damning all the consequences, the man of music proceeded to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka not to study, law, engineering, medicine, pharmacy or law. But simply, to study music: He graduated in 1981 and specializes in music directing and choral conducting.
To prove every doubting Thomas wrong about his chosen vocation, on graduation he shunned the allure of several job opportunities in some blue chip companies and opted to work for institutions that sell and propagate music as consumer ‘s contents.
Thus, he worked as music producer and director at the Voice of Nigeria and Radio Nigeria separately. After his short stint with these broadcast stations, Nwokedi felt that there was need to have a musical group, which should provide the template for the provision of such classical and intellectual music that the social city of Lagos needed.
It was because of this conviction that he and Senator Lere Adesina formed Lagos City Chorale to “fill the void created by lack of viable and standard independent choral music performances.” While on board this task, the choral group embarked on performing to the delight of Lagos social circles, the choral music of classical greats like : Palesstrina’s Missa Brevis, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Handel’s Coronation Anthem, Chando’s Anthems,Jjudas Maccabaeus, Mozart’s Requiem among others.
The City chorale’s repertoire is reach and varied. According to Nwokedi, “ it stretches across the works from major periods of the western history of music through baroque, classical, romantic through the 20th century.”
It was while doing what he knew best how to do with his Lagos City Chorale that he was spotted during one of his several performances by Akintola Williams, who invited him to join as a pioneer staff of the Musical Society of Nigeria, music school. MUSON.
As a music teacher, “ the area that interests me most is in the training of young people. If I see you and observe that you have interest in music, I will be compelled to help you develop your talents.” Says Nwokedi.
As a person , who equally believes in the transformational and branding power of music, Nwokedi has appropriated every musical opportunity to sell the rich cultural heritage of Nigeria and the continent. For instance, in 2010, “ when I attended the International Conference of Society of Music Education in Beijing, China, I made sure that Nigerian choral songs were performed at the event.
“Through this kind of experiment, I have been able to develop deep interest in the indigenous choral music and have tried to develop them to attain classical status. It is therefore not surprising that at the Beijing conference, which attracted over 4000 guests, the audience was highly excited with the performance of Nigeria’s indigenous choral music.
“For me that was indeed a complete rebranding because after the show, one American followed me back to Nigeria to stay for six months to learn Nigeria’s indigenous music.”
Following the accomplishment of Emeka Nwokedi and his chorale group, he is this year, invited through audition to the 7th edition of World Choir Council taking place next month in Cincinnati, United States of America both as a member of jury, and also to take Nigeria’s choir to the global arena.
“The idea of the global choir is to unite the world through choral music.” He explained, adding that “ art of choral music is so elevating that if any country takes it seriously, it can help to rebrand the country in a very positive way.”