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Encounter with Prof Joshua Uzoigwe, exponent of African pianism

By OSA AMADI, Arts Editor

We are happy or sad in this world depending on the perspective from which we view our lives. The things that happen to us shape our lives for good or for bad depending on how we interpret the events.

I should be a very happy man, and I believe I am, fundamentally. A man who can go (empty-handedly without any physical tool) into a white expatriate’s home in Ikoyi, Apapa, and Victoria Island, and earn N12, 500 in one hour, should be proud of himself and grateful to God who endowed him with such skill that earns him the money.

So it is with my life. I have lived by the ability of my brain and dexterity of my fingers, not by any industrial machine, but by a musical instrument – the piano.

I married my wife, trained my children, did my PGD at NIJ, Masters in LASU and now PhD with money I earned by the skills of my fingers on the piano. The money is not much by many standards, but I am happy with it.

I had set out right from the beginning to be a musician, but not an instrumentalist. What I had wanted to be was a singer of highlife music and R&B. It was the late Professor Joshua Uzoigwe (1946–2005), composer, Professor of ethnomusicology and exponent of African pianism, who forced me to learn to play the piano as a music student at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife between 1989 and 1993.

I had registered for a course in voice. When Uzoigwe came into the classroom he looked at me and said: “Hey, what are you doing there?”

“I registered for voice sir,” I explained.

“Now get up from there! You want to do voice. Are you a woman? Go and register for piano!”

“I don’t want to play any piano,” I protested.

“You must play piano! I want to see you in my piano class next Friday!”

I felt so angry and humiliated. How dare he dictate to me what I should study and what I should not study! Angrily, I went and registered for the piano course. I bought the relevant books and all the prescribed pieces of music and scale books and started practicing in earnest. Before Friday I had mastered five major scales and half of the first set piece of music.

That Friday in the class when Prof Uzoigwe called me to the piano to play, I started with the scales. He screamed: “look at him! Just look at the way his fingers are flying on the piano; just look at this fool who wanted to go and waste his talent singing with women!”

Everyone, including myself, burst out laughing.

Professor Joshua Uzoigwe became one of my best friends among the lecturers in the university. I realized he was a hardened mentor whose style of mentoring did not include spoon-feeding and politeness. When I ran out of money in the school I went to him and said, “I need some money from you sir. I will pay back as soon as my father sends me money.”

“Hey my friend, you’re not the only one who needs money. I need money too.” He pulled out his cheque book from the drawer and wrote a cheque. “Go to the bank and get some money for you and me.”

When I graduated from the university and came to Lagos in search of a job, I walked the streets for more than one year without finding any job. It was the piano that saved me. It was the piano that started feeding me. I became eternally grateful to Professor Joshua Uzoigwe.

To be continued                        

 


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.