By Benjamin Njoku
NIGERIA’S AGE MATE’S STORY
Highlife maestro, Bright Chimezie, born on October 1, 1960, the day Nigeria became an independent nation, remains one of the best things to have happened to this country. When many thought he has nothing to offer anymore, having given his best in the past, the Zigima exponent bounced back recently, proving critics wrong and showcasing his undying passion for the cultures of the black man through music.
This is what played out in the past three weeks when the superstar thrilled his Lagos fans with soulful songs. It’s some kind of homecoming for the Zigima king, who relocated from Lagos to Umuahia, Abia State many years back. While the tour lasted, Chimezie, who turns 58 tomorrow, left his fans asking for more with his stage performance as he still exuded the energy he was known for over 20 years ago.
At a hangout in Itire area of Lagos where Sunday Vanguard witnessed one of his performances, Chimezie was at his best. Chimezie used the opportunity offered by the tour to popularize his latest album, ‘Truth and Justice’. He let us into his story in this encounter.
Let us start from your being born on Nigeria’s Independence Day. At what point did it occur to you that you are Nigeria’s age mate?
Right from the time I became conscious of myself. My mother made it known to me that I was born on October 1, 1960.
How do you feel sharing birthday with Nigeria?
I feel great because it’s my birthday. I also feel excited and elated that I share the same birthday with my country.
Being born on October 1, has it ever conferred any special privilege on you?
Nothing, the only privilege is that when people hear that I was born on October 1, they are excited in a way as they call me the Independence Boy. That’s what the used to call me, but now, I am an adult; they can’t call me a boy again. But in the 80s, people addressed me as Okoro Junior.
How did the name come about?
That was in the 70s when disco party was in vogue. I attended one disco party, where I requested for an African music to be played by the DJ. And that was it; fun seekers there started calling me Okoro Junior. You know, I have been promoting African cultures and heritage through my music over the years. So, at a point, I decided to adopt Okoro Junior as a means to promote my music.
How have celebrated your birthday in the past 58 years?
Every October 1, I don’t see anybody until 12 noon. I do a lot of meditation after which I celebrate with my family members. And if I have any show in the evening of that special day, I will go ahead and perform at the show.
At 58, how do you feel that your age mate (Nigeria) is still crawling with no future in sight?
It’s a coincidence that I was born on October 1. The problem of Nigeria is complex. But the only thing that can move us forward is truth and justice. That’s the title of my new album that I’m currently promoting. Without truth and justice, Nigeria will hardly bounce back to its feet. What is undermining the growth of the country is lack of truth and justice. There is so much impunity going on in this country.
How are you preparing to mark your birthday on October 1?
I rounded off the promotional tour of my new album, ‘Truth and Justice’, in Lagos yesterday (Tuesday) and, from today, I will be in Onitsha to entertain my fans.
Does it mean that you are back into the mainstream music world?
I didn’t leave the stage. I have always been around. The only difference is that I relocated to the South-East with my family. I have a 15-piece band and I’m still releasing songs. I don’t see my music as writing a book. I take my time to arrange my songs and when they hit the airwaves, they don’t disappoint my fans.
It was rumoured some time ago that you were arrested by the DSS. Can you clear the air now?
It wasn’t my own Bright Chimezie that was arrested. Nobody arrested me and I never had anything linking me up with DSS. I heard about it, and I’m using this medium to put the record straight and to tell my fans that I was never arrested by anybody. I have never been detained before in my life and I will not be detained by anybody.
What is the secret of the strength you exude on stage?
I don’t know how to put it, let’s say it is God. Even myself, I cannot explain it. As each day unfolds, I get more energy. I take things moderately. I exercise and eat wisely.
You have been in Lagos for three weeks, what’s this tour all about?
I just released a new album titled, ‘Truth and Justice’. That has been my style right from when I started my musical journey. Once you have a fresh album, you hit the road, you play it live; you endear it to people. That is how we started and we are sustaining it. We are basically in Lagos to introduce ‘Truth and Justice’ to our fans.
It took you so long to release this album, why?
One thing with Zigima is like we are writers. I consider each album as a book. I have just written a book. Novelists don’t write books anyhow. I keep telling people that I am not a commercial musician. Most things I say are not commercial. They are deep. I don’t depend so much on the sales of my records. I depend on enshrining my philosophy, my thoughts in the hearts of men. It takes us long to work out the song, rhythm and the peculiar Zigima touch it normally has.
What’s next after the tour?
I have a personal doctor but I have never had any reason to give him urgent call on my health. No emergency at all. I grew up doing it. I cannot stay for two weeks without a show. If there is no show, I create one.
Your fans have been worried about your disappearance from the scene?
I didn’t disappear. I am a family man. There comes a time in a man’s life when you think of the future. I am married with five children. I had four boys while I was living Lagos who never knew where I come from, who couldn’t even speak my language. I looked at myself, a cultural ambassador. In future, they will ask any of my sons in Igbo ‘how are you?’ He would answer: ‘my father said I am Igbo.’ I said I am not going to do that. I called my wife and I said, if I ask you to go to the village and get these kids indoctrinated in the culture and tradition of my people, they would say Okoro Junior abandoned his wife in the village and he is chasing small girls in Lagos. I said no. We are relocating. There is showbiz in the South-East but the only thing is that the glamour, publicity is here. We have done quite a lot in the South-East that is not publicized, that is the only thing we are missing. I do come to Lagos and I am gradually introducing those things we have done to Lagos. Now, I have got what I wanted. They (his children) speak Igbo fluently; they know where I come from. If I die today, they know where to take my corpse to and there is a home for them. And they won’t be threatened by the villagers. They are grounded now.
How do you feel that after so many years, your fans still appreciate your music?
I feel great about it. Our labour of the past has not been in vain. I have been getting a lot of phone calls, people telling me they would be at the next performance.
How do you introduce yourself to the young ones?
One funny thing about creation is that there is evolution. As we are growing old, the younger ones are picking up. For the fact that I have been consistent even though I have not been in Lagos, they don’t have a vague knowledge of me. There was a time I was like them. I debuted in my 20s and they used to call me the youngest of them all then. They know me. They know what I stand for. I don’t need to overstretch myself to get them convinced.
When are you going to formally release your new album and what are your expectations?
The album is already in the market but I will do the official release here in Lagos. We are working out something. I’m expecting a re-connection even though we are entirely ‘Zigimatically dichoted’, the thing is still there. I want to tell my fans that I am not dead because there were so many stories when I left Lagos. Some people associated me with IPOB and stuff like that. The true story is that Bright Chimezie is Bright Chimezie. I have interacted well in Nigeria. They know me in Yorubaland, they know everywhere.
My music was able to break tribal barrier. I cannot get myself boxed up into one particular corner no matter how genuine they are. If there is truth and justice all over the federation, nobody will be demanding for Biafra or engage in any other agitation. It has to do with marginalization and wickedness of man against man. Truth and justice must not only come from the leaders but also the led. Our truth is as it suits us. Truth is supposed to be painful even to the person that speaks it. With truth and justice, we would have a stable society, a great society; a society where you can keep your phone and nobody will steal it. Very soon I am going to form a party called Truth and Justice Party. That is what we need. If we have truth and justice, constituency allowances would be used well; security votes would be used well.