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Anyekema: On track to conquer the world

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In Nigeria’s classical music domain, Fatima Uriame Anyekema is one name that stands out. This is because she is regarded as one of the leading contralto voices, a concert artist/recitalist, who is always in high demand.

Her earliest recollections of her initiation into the world of music arose from accompanying her mother to choir practices.

“Growing up as child with my other siblings in a Christian home,” Anyekema recalled with nostalgia, “church and the choir were a part of my childhood experience.

Even though four of my siblings and I were involved with the choir at some point, I was the only one who took music up professionally.

Attending choir practice with my mother at St. Monica’s in Benin City, Edo State, was my earliest recollections. And then as the little girl in the room, the elders would teasingly ask you to lead the songs for others to sing. Those were fun days as children.”

But like many young people across the country, she could not escape the vicissitudes of life. Providing a background to her family life, she said her father was policeman and this meant that they moved a lot while she was growing up.

She was born in Jos, Plateau State, spent time in Benin City, Delta and Ondo States because of her dad’s postings.

Anyekema further recalled, “Unexpectedly, my dad is retired and from the Police Force and when there are a handful of kids in the house and the need to ease the burden, it meant only one thing – separation. And so I had to go stay with one of my uncles.

In secondary school, my music life was centred on singing during school fellowship outreaches to other schools in Asaba, Ibuzor and other communities in Delta State.

And then, I gained admission to study accountancy at Ondo State Polytechnic and a new vista opened up. By this time, I was solely focused on making good grades and school and so music took a backseat in my life.

After my ND, I moved to Lagos for my Industrial Attachment (IT). While looking for a place of intern, I stumbled across Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) and my passion for music was re-ignited. When I heard classical singing, I knew my voice was born for this!”

The history of music education in Nigeria would never be complete without the mention of MUSON, a place that has dedicated its entire existence to providing music education in the theory and performance of musical instruments for Nigerians, irrespective of their ages and more importantly social class.

In 2002, the music school received government’s accreditation to award Diploma in Music, which was equal to those awarded by the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music in the United Kingdom.

This then led to the setting up of the two-year MUSON Diploma School in 2006. Course offerings include advanced training in music with the following majors: Piano, Organ, Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Trumpet, Trombone, Percussion, Classical Guitar, and Voice.

The programme’s goal is to produce well rounded, thoroughly educated musicians, who would qualify for direct entry as transfer students to university to fulfill the remaining requirements for an undergraduate music degree. It was also designed to produce graduates comparable to those found in a Conservatoire, having patterned the school’s syllabus on those standards.

However, it is an expensive venture. Upon creation of the programme in 2006, MTN Foundation, the social investment vehicle of the telecoms giant, MTN Nigeria, intervened and endowed music scholarships targeted at creating opportunities for musically talented people from less privileged background, and providing them the opportunity to acquire quality music education leading to the award of MUSON Music Diploma.

The first set of 21 students graduated from the music school in June 2008, and Anyekema was part of the second set of 24 students, who graduated with a Diploma in Music in July 2009.

Courtesy of the empowerment that these young people have received from MTN Foundation, a lot of the alumni from the school, over 200 of them, are making things happen in the arts and entertainment space. They are noted for their outstanding musicianship and excellence in their chosen careers.

Ayo Ajayi and Olumide Dada are pushing the bars higher in the area of musical theatres, with their original compositions in plays like Saro the Musical, Obele and the Storyteller.

Kehinde Oretimehin and Paul Ogunboye are striving to revive art music while Imoleayo Balogun is producing great jazz pieces.

There are also many who are teaching music in leading private schools across the country while a few others are music directors, organists or choristers in both contemporary and orthodox churches all over the land.

Interestingly, some alumni have been admitted for further studies in leading university in Nigeria, South Africa, Europe and America .

Anyekema relishes how her two-year experience at the school provided her a solid foundation for what she has become today.

“I entered for the MUSON Talent Hunt/Competition where I got to the semi-final in 2005, she recalled adding, “In 2006, I was invited to join the MUSON Choir after the Music Director, Mr. Emeka Nwokedi noticed my unique voice.

In 2007, I had wanted to apply for the expensive and extensive two-year music diploma programme at MUSON but there was no money.

I applied for the MTN Foundation scholarship, took the tests and I was awarded a scholarship that covered my tuition fees, provided book allowance and a stipend that catered for transport, feeding and other necessities. Little did I know that this would mark the beginning of a great musical odyssey.

The programme was tough but I survived and honed my music skills, especially my voice. I recall that the first sets of test which the Director of Studies, Mrs. Marion Akpata, gave us, I flunked many of them.

At a point, I took one week off, travelled down to Edo State and took all my books with me. I told myself that whatever it would take me to get it right, I would do. It was continuous studying and reading for one week after which I came back ready to take on anything.

From that point on, there was no turning back as MTN Foundation provided platforms for self-expression that enabled me to grow in this journey but much more importantly, they empowered me to make meaningful connections as a member of the largest conglomeration of trained musicians in Nigeria.”

While searching for self-fulfillment, Anyekema applied for the music programme of the University of Lagos with her Diploma in 2013. This was after many years of trying to go abroad and study music like many of her contemporaries.

“I wasn’t ashamed of going back to school, even though it seemed late in the day,” she said. “But I put in a decent shift and with God’s help, I was best graduating student of my set. Preparation, focus and discipline were the keys that unlocked the world of academic success!”

Anyekema has performed celebrated operas and oratorios like Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Mass in B minor and Christmas Oratorio, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, thus building an impressive repertoire of international standards.

She was a finalist at the 2013 edition of Sacred Music International Competition (SMIC) held in Rome, Italy.

She has also participated in the 2016 Music Education Expo held in Hammerstein, London, to improve on her teaching skills.

She is currently a choir director at Church of Assumption, Falomo, Ikoyi, Lagos, and a singing teacher at Masha Music Academy, Lekki, Lagos.

Recently, Anyekema was awarded full scholarship to enroll for the Master of Sacred Music Programme in vocal performance at University of Notre Dame, Indiana, a private research university, inspired by its Catholic character in the U.S.

“How would I ever have been able to afford that kind of money to pay for school fees?” she wondered. “Not even if I sold all that I had in this world. So today, when I look back, I can’t but thank God for the days of little beginnings.

Had I not received a scholarship from MTN Foundation, had I not met many wonderful human beings at MUSON, had I not taken the difficult step of going back for a full degree programme, had I not taken that suggestion to apply for Notre Dame?

No regrets, as I can only look forward with joy to the future, all thanks to the wonderful education I received at MUSON.”

Fatima Anyekema, the little girl, who followed her mom to choir practice, who had a vagrant childhood, who got a helper, the MTNF Scholarship, to study music, and pursued her dream, is clearly on the path to take on the world, musically!


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