With Udala project, Eze set to redefine Nigerian music
Over the years, music, poetry and spoken word have been categorised as performing art alongside theatre. In fact, the Welsh word, cerdd, can be translated as either ‘verse’ or ‘music’. The two are intertwined. When the great bards of old performed their poetry, it was often accompanied by music.
Udala Nation music project, unveiled recently to a select audience in Lagos, is an extension of the popular belief that poetry and music are not separate.
The title, Udala, is from the famous Africa cherry and it’s both symbolic and testament of true experiences that anybody who listens to Daybreak, the debut musical offering of the initiative, will have a truly pleasing and exciting soul music.
Eze, speaking on his new music offering, said blending poetry into songs is at the heart of the new project and part of his desire to find new audiences. He wants music lovers to listen and give their own verdict.
Daybreak features tracks such as, I found love, Love song, He say, she say, Dance in the skies, The colour of my skin and My truth.
Eze’s love songs are borne out of fusing poetry into love songs to create a melody that is unique. His two young companions – Masthamind (Michael Chibuike Chinedu) and Dallie (Deborah Chiamaka Nnabuife) – help him to fine the note and the voice of his poetry in flight and motion.
Though both were second choice options in Eze’s search for artists, he, however, gives them kudos, for making him encounter poetry afresh. “It was an experience I did not prepare for. It now makes me write poetry that lends itself to the song form. I’m still trying my ability to be the best of me.”
Eze, who won the Association of Nigerian Authors’ (ANA) Prize for Poetry 2021, with his Dispossessed, a collection, which also forms background for Udala Nation project, is convinced that he has come back with something that will excite Nigerians.
He said, “we gave a snippet of what we want to do at the last Okigbo International Poetry Festival in Ojoto in Anambra State in 2021. And now we have come full circle. Udala Nation has a collection of approximately 20 songs, about 17 recorded and three undergoing the process of creation.”
According to him, “we are not putting out music that chimes. The songs that we have to offer speak to poetry.”
He added, “my aim is to find new audiences for poetry, and in my last reading at Nsukka we had that broad heading: What’s the difference between a poem and a song? At that event we tried to answer it: There’s really no difference between a song and a poem. What is clear for any discerning mind is that certain kinds of poetry can make very smooth transition to the ears than typical poetry as we know it, in the sense that poetry has always been very isolationist, very eclectic, very selective of its audience. Music cuts through to reach wider ears and wider audiences.”
Eze said: “You will hear songs that have their roots buried in poetry in the sense that language is used very poetically and you will encounter metaphors, imageries and very intense feelings captured in a few words, but they come to you in voices that are layered to tease, please and entice you. An allusion has been made to people who do performance poetry, who do oral, folkloric kind of poetry; that’s not what we are doing here. We are here to offer music in a very different and intense package.”
The author of Dispossessed said though he might have just come out with his poetry collection and now music, he’s been on the creative scene for a while, honing the skills of young Nigerians in the literary craft and other artistic offerings.
According to him, over the years, he has been busy expanding literary frontiers, creating platforms for young people to find expressions: “For some who do not know me, I have been involved in many projects in creativity in Nigeria for a long period of time. In collaboration with the famous writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, we organised (Fidelity) Creative Writers Workshop for close to 10 years. I also had collaboration with Helon Habila. What has been the mission: I’ve always felt that if there’s any sphere of endeavour where Nigeria can stand shoulder to shoulder with people from other parts of the world, it’s in the field of the imagination, the field of literature, writing and the arts. No Nigerian can feel inferior when he or she stands with any other person in the world in the arts. I think Nigerian music is coming up but literature and the creative arts have always been there, have always stood us out.”
He also created a yearly poetry evening, A Flutter in the Wood, which is held around Valentine season in Awka. “The idea is also that Lagos is not the only place where peo ple of the imagination enjoy that aspect of their lives. Creative people have things they are drawn to that the ordinary people might think stupid.”
He created Christopher Okigbo International Poetry Festival, which he believes is one of the most serious poetry festivals in Nigeria.
His words: “It was the first major poetry festival in Nigeria. We took Tade Ipadeola, Nduka Otiono, Henry Akubuiro, Uche Umez, Iquo Diana-Abasi, Chujoke Amu-Nnadi to Okigbo’s village (for the first edition). And we walked the path that Okigbo walked in his childhood in Ojoto town down to the village stream Idoto, which he invoked so famously in his work The Passage, with part of the collection entitled, Labyrinth, which remains a manual for many aspiring poets all over Africa.”
With the two young fellows at the heart of Daybreak, Eze said issues about gender becomes inescapable, hence, a song that reflects the challenges the sexes face, as they grow up.
“One of our very new productions entitled ‘He say, she say’ tries to look at issues of gender: What are the afflictions and challenges of being a girl child? What are the prospects, challenges of being a male child in our society? Our song deals with that. And part of that says: ‘I’m going to make it’, with poetry hidden in my songs. In a sense, we’re not just offering you songs that do not have deep meanings. We are offering you very intense poetry, capsules of feelings put together, and captured in songs for you.”
Dallie, a graduate of Zoology from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, said: “The whole thing has been very different for me, because before now I was doing the normal things with music. But our boss (Eze) challenged and pushed me to go outside my comfort zone. I can easily sit back and write songs with the mood or something, but this one is different, because I have something already written down to work with. I wasn’t comfortable at first, but at the end I had to tap into the story first of all, and then be able to express it. It was really adventurous and I love every part of it. I began to see that poetry can be very deep, and you have to be part and parcel of poetry to see that you can immerse yourself into it and really enjoy it.”
For Masthamind, the mathematics graduate from the same school, the experience has not been any different. “I will say it was quite challenging for me at first. I remember when I was working; I would just do my thing. One thing about music is that you have to see yourself as part of the character to be able to deliver. So, I did the first part and he (Eze) wasn’t pleased at all. So he had to talk to me and encouraged me to imagine myself in that kind of situation. Then I started thinking about a lot of things and from then I put myself into it. I can say I’ve improved in certain areas of my music career. From my experience working on this project, if you give me a few lines I can just begin to create something out of them. I can say I’ve really enjoyed every part of this music journey.”