60 years on stage: Mixed bag of puzzle, fairy tale for Morocco Maduka
Driving through the rough roads of Umugama community in Ukwulu, Dunukofia local council of Anambra State, to speak with highlife music icon, Chief Chukwuemeka Maduka, better known as Morocco Maduka, was an experience that is worth the adventure. A couple of minutes wait for the Ekpili music exponent that seems eternity for his return from church service soon faded into a huge relief when the living legend and his family drove into the modest country home.
When he eventually opened up after ensuring that tradition was observed with kolanut, Morocco went down memory lane, recalling how he went into music in 1962 against his father’s wish, which eventually got him banished from home he so cherished. Though his maternal grandfather was a musician, not even his achievements, which came with a white Raleigh bicycle, could assuage his strict father’s mind about musicians, who he considered hooligans. He even couldn’t imagine his son going into a profession that eventually brought him fame and wealth. Sixty years after, the Ekpili music exponent is fulfilled, as many young musicians are now emulating his style of music.
At what point did you encounter music?
I went fully into music in 1962 after my secondary school, though I had started playing music while I was still in secondary school. My father was not okay with it; he thought I was going to end up a hooligan, as he wanted me to become either a lawyer or medical doctor. But I chose this path for myself, which has brought me fame and honour. The entire musician in the Southeast ordained me Eze Egwu Ekpili (the King of Ekpili Music).
Were there challenges at the early stage of your music career?
When I started playing music, not only my father was against it; most people in my community though I was insane and may end up a layabout. But soon, God blessed me with fame and wealth. This got tongues wagging, as some could not believe I could be making money from just playing music; probably I had joined a secret cult as my source of income. But God bear me witness; I know nothing about secrete cult, as I have travelled wide playing music. Through music, I have crowned a Chief and became a member of the Igwe’s cabinet.
How was it like serving your community?
There was a time they unanimously made me the leader of this community, which I superintend; I voluntarily left office after ten years. During that period, I ensured there was nothing like launching for whatever project we embarked on; I took it upon myself to encourage donations from those, who are so touched by our plight. Whatever was the shortfall, I augmented. That led them to name me Osisi Oma (resourceful tree). When I was initiated into the Ozo Title, the name I was given to go with it was Ozo Nweni Ibe (Chief with a difference).
I’m happy I took music as a profession, but not a hooligan, which has seen me going to play in United States of America, United Kingdom, China, Malaisia, South Africa, Cameroun and Ghana. I have a friend in Delta State, Eddie Isebor of Global Friends, Africa Euro Hospitality Association, based in UK; he promotes my music worldwide. This music has got me car gifts as well.
When I released Asili ’98, I got a car gift each from Senator Ubanese (Ijele) and Nwata Kwocha from Orlu in Imo State respectively. I give God all glory for what music has done for me. I’m presently 76 years and still playing my music, which is no mean feat as most of my contemporaries in the southeast died before attaining this age. Late music greats such as Oliver de Coque, Chief Osita Osadebe and Muddy Ibeh all of blessed memory, who brought respects to highlife music here, died at 61, 72 and 60 respectively. It is not by my power, but by the special grace of God that I’m still alive and on the microphone. My London promoters have informed me of their plans to celebrate my 60 years of stage and I’m looking forward to that.
With all kinds of challenges bedeviling this country, and your experience, what kind of a nation was Nigeria meant to be at independence?
As at the time of Independence, what we foresaw was that of a country that was supposed to be greater than what we have today. Our leaders are not sincere, that’s why we are where we are today; we have not shown what the British bestowed on us. In 1956 when the Queen of England came to Nigeria, we demanded for our independence. I could remember her saying, ‘An independent country is not an easy one,’ but we insisted we could handle it. She also said she’s not promising, but will help through their parliament. Though the northern leaders agreed with her, but both the western and eastern leaders pressurised for independence. This country is supposed to be one of the most developed based on the huge mineral deposits bestowed on us by God, but we have not been able to properly utilize it. Nigeria is a big country, but nothing to be proud of because of poor leadership.
You released a track on Biafra, what informed that decision?
As a young man, I didn’t play any role as a soldier during the war; all I did was to play my music for them. I just captured the activities that surrounded the Biafra war and I ended it with a question, now that we are one, what are the benefits?
At what point did your father accept your choice of becoming a musician?
As at then, when anyone buys a bicycle, he’s regarded as an achiever. When I ran to where I took refuge because of my father, I made some money from playing music and bought a bicycle and brought it home, hoping that my father will receive me as a good son. Ironically, when I returned with it and people were praising me, my father thought differently and rough handled me and nearly killed me, insisting I have messed up the family name. But God has blessed me with music, which was why I made a song I titled, Akalaka (Destiny). God created everyone with his/her destiny; not same that He has given to a father that He gives to a son.
Sadly, my father died in 1965; he was not alive when I got my breakthrough as a musician. When I returned home to start building my first house (a four bedroom and a parlour), they started praising my efforts. Expectedly, some thought otherwise, saying I might have gotten my source of income from elsewhere other than music.
Meanwhile, my maternal grandfather was a great musician; that was why I know my music was from a generation. Osita Osadebe was the first to have made his wealth from music; late Rex Lawson played good music, but was not as wealthy. Same was late Celestine Ukwu, and I do know that whatever profession you engaged in without financial success, the world will see you as a hooligan.
What I’m trying to say here is that musicians of yore played for entertainment, while most of them had prostitutes as their best companions. Remember that unlike now, prostitution does not yield money as they hopped from one brothel to another, just having fun. Same thing applies to musicians then; they were known for enjoyment. So, it was unthinkable to allow your son into such a profession. But Osita Osadebe changed the tide, which was what I vowed to emulate. Aside from this my country home, I have four houses in Awka, which is why some believe I probably belong to a sect that yields me money.
Aside from music, what else do engage in at your spare moment?
When I was in school, I played football; I like watching sports on television. Aside from music, I also engage in-jokes we call njakiri. The Performing Musician Association of Nigeria, PMAN, especially during the era of Chief Tony Okoroji, was one to belong; that gave birth to what music has become today. What’s happening to PMAN in Anambra today? The crisis that engulfed our beloved association in Anambra was because of money. I must say that Chief Okoroji, who also formed the Copyright Society of Nigeria, COSON, gave us a huge name. COSON has been collecting huge sums of money on royalties from people using our music to sell and promote their businesses. From there, we receive annual subventions, though not as much as we are expecting.
He is doing well, but can do better, especially in the area of equitable distributions, as the money we are getting is too small compared to what some others are getting, which are in millions, while I receive a paltry sum of N20,000. I’m not envious, but some musicians are not like me, which is why there’s trouble in the union. I make money out of my music, which has kept me very comfortable. It is just nice for equity to be observed. That’s why there’s an unending crisis in PMAN, and even in COSON.
What stands you out among other musicians? Are your children also taking after you?
God has given me a distinct voice. When I sing, my voice stands me out and you will enjoy it. I do not play instruments; I only sing for my band. My first daughter is the only one that is into music, though she’s into gospel music, She’s not doing my style of music and has not made as much music like I have. Though she has my kind of golden voice, her style of gospel music has not made an impact on the music scene yet. I have tried to get her to come for grooming, but she is a married woman, so, I have a very little control over her.
I have four sons, who are not interested in taking after my profession. My first son is based in USA, the second one is in Abuja, and the others are in Malaysia and South Africa; all into business. I take it that they are not destined to be musicians.
As the Eze Egwu Ekpili, how can you rate the genre in Nigeria music industry presently?
I earlier said that the way you make your bed, so you will lie on it. I have laid the bed for Ekpili music well, and some young men are currently making waves with it. I was playing Ekpili music like I met it, but when I saw how late IK Dairo transformed akpala music into what it has become today, I was challenged to do the same. So, instead of leaving it at as it was, I transformed Expili from just marakas and wooden gong by three people and introduced some musical instruments such as guitars, drums and more. That’s why my colleagues in the Southeast honoured me with the title of Eze Egwu Ekpili music.
Presently, I have so many young musicians taking after me to keep the legacy intact. So, I feel fulfilled in life. So many other musicians have left their style of highlife music to Ekpili. I am enjoying the likes of our popular musicians such as Flavour, Patoranking and many more, who are doing their own kind of music.
I’m proud of their achievements; that’s why they unanimously made me the Premier of PMAN Southeast. They celebrate me and I love them; they meet in my hotel at Awka. That is why I don’t have any regrets in life; God has been good to me.
Of all the countries you’ve performed in, which was most memorable for you?
I will give it to the USA. When went to America, one of the places I performed was at Atlanta, Georgia, New Jersey, but Baltimore stood out, as I made so much money that helped me to a great deal to improve on my investments.
As a household name and a worthy ambassador of Ndigbo, how have you been able to attract development to your place, especially as the road to your country home is so bad?
Your earlier question is about Nigeria, and I told you about what kind of leadership we have in the country. We must always thank our former governor, Mr. Peter Obi, who tarred the whole of Anambra State. Gov. Willie Obiano, on his part, has also tried his best. When I played a special track for his electioneering campaign, he gave me a car. Will I be able to criticize someone, who has given me a car? He is doing well. An area Willie has done well is in the area of security, as kidnappers and armed robbery has reduced to a bearable level in the state.