ARTISTE OF THE WEEK – HRH IGWE PROF. LAZ EKWUEME
The online media was agog this past week, as everyone celebrated the Nigerian thespian, writer and music icon as he turned 80.
It’s time for KORALTIMES to do same, but before anything else, I must take out time to say some few personal things about this man.
There are many funny stories that make me remember him.
As a little boy, I remember always disturbing my father “daddy let’s go and see Prof” that was because on our way back, the trunk of my dad’s ‘tuke tuke’ Peugeot 305 would be packed full with Crabs, so I was sure of eating Crabs the whole week.
I remember the very funny Igbo jokes he used to crack with my dad as he came to receive us from the car each time we visited him at his quarters in UNILAG, my dad was always welcomed to his house with hilarious jokes. “Mike” (my dad) as he fondly called him, was also his Mechanic back then, since he owned a Peugeot car which my dad specialized in.
Now let me confess!
I used to pray his car develops a fault, that way, my dad would go to fix it. On several occasions, daddy didn’t know how I sneaked into the car, half way into the journey, I’ll reveal myself from my regular hiding spot behind the driver’s sit and we’ll both laugh so loud about it. I was so skinny as a child, so I fit into that small space perfectly, there was no way dad would have noticed.
I will never forget that OFOMA Bread Cake advert, that reigned in the East in the 90’s. My dad and his apprentice, Paul Asinogwu along with Prof himself, starred in it. Oh, how I jumped each time that advert was aired.
This last confession will blow your mind………….
But I won’t tell you, you’ll have to pay me to hear it, as an Nnewi man wey I be.
In all, I saw a very humble man while I was growing up. Always smiling, my dad would ask him questions upon questions about music and he’ll answer them with patience. A man who respects you, no matter your status in life.
Igwe Professor Lazarus Edward Nnanyelu Ekwueme, ‘Eze Ijikala II – Ozioko’ Igwe Oko, was born on January 28, 1936 in Oko, Anambra State . He attended Government College, Umuahia for secondary education and the Royal College of Music, London, where he majored in composition and was under the direction of Gordon Jacob. In London, he earned a total of 10 diplomas in music, Speech and Drama and he also obtained a bachelor’s degree from the University of Durham. In 1962, he obtained the professional teaching diploma, Licentiate of the Guildhall School of Music.
Prof. as a handsome young man, in his school days.
From 1960-1964, while in Britain, he embraced the theatre, and was an active actor in African films produced by the African Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation. He left Britain in 1964, and returned to Nigeria, where he took up a faculty position at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. As a lecturer of Music composition, Theory, History, Singing and Conducting, he was an important member in the pioneering Nigerian music department at Nsukka, which was the first to award music degrees in the country. He also gave considerable attention to choral music, organizing the University of Nigeria Choral Society, a group of foreign and local students who performed regularly in Nsukka.
Prof. In performance with the Laz Ekwueme Chorale, as he takes the solo
In 1966, he went abroad to obtain a post graduate degree in Music Theory from Yale University. He also taught at the college and a few other colleges in America. While at Yale, he founded the New Haven International Chorus. In 1974, he returned to Nigeria, this time, he was given a position by Jacob Ade Ajayi at the newly created department of music, at the University of Lagos, and also as a research fellow at the Center for Cultural Studies. It was while in Lagos, he formed the Laz Ekwueme National Chorale. A highly respected African choral group. Overtime with experience in musical experimentation, he became one of the few early Nigerian composers to produce a successful musical syncretism of African choral works using western forms and techniques with the result generating wide appeal among Africans, and little difficulties or distortion in conveying meaning of the words being song. For his effort in music composition and conducting, he was made the coordinator of the Nigerian National Choir at the Black Arts Festival, Festac 77.
As a music scholar, he explored distinctive indigenous African rhythm and melody in some songs of the New world and American music, a theme that was one of the vocal points of his research efforts. As a researcher, he spent time studying musical patterns of Africans, Caribbeans and African Americans. He noticed the similarities in ways in which African Americans in Louisiana sing songs and Africans in Dahomey. Also, the importance and employment of music in cardinal events in the lives of Africans and those in diaspora is a theme prevalent in many of his research efforts.
Several times i discussed Prof’s Tenor Voice with Jude Nwankwo and Danlami Baba. I used to compare his voice to that of Plácido Domingo. Prof sounded too good, you’ll never tell it’s a Nigerian singing. His voice was strong, piercing, loud, resonating and had a very fine tone color, texture and great pitch. I used to think that Prof could match José Carreras, Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti voice for voice, on a very good day. I watched him perform Mendelssohn’s Elijah and several other works in the 90’s and compared his voice with the above mentioned. I found only little difference; the tone color of an African voice to that of an European voice.
His Masters Degree Project Work Missa Africana still remains a very difficult work for Nigerian Choirs to perform. Only few have been brave enough to dare.
It would interest you to know that he also has black belt in Karate.
A musicologist, Thespian, Composer, Singer, Performer and writer of numerous books and articles, please stand up for the first Professor of Music in Nigeria;
Igwe Professor Lazarus Edward Nnanyelu Ekwueme ‘Eze Ijikala II – Ozioko’ Igwe Oko
I CELEBRATE YOU TODAY!
Ifediora, Obinna Maurice
30 Adenrele Street,