…Eze’s song-poetry set to redeem Nigerians from crass music
…Masthamind, Dallie newest love balladists in town
By Anote Ajeluorou
A poet. A mathematician. And a zoologist. What does the trio have in common? Music, couched in song-poetry and unforgettable voices and melody. The mathematician, armed with his guitar and a melodious voice and the zoologist her sweet, sensual voice, with the poet coming behind with sublime, poetic lines all combine to produce what would possibly set the country on a new musical direction. It’s the love ballads James Eze, Masthamind and Dallie have crafted in the Udala Nation music project unveiled Tuesday, April 12, 2022 to a select audience in Surulere, Lagos. The new music will possibly redeem Nigerians from the largely crass, meaningless music their eardrums are currently bombarded with.
In Eze’s Daybreak are to be found love songs like ‘I found love’, ‘Love song’, ‘He say, she say’, ‘Dance in the skies’, ‘The colour of my skin’, and ‘My truth’. In what was an impromptu session, Masthamind and Dallie showed why they are musicians in the truest sense of the word. With Masthamind on the guitar, and armed only with their voices, the duo gave a sample of their musicianship with the rendition of ‘Love song’ that isn’t the usual miming those strutting the music scene will pay to offer. And coming just a few days before Easter celebration, Eze is certain Daybreak will cause some stir in the music industry akin to a revolution with his song-poetry genre.
Although he declared himself a late bloomer, which also accounts for the choice of EP title, Eze has cooked a new music broth that pleases and soothes the nerves from the jarring tunes plaguing the airwaves. He won the Association of Nigerian Authors’ (ANA) Prize for Poetry 2021, with his poetry collection titled dispossessed which also forms background for Udala Nation project. Set in balladic, wooing tunes, Eze’s love songs are borne out of fusing poetry into love songs to create a hybrid melody which he said is totally new to him, even as an exploratory poet. He gives credit to his two young companions – Masthamind (Michael Chibuike Chinedu) and Dallie (Deborah Chiamaka Nnabuife) – who he said “made me encounter my poetry anew; 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.”
While speaking about his Udala Nation project, Eze said after my tour of duty (as Chief Press Secretary to former governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano), “I believe I came back with something that will excite Nigerians. There are two young Nigerians whose music I’m delighted to share with the rest of the world. In Udala Nation, we are a group of singers and writers and composers who discovered ourselves in Awka. We gave a snippet of what we have 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.”
Eze spoke glowingly about what makes his new music offering radically different from what currently dominates the Nigerian airwaves, saying blending poetry into songs is at the heart of the new project and part of his desire to find new audiences, and craves music lovers to listen in and give their own verdict.
“Today, we want to present our first EP, and we want to share. We are not putting out music that chimes into the music industry as we know it. The songs that we have to offer speak to poetry. As I have said elsewhere, 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.
“In our offering today, 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 which two young friends of mine have done exquisitely, excellently beyond my personal imagination, and I know that it will be beyond the anticipation of many Nigerians. 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 although he might have just come out with his poetry collection and now music, but he’s been on the creative turf for a while busy honing the skills of young Nigerians in the literary craft and other artistic offerings.
“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.
“So during my time in Lagos and even in Awka, I’ve been busy expanding those frontiers, getting more people into the net, creating platforms for young people to find expressions. I’ve also created an annual poetry evening, A Flutter in the Wood, that we hold towards the Valentine season in Awka. The idea is also that Lagos is not the only place where people of the imagination enjoy that aspect of their lives. Creative people have things they are drawn to that the ordinary people might thing stupid. We created Christopher Okigbo International Poetry Festival which I believe is one of the most serious poetry festivals in Nigeria. I stand to be corrected. 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 ‘Lybarinth’ which remains a manual for many aspiring poets all over Africa.
“So, one has been deeply involved in a number of creative stuffs. But I’m coming out differently, because I’ve always had this part of me which has to do with expanding frontiers. Before I got my first car, I always had my earphones in place with music banging in my head. Now is the time to try to also live some of my dreams. The birth of Udala Nation is the birth of a different culture in Nigeria’s entertainment industry, because our songs are different and we believe Nigerians will love our offerings.”
THE Udala Nation founder also gave background to naming the project after a famous fruit tree Nigerians from all ethnic nationalities love to take a bite, saying it’s both symbolic and testament of the true experience those who listen to Daybreak will have, a truly pleasing and exciting soul music.
“Udala (heart-shaped, orange colour fruit) in the Igbo socio-cultural setting is a symbol of innocence, because udala trees in the traditional Igbo society used to be a place of gathering and play for children. Innocence in the sense that children would gather under the udala tree and play all kinds of games. And then they waited for the precious, ripe udala fruit to fall. When it falls, the children would race for it, and whoever was fastest would pick the udala, and if the fellow was kind enough, he or she would share it with his or her mates. I looked at that my cultural setting, part of my growth process, part of my encounter as a child; I also know that udala fruit is very tasty. When I was growing up, there were some udala trees that were famous for producing sweet udala fruits, and children usually gathered there most. It’s still being relished by so many people today in urban areas; many people still hunger for udala.
“So, I thought that udala symbolises not just innocence, but the communal sharing spirit. And the sweetness of udala, its delicacy also crops into the melody that you listen to, something that is pleasant and good. Our lyrics are not vulgar; there’s nothing you’d encounter that will foul up your mood. We are not selling sex or pornography. We have quality messages, songs that families could listen to together and create a bound among them. So, our song is sweetness. Udala Nation is about pleasantness, a kind of entertainment that is wholesome, that anyone who encounters our offerings will absorb in. Besides, these are not just songs as we know them, but poetry couched in songs.”
With 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. So Udala Nation is slightly different. We respect those who are holding the stage now, but we are saying: ‘can you give us a bit of your time? Can you listen to us for a second and see whether you love what we have to give?’
Dallie and Masthamind, who came as budding talents to Eze through recommendations, also gave their perspective on the Daybreak music project, with Dallie describing her experience in the peculiar genre of music as ‘adventurous.’
For the fresh graduate of Zoology from the same Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Dallie, “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.”
Also for Masthamind the mathematician, also a fresh graduate from the same university, the experience has been no different, saying, “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.”