Posted by Eric Aghadiuno on
Popular Zzigima singer, Bright Chimezie (a.k.a Okoro Junior) is as old as his fatherland, Nigeria. He was born on October 1, 1960 at a time the country severed its colonial cord from Britain.
So the 'child of independence', as he is fondly called by close friends has a reason for being independent minded. Symbolically, Chimezie is so much in love with his tradition that while some of his colleagues depend on foreign products for a living, he prefers to sing, work and dress as a true African.
An ardent lover and promoter of hisculture, Chimezie has impacted positively on his fans and has equally been well patronised by indivduals and corporate bodies. For instance, Chimezie featured prominently in all the Golden Tones Concerts sponsored by Benson and Hedges in the late 1990s. He also performed alongside such artistes as Daniel Wilson, Orits Wiliki and Ras Kimono in a major promotional concert that toured United Kingdom.
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I started playing music as a member of the church choir. I sang alto, bass among other numbers. I was about 10 years old then. Later when I gained admission into secondary school, my interest in music grew tremendously. Earlier, I was initiated into the tradition (Igborokiti) music of my people. I was then a pupil of Eke Oba Community School in Umuahia, Abia State. Igbokiriti is a genre of music played by the elders during funerals and other important festivals. Right from childhood, I gained popularity by entertaining people with a local guitar.
But in my secondary school, I used to play the music of George Benson, Bobby Benson, Hot Chocolate and other reigning musicians in those days. In my second year, I started leading the school?s cultural music group. Other students loved me so much that the senior students stopped punishing me because I used to entertain them with my music. My nickname then was Ocean and the senior students called me Chimezie and the Ocean Band. I soon became a household name in the school because I used to play some funny sounds with my hand placed under my armpits.
Between education and music
As a member of the Literary and Debating Society, we had a programme billed for the television but I was not selected to represent my school and that made me sad. I wanted to appear on TV. But there was nothing I could do. So, I made up my mind that if I could not appear on a TV as a debater, I could appear as a musician. I wrote a letter to Pal Akalonu and Stoneface Iwuagwu who were then the producers of Now Sound asking them to feature me in their programme. Threafter I did not receive a reply.
Meanwhile, I was surprised one day when Stoneface Iwuagwu arrived at my School asking for me. He went to my principal and showed him a letter from the director of NTA asking me to come for recording. That was the happiest day of my life. But my happiness was short-lived. My parents did not want me to be a musician. In fact, I did not want to tell them that I was to go to Aba for recording. I knew they would have stopped me. But I had to raise the money for the trip to Aba.
Since I found it difficult to raise money, I had to engage in farming to raise eight shillings (80k). With the money in my pocket, I went to NTA Aba. During the recording, I sang Eddy Grant?s Neighbour, Neighbour, among other songs. I did it with some degree of maturity and the producers were thrilled. I was so excited that I would soon be featured on television.
I told my parents about it but they did not believe me. My parents had no TV then, but we all gathered round my uncle?s TV set and the programme was transmitted. My parents were astounded. I became an instant hero in my town. After my secondary education, my father insisted that I should proceed to the university. But I did not want to go. I established the Modernised Odumodu Cultural Dance Group and we became so popular in the whole of Eastern Nigeria. The group specialised in story telling through music. We told the story of Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe?s Things Fall Apart. Actually, Chinua Achebe influenced me a lot, along with Cyprian Ekwensi, Elechi Amadi and other novelists. We were moving towards singing authentic Igbo rhythm with modernised songs.
That was why we called ourselves Bright Chimezie and the Modernised Odumodu Cultural Group. That was the beginning of what you know today as Zzigima Sound. In 1979, I disbanded the group because there were clashes among the members. I later left home for Lagos where I stayed with my elder brother at Ajegunle.
My aim in those days was to play traditional music that would be accepted worldwide. I was bent on internationalising our traditional music. But in those days, I could not play the guitar. In fact, I owe a debt of gratitude to Joe King Kologbo who used to live in Apapa then. He was the first person to teach me how to play the guitar. He also featured me in a TV programme, Why Don?t you be a Star at a time when the contract fee was only N15. Deinde Gilbert also featured me in a programme and I played at several night clubs such as Phoenician Night Club, Gondola Club (at Yaba) as well as Tee Mac Connection at Mama Koko Hotel, Ebute-Metta.
In 1980, I learnt that there were vacancies in the Customs and Excise Dance Band. I applied and was successful. I was there from 1980 to 1983. During this period, I combined my music with the job. I also featured at the Cultural Centre, University of Lagos on many occasions.
First album, Respect Africa
While working for the Customs, I was also busy shaping up my brand of music by producing demos. But the more I prepared the demo cassettes, the more they were rejected. In 1984, I was informed that Rogers All Stars Recording Company was interested in traditional African music. I went to Onitsha to give him my demo. He listened to it, and made his decision to release me. That was the birth of Respect Africa, the album that shot me into limelight.
Zzigima means Ozi I Ga Ma in Igbo language. It means the message that everyone (Africans) should know. My music is rooted in the cultural music of my people. I am out to promote African culture and African ways of life. Our people have become copycats in their manners of eating, dressing and even talking. All these have to change. Otherwise, Africans would not be different from bats that neither belong to the air nor to the land. We have to retrace our steps to our African ways of doing things, which are even superior to the European an American ways which we now imitate. That is all about Zzigima sound, the message for every African all over the world.
I was conferred with the Duke of African Music Award by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Tribune Chapel, Ibadan on February 14,1998. I also bagged a chieftaincy title from Oba Omowonuola Oyeyode Oyesosin II, the Ogiyan of Ejigboland in Osun State.
Chinua Achebe inspired my love for African music
By SOLA BALOGUN
Friday, October 29, 2004