7 June 2008

Nigeria: Igwe Laz Ekwueme - a Man of Art and the Throne

Lagos — His Royal Highness, Igwe Laz Ekwueme remains the doyen of choral music in Nigeria. A foremost professor of music, and an icon of the arts, the retired professor of music of the University of Lagos, is as well, the present monarch in his Oko community in Anambra State.

Following his coronation as Igwe Ekwueme, the fourth of Oko Kingdom, Anambra State, about six months ago, Laz has become the symbolic icing on the cake to many lovers of art in Nigeria. As a traditional ruler, and professor emeritus, Laz Ekwueme's passion for the art has remained undying even as the demands of his new office have not restricted him from getting involved in the arts.

A consummate master of ceremonies, an actor par excellence, composer and an impresario of the art, Igwe Laz Ekwueme means different things to different people. Shortly after his coronation and as a show of his undying interest in the art, the new monarch surprisingly won the prize for the lyrics of an anthem for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). At 72, though retired, the music scholar is not tired as his contributions to the advancement of the arts have continued to soar higher and higher. At every art fora, the Igwe's presence is rarely ignored.

Also in the movie industry, Igwe Laz Ekwueme holds forte his own. Having featured in many films, the retired professor does not restrict himself to the roles of moneybags or the affluent, but also plays the roles of the poor and the down-trodden. By that, he also feels the pulse of the suffering masses.

He retired from the University of Lagos after almost four decades in the academia, where he helped train and nurture artistes. He is also the author of 13 books on different branches of the arts including music and theatre as well as monographs, numerous scholarly works and journal articles. He also contributed chapters in several other books; and belongs to many scholarly societies.

As a man of the throne and the art, the indefatigable septuagenarian who founded the famous Laz Ekwueme Chorale on the occasion of the public presentation of Nd'Igbo Journal, which recently took place at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) Lagos, revealed to ArtSalon that, as a traditional ruler, his new office does not in any way stand between him and his love for the arts. Hear him.

"I I am still playing my part in the arts. And I am still conducting my choir and giving my lectures

in music and the art whenever I am called upon. I am still making myself available in the movie industry. Yes, the throne poses another challenge anyway. But I don't have to confine myself to the throne alone. As it is noted in the Holy Book, there is time for everything. Time to look for something to eat, and time to sit on the throne. Because I am not paid for being on the throne, I therefore, need to get myself engaged so as to make ends meet. Unlike monarchs from the other parts of the country who are very well supported by their various governments, we are not well remunerated as traditional rulers. It's not so with us in the East. If I abandon the art, where will I get my daily bread?"

Experience on the throne

The throne is highly demanding. It also has its own challenges. But thank God, that I have been able to make my own little contribution in the area of trying to raise the standard of equity and justice among my subjects.

We thank God for all his mercies. I am Ekwueme the fourth. The ancestry has been there for ages, so, it is not totally new and uncommon. Yes, for me, it's new. But six months is not just yesterday. The government has not been supportive to us.

In Anambra State, the traditional rulers are not very well remunerated. There is need for government to improve on the welfare of the traditional rulers so as to encourage them to discharge their duties to their subjects effectively.

My choir is still there. Right now, we are trying to put together a peace solidarity concert for the Niger-Delta, which choristers from Warri, Port-Harcourt, Akwa-Ibom State, and of course, my choir will participate in. I have made my contributions as far as the art and classical music is concerned in Nigeria. I believe in change.

What I cannot accomplish now, I try to pave way for the younger ones to take their turns and do the rest of it. But as long as I live, I will continue to do my best in the area of promoting the classical music in Nigeria.

I taught English and I still teach speech and drama. I have a Ph.D in Music. I practised every genre of the arts. All the arts are inter-related, especially in Africa. Music, drama and speech, and all literatures are inter-woven.

You really can't practice any one of them well without knowing quite a bit about the others. God is great. We give to each role what it requires. When it is time to play the Igwe in real life, we do that and when it is time to play the Igwe in the movie, we play Igwe in the movie. When it is time to conduct my choir, I do that.

I have featured in many films since I joined the movie industry fully. Some of the outstanding ones include: Never Say Never, Love Story, Worlds Apart, Paradise, Saviour, Dance In The Forest, among others. There are the traditional period and set, or epic movies like, The Golden Axe, Secret Adventure, Blood of the Orphan, and Formidable Force. I've just acted in Treasure Hunt and Lords Of The Game.


Relaxation, yes! While discharging my duties, I try to find time to relax. I have nothing to worry about. And, God being my helper, I take things the way they come to me, and it is my desire to stand by the truth at all times. I have no regrets for mounting the throne of my forefathers. I am still writing, composing and involving myself in other aspects of the arts. But the throne is a little more challenging and tasking so to say.

Igbo renaissance

I believe in Igbo renaissance. But I also strongly believe that we cannot do away with the memories of the civil war, because what led to the civil war has not been addressed till today. The Igbos are still being marginalised, discriminated against, and also, treated like second class citizens. Of course, I agree that the civil war shattered the psyche of the Igboman. Before now, we used to talk of Igbo solidarity, but today, the reverse is the case. Money seems to be the sole determinant of what an average Igboman does, which is not supposed to be so.

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