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  • Born

    August 1932 (age 91)

  • Born In

    Enugu, Nigeria

Life at oldage is quite enjoyable

His numerous fans call him gentleman. But his name is Mike Ejeagha. He is a folklore musician known for his story telling prowess, using music. Infact, it is a slang among the Igbos to say Akuko n’egwu Mike Ejeagha to a story teller.

His musical career started 56 years ago as he watched two guitar players around his compound at the coal camp Enugu in addition to paying attention to anything musical.

As he learnt the guitar, he was also playing other music. But having observed that singing in the native dialect could give him a better identity, he vowed to write and sing using Igbo lyrics. Afterall, his counterparts such as Ebenezer Obey,Victor Uwaifo among others did a similar thing.

With this resolve and the style he adopted, he succeeded in carving a niche for himself as a story teller-musician. His hit came in 1960- the year Nigeria got its independence. This septuagenarian folklorist who says story telling has established his life and developed Akuko n’egwu.

He combines research with his mastery of the guitar to tell his stories full of proverbs and didactic messages. He tells Daily Sun reasons why he would continue playing music all his life:

I am Mike Ejeagha. I hail from Imezi Owa, Eziagu Local Government of Enugu State. People call me Gentleman. I do not know how I came about the name. Perhaps it could be the way I behave. I mean my attitude towards people. I was born in August, 1932.

How I started
I started when I was very young. That was when I completed my elementary school education in 1948. I have some friends and when we were growing up we had the Ogene group. During Christmas, we usually went round to play for people.

Within coal camp, there were two men who used to play the guitar. One was the late Moses Aduba, popularly known as Moscow, he was from Onitsha. The other was Cyprian Uzochiawa from Oye.

Moscow was living in our compound, while Cyprian came every evening for them to play guitar and sing. As they played, I sat beside them watching the way the y play the guitar and how they sang the music. I got interested in all they were doing.

I was also interested in anything relating to music. All these heightened my love for music and I started handling the guitar . Besides, I was told that my mother was very much inclined to singing when she was young.

Forming my group
I made all efforts to learn how to play the guitar . The moment I was sure I could play it well, I formed a group called Mike Ejeagha and Merry-makers. In 1950, the late Atu Ona, then Controller of the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS) invited me for audition.

Later he gave me a programme titled Guitar Playtime. Then I started playing for the radio and producing musical programmes. I later formed a bigger group known as Premier Dance Band. Before these groups, I was playing with a band called Paradise Rhythm Orchestra owned by a hotelier.

My late wife
In 1963, I lost my first wife and in 1964 I waxed an album in her memory. I re-married in 1966. I have many children– 10 of them– but one of them died last year. I have been recording my albums under Premier Music Ltd, Polygram Label. When they left the country, another group took over the company.

Civil war
During the civil war, I disbanded my group and continued my programme with Radio Nigeria. The new programme was entitled Igbo Play. I had to disband the band because of the war situation, which made people think of survival than listening to music.

We left Enugu and moved over to Umuahia. I was there till the end of the war. But I was going round playing for soldiers. After the war in 1970, I formed a new band in 1974.

Being a guitarist
Guitar is a very difficult musical instrument to handle. But if you have the love and the interest for playing it, you can do it. All it requires is creating time for the training. My own style is different from the way young boys of nowadays play. I started before the age of 20.

I learnt it from Moscow and Cyprian. There was another person also who taught and learnt how to play it abroad. I continued playing and developed my own style. I usually add my personal feelings whenever I play.

Some continue with the style of the guitarist who taught them. It is because of the peculiarity of my style that most copycats find it very difficult to copy me. The fact is that somebody taught me but when I play, I create my own style. I have been able to sustain this for a long time because I do a lot of research in all I do.

After composing a song, I usually sing it and look at it all over again. Then whereever the moral lesson lies, I highlight it very well. This forms the theme and the message of my song. So many parents do not know how to bring up their kids very well.

They feel that a child can take care of himself at a certain age. But this is not true. It is better to continue counseling a child on what the world is all about. It is just a temporary place. You should know the type of friends you make. I use proverbs in my stories a lot. They give wisdom to those who listen.

I have a great love for music. It started from early childhood. I was told that my mother was a good singer. She used to be a great dancer who led the dancing group. All these inspired me.

My audience are those who are interested in Igbo folktales, stories and music. In course of time, I added other styles to my stories such that they become danceable. So when I sing and tell stories, people nod their heads, while others sing along with me and move in a dignifying manner. In fact, both the old and young dance to the sound.

Kind of music
When I started playing with Paradise Rhythm Orchestra, we were copying the music of other musicians. We played the music of Ghanaians, classical music. Around 1960, I realised that some Nigerian musicians like Ebenezer Obey, Victor Uwaifo and others recorded in their own native dialect. Uwaifo’ s lyrics were always in Edo language and quite melodious.

So I asked myself Mike, why can’t you introduce your own kind of music. This forced me start writing my own lyrics in Igbo language. That was why I recorded in 1960, a folklore music, Ofu nwa anaa( the only child is gone). It is all about an only son who followed the father to the farm and was bitten by a snake and died. The next was Okuko kwaa uche echegbuo onye ugwo (when the cock crows the debtor becomes worried).

With the success of these, I vowed that I would never play another person’s music. That I do not see why I cannot use my language to make an impact. I can tell you that it really worked for me. This is how I developed my brand of music, called Akuko n’egwu. This means story telling in music. And as I continue with this, people were telling me Gentleman you are trying, keep it up.

Success with Omekagu
After the war, I recorded an album, Omekagu with Polygram Records when it was called Phillips. It was a very big success. After this, I was invited by the then Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS), now Enugu State Broadcasting Service ( ESBS) to be doing a programme titled Akuko n’egwu (story telling in music). In the programme, I must give a new folktale on a weekly basis.

Usually, we were required to go to a natural scene that could portray the environment of the week’s story. This added to the authenticity of the stories since the listeners always felt as if they were at the scene. The sound of nature as the story went on really made the listeners believe the story. I can tell you that this really endeared it to people.

It is the story of two brothers. Their father, the king of the land loves the younger one very well. The son’s name Omekagu means that he is his true son. His first son is peculiar in his own way, but the king does not like him. His intention is to bequeath the throne to Omekagu, so that he becomes king whenever he dies. But the tradition is that the first son should succeed the late king.

The elders warned him against this, but he would not listen. His bid to accomplish this failed thus comforming with the proverb that it is nature that wards off flies for a cow without a tail. Omekagu was prepared by the king so that he rides on a Horse round the town and proclaim that the throne belongs to him when the king dies.

As he was going round, his elder brother being a flutist blew a sound of lamentation. Omekagu fell from the horse and became unconscious. Words got to the king and he summoned the elders. They reminded him of their warning that he was being unfair with the first son. They advised him that the only solution for him is to tender an apology to his first son. He did and he blew his flute again, Omekagu rose up.

Story teller
This is basically as a folklorist. It is a question of devoting my time and I can say that I have really devoted my time to telling stories. To tell good stories I try to listen to people when they talk or tell stories.

Story telling is my life. It is an art and act I have gone deep into and I am sure I will continue it for the rest of my life. I must tell you that I am very happy and fulfilled with myself. Recently, the University of Nigeria , Nsukka gave me a certificate of merit in recognition of my music.

This is common whenever an Igbo man tells a story. And if you want to make sense to an Igbo man when you are talking, it is better to use proverbs. It gives not only wisdom but connotes maturity.

Life at old age
Life at old age is quite enjoyable, especially when the Almighty God gives you good health. The unfortunate thing this time is that so many unusual things are happening in the society. There is love for humanity. People see money as being everything . If you do not have money you don’t belong.

Young musician
The problem is that everybody today wants to write his lyrics. They must make sure that they are not in a rush. Your duty is to entertain the public and you must be patient for people to follow you.

Music in Nigeria
I believe we are doing very well. When some of us started music we do not have sophisticated instrument as there are today. Many people have started doing very well. But they have to sit down and write their music. I used to be a strong member of the Performing Musician and Employers Association on Nigeria, PMAN. But now that they have reorganised, I have not really registered.

Composing music
I do not support someone writing a song for a musician. Some people used to do that, but in my own case I write and arrange my songs on my own. It helps me to express myself very well with my music. With it, I’m able to conduct myself.

I have released 33 albums and four singles. In the singles, I did it all alone, telling the stories and playing the guitar. Other albums include Omekagu, Onye Ndidi n’eli azu ukpo, Udegbunam, Nze bia k’anyi rie nni, Uwa mgbede ka mma, Ofor malu onye ji ya, gwogwom ngwo, Ife m fulu n’ime ofia. I hope to release a new album this December.

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