Culture is definition; he who defines is your master. To let anyone define your culture for you is to make that person your master.” The above words of Obi Egbuna signify that when you accept another person’s definition of you, he becomes your master and you have to pay for his masterly definition of you with gold.
That the Igbo as a people are fast becoming decrepit, culturally speaking, is no longer news. What makes news is the way forward. Currently, we are in a dilemma, oscillating like a pendulum between native and alien cultures. Many of us tend to see culture from very narrow perspectives. Some see culture only in dressing; some see it as language; some see it only in arts and craft; while others see it from the angle of beliefs or manners, agriculture, science and technology, literature, governance, industry, etc. Each of the above is a grain in a million grains of a capsule called culture. In my understanding, as a teacher, culture is the totality of a man’s life and his activities in his environment.
Not many cultures are static. But my emphasis is on preservation of culture. Preservation of culture readily comes to mind when we talk of peculiar arts and craft, antiquities and historical landmarks. Culture, being a way of life of a people, must be dynamic, fluid and flexible. To be otherwise is to be anaemic, dying and dead. Culture, in line with societal trends, naturally goes through a distillation process.
In the words of late MJC Echerue, “The challenge we face today is that of re-establishing our identity.” The book Partners, Import-Export Business says, “When something goes wrong in a business run by husband and wife, there is no point to try to place the blame, your first and last response must be to find a way to fix it.”
He who knows everything has a lot to learn. It is a historical and cultural tragedy that while the Igbo population is yearly on the increase, currently at 20 million, our cultural growth is on accelerated downward trend. Igbo is fast becoming ‘Greek’ to our children and parents pride in telling us that their wards neither understand nor speak Igbo. What can be done to wedge the avalanche of Western and allied cultures and influences fast eroding our culture? Culture is like the skin: you cannot pull it off. The quickest means of identifying a people anywhere, anytime is through their language and culture. No language and culture, no identity.
It is against this background that I appreciate the efforts being put in by Ugo Stevenson, an Owerri-based artiste and art enthusiast, to organise the maiden edition of Ekwe Awards (All Igbo Music Award 2012). One sure way of preserving the Igbo language and culture, no doubt, is through celebrating Igbo music such as Ogene, Bongo, Nkwanwite, Odumodu, Ekpili, Eri Obo, Oyolima and Abigbo as well as their practitioners. This is what the Ekwe Awards will certainly do.
“Ekwe is a percussive instrument used in all Igbo music styles; that is why we have chosen to brand the All Igbo Music Awards as Ekwe Awards,” Ugo Stevenson explained to an impressed audience of journalists, broadcasters and art enthusiasts from around the South-East zone, including Delta and Rivers State. The main focus of the honours ceremony, according to him, is to celebrate those who have preserved Igbo language through the most effective medium of mass communication known to man: music.
“Each Igbo speaking state in the federation has a unique brand of music that is peculiar to it,” Ugo Stevenson further said. “These unique music styles have found strong expressions in highlife, which may rightly be described as Igbo contemporary music. These music styles are currently performed by more than two thousand practitioners around the globe with high record of success.”
Among those to be honoured at the Ekwe Awards are the best Igbo originated music recording and performing artistes in Abigbo, Ekpili, Odumodu, Bongo, Ogene, Eri Obo, Oyolima, and Igbo Gospel and Highlife. Others to be honoured are marketers, producers, radio/television presenters and journalists who have shown great patronage to our music culture.
Ekwe Awards, I daresay, is a right step in the right direction. Through the awards, I see Igbo music having a great influence on the rest of the world, just as Igbo kitchens are appreciated all over Africa and dot strategic areas of continental Europe and America; just as foreigners all over the world rush to have a taste of our nkwobi, isi ewu, ofe nsala, ofe olugbu, akpu, pepper soup, etc; just as Nollywood, which kicked off with Igbo films close to two decades ago, now ranks third behind Hollywood (USA) and Bollywood (India). The time may not be too soon, yet it is not too far away, and history will remember those who were part of a team that spared nothing to see our culture becoming our source of great power.