Whenever I encounter a creative work of art imbued with much beauty, I feel an immense sense of gratitude towards such an artist who could open up the deepest and innermost part of himself to the society. This deep part of the artist’s soul brings healing and direction to the society. These days, artists create and beg us to hype, share and appreciate. We even snob the most creative piece and pay attention to the ones that have sought our attention relentlessly, no matter how poor the work is. Alexander Ugwu is an artist who is not in a hurry to call for attention, but one who spared no time in coming to the rescue when guns failed to cancel guns in Awka.
At some points in Awka, the capital city of Anambra State, one would not have the privilege of hearing the chirping of insects or the annoying buzz of the mosquito, and this was because gunshots were ever there to keep silence away and to shut up all the daring crickets of the night. This situation was at some point overwhelming that the Bakassi boys were invited. They did their best but the killings and shootings did not stop. One would wonder, what kind of education the government afforded these youths while they were forming from primary school to tertiary institutions of learning? Were they given enough? We are yet to learn that the arts and humanities can be proactively employed to keep the society safe.
When Alexander Ugwu mounted the stage with his group on the 31st of October, 2021, it dawned on me that these young people have emotions, intellect and body just like the other ones who wield the gun, but the difference may have been programming. Human formation is a deliberate thing and one cannot afford to fail to be thorough in raising young people.
The REVOJA Academy choir which is one of the groups under Ama-Ijele Theater, left my mind running around many aspects of the Nigerian society but this restless mind was stirred by every crescendo and laid to rest by every diminuendo as well as the message in the carefully selected songs performed that day; a good interplay of chaos and order, tension and release. I was amazed how this entertaining experience became an opportunity for deep reflection. There, for me, lies the success of the concert which was termed Dere Juu, that is, “stay calm”.
Such a phrase would be the best thing to tell anyone in Awka within August till November, as I often returned home hoping not to be at a place where there would be a shootout. And even when I escaped it, I often did not escape the news of a friend or a neighbor who was nearly shot, or one who was badly shot. Enough of the gruesome experience. I choose to stay calm. I choose the remedy which REVOJA has administered into my conscious and subconscious mind. Since then till now, the tunes they rendered have stayed in my head. Tunes like Abide With Me, Ifunanya Chukwu, We are One in The Spirit, Iriowunana Tamuno, Blessed be God, When Stars Begin to Fall, to mention but a few. Indeed it was a serene evening of choral music.
The audience consisted mainly of the youths and no seat was empty in the hall of the Testimony Place in Awka. In attendance was Mrs. May Blossom Brown (Okalete), Mr. Maxim & Mrs. Chidimma Uzoatu, Lady Biddy Iwuchukwu (PhD), Mrs. Amaka Ezeno (Esq). Dr. Patrick & Mrs. Amaka Ezeno are two special patrons of the art who by making the Testimony Place available for numerous creative activities, support the Ama-Ijele Theater in engaging young people to thrive creatively and progressively in Awka.
A brief interaction ensued at some point during the concert after five songs were performed, and the audience expressed how satisfying the experience was in questions and comments. But an important observation was made by a journalist who anchored the conversation section, Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera, who asked if some persons in the choir were possessed. Indeed they seemed to be.
They sang from the soul and for the first time I could enjoy a choir not because they were singing harmoniously but because they moved my spirit and almost hypnotized me, a feeling several members of the audience confirmed to have had. There was something beyond the ordinary about the group. The mystique in the Oja of the Igbo which is the suffix when merged with Revolution, from where the prefix Rev was taken, leaves one to wonder at as well as appreciate the mission of this “REV-OJA” choir possessed by art and not pecuniary adventures.
The banality that is the mark of some choral groups is nowhere near this revolutionary group whose leader, Alex wore only socks, a black shorts and black long sleeve polo to conduct his choir. His efficiency in conducting the group to elicit a wide range of dynamics and expressions is such that I can describe as rare and ingenious. The choir sang all the songs without any accompaniment from the keyboard, and by so doing returning music to the first and most sublime musical instrument, the human voice.
When asked how he assembled such quality persons to be in his group, Alex answered: “you just have to show people that what they are looking for is available, and if it is what they need they will assemble.” Alex continues thus: “I have hope in humanity but not as much as a human person should. But in the course of preparing for this concert, these persons seated here have given me excess hope. And like Michael said in the previous question he asked me, is it not the same life that these persons have in them that those who are killing themselves have?”
When I asked Alex why he chose to share this serene experience instead of pop culture, he answered: “we don’t have to dance and distract ourselves, but instead we should, this time, embody our pain and triumph over it.” Such is the message from the founder of REVOJA, Alex Uwgu. Such is a man and a group who are not ready to do what will sell commercially, but who like the true artist are ready to enlighten the pathways for the human persons in the society that we may journey successfully to the inner self where we shall draw strength and creative juice to thrive uniquely in excellence and dignity.
-Gerald Eze is a lecturer, folk music collector and performer