‘Why I left Lagos for my village’ – BRIGHT CHIMEZIE

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BRIGHT CHIMEZIE
You cannot talk about Nigerian music without mentioning Bright Chimezie. The Ziggima Music exponent was a veritable musical force in the 1980s and 1990s. During that period, he lived in Lagos and was very visible in entertainment circles because of the vintage position Lagos occupies.
Ziggima was a complete Afro-centric movement that transcended music. It preached it’s philosophy of the African and Bright Chimezie fully portrayed this in his music, dressing and lifestyle.Here, he explained that the need for inculcating this belief into his family and which also led to his relocation to the East in 2003.
Still handsome and amiable, Okoro Junior, as Bright is fondly called, was at the Airport Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos on Monday, May 24, to show his support for the Tony Okoroji-led Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), which just got the backing of the Federal Government of Nigeria to operate as the sole Collective Management Organization (CMO) for music and sound recordings in the country. He sat down with me after everyone had left for this exclusive interview…
Where have you been, what has been happening?
For seven years now, I have not been in Lagos. I used to be a Lagos-based artist, but I have not been in Lagos for seven years and it was a tactical Zigimatical withdrawal. I have my reasons for that and after I have achieved my aim, I decided to come back and that is why you have seen me.
What were you doing in that seven years?
I still maintain my 16-piece brand. I still maintain my family; I still play, I still release music. The only thing was that I did a little bit of withdrawal from Lagos.
Where did you go to?
I have been in my village, Ekeoba in Umuahia, all this while. I have been taking off from Umuahia to all parts of the world to do my Zigima thing.
Why?
What actually happened was that by 2003, I wanted my family to see where I come from and to get to know it as their first home. Apart from being a good musician, I am also a good family man. I was raising my family here in Lagos and it got to the point that they couldn’t even speak my language and I am a cultural ambassador and my family does not even know where I come from. I was going from Lagos to the East and other places for shows. So, Lagos was going to become their first home and I said no, this should be corrected and I couldn’t just leave my wife to go and do it alone. The story would have been that (launches into pidgin English) Okoro Junior carry him wife go dump for village come dey for Lagos dey touch small small girls.
So, I relocated to have a kind of balance. That’s just the reason and I needed the whole concentration in the whole world or any story about it. By 2003, I quietly left Lagos for my village and I thank God, the kids now know where I come from and speak my language fluently. It was a well planned move and I think I have executed it beautifully. I had mapped out ten years for this particular programme and this is the seventh year of it. Everything has worked out beautifully and I am gradually showing my face in Lagos again. I will also gradually begin to bring back my family to Lagos.
Tell us about your family, please.
I have five children. My first two sons are a set of twins and they are 19 years old this year. They will be going into the university this year, because when we went home, they had to start afresh inorder to catch up with the environment. Their names are Chukwuemeka and Kelechi. My third child is Chukwudi, fourth is Chinemeze and fifth is Chidinma, my only daughter. She would be seven this year, speaks Igbo fluently and knows about her daddy’s people and where he comes from. My wife’s name is Chinyere Oyiridiya Chimezie and we have been married for about 20 years now.
What does she do?
Presently, she is looking after me and my family and that’s a big job for any woman. She has contributed a lot to my success and achievements. There’s no way I could have handled all this without her.
How did your family take the relocation back to the village at first?
Initially, it wasn’t very easy, but home is home and blood is thicker than water. So, spiritually, they felt a sense of belonging. I was there and their mother was there, so it wasn’t so difficult again. They managed, made new friends and acclimatized.
When you relocated to Umuahia, was it the town or did you go straight back to your village?
I am from Umuahia town. My village is within three kilometers of the main town, so we are still within Umuahia urban. So, if I had gone home and still stayed inside the township area, it would have been like I was still in Lagos.
When you got back home and stayed, didn’t your people wonder if you had retired early?
I am a cultural ambassador. Even while I was in Lagos here, most of my shows were still in the village. I am not alien to the village because I have always visited. Moreover, I was working for myself and I could situate Zigima at any place and still power sounds. So, what’s retirement? People were coming to book me for shows right there in the village. My latest album was recorded in the east. It is entitled, Because of English. I don’t know if my people were going to ask if I had retired. But by the time they saw my truck load of musical instruments, my 36-seater bus, my wife and children, they knew I was home. But we were still rehearsing every other Thursday and I was taking off for shows to anywhere in the world and coming back. There was nothing more to ask.
Maybe they would have asked questions if I had gone to stay idle. Exactly the same way I lived here in Omole Estate, Lagos is how I am living at home. Also, there is ease of communication now. I could reach anybody from anywhere. So, being in the village didn’t stop me from doing anything. For seven years, I was at home, I have been recording from home with my band. You know Zigima music is not something you do with the computer and since my band is with me at home, I have been able to record. So far so good, but the only thing is that Lagos is the Centre of Excellence and every other person is here and the moment they don’t see you, there will be questions.
But I stand here to tell you that I am still the same Okoro Junior. If I had ventured into any other kind of business, you people would have been the first to know. I still have my 16-piece band, I still play shows and I still release music. Zigima music is evergreen and it is not something you release in bulk. It takes me years to release my music and when they come out, they are hits. I don’t do praise singing in my music. Zigima is unique, people that love it love it and people that don’t, stay away from it. People that like my dressing, physique and natural philosophy buy it and people that don’t, don’t come close. I thank God that in the seven years I have been away from Lagos, I have achieved my aims and I have been successful in my endeavours and I am going to gradually start getting back to Lagos.
You are going to be 50 this year, for many of these years, have you been a musician and how much has music rewarded you?
I have been into music for more than 30 years now. I can’t measure how much music has done for me with specific parameters. I don’t believe in materialism. I have good health. I have a family that I am very proud of, I have a powerful reputation to maintain. When people pick up my music, apart from picking fun, they also pick up natural philosophy and knowledge. There’s no reward that is greater than that. If you want to judge me by my wealth, you are making a mistake. I know some people that started before me and those that I started before who rushed things and things are not that rosy for them anymore.
Your dress code, do you ever wear western culture?
I have never put on a suit on this body. The last time I did it was in 2001 when they wanted me to act in one film and it took them days to convince me to put that thing on my body. My fabrics are only African. I don’t spend anything on suits, jeans or any foreign materials. I live my life naturally and happily. I am very comfortable in my skin.
When did this African philosophy come to you?
I was born and bred in the village. I grew up with the image of a beautiful African village in my mind. There were tales by moonlight, moon dances, folk tales and so on. I was active up reading African authors like Chinua Achebe, Cyprain Ekwensi and Elechi Amadi. I read about how the white man came here and desecrated our culture and I started picking interest on African things and ideology. That was how the Afro-centrism flared up and everything I did brought up the exclamation, “Ah, Okoro man,” from people. They meant it to be derogatory at first but I liked it and picked it up. That was how Okoro Junior came about.
My name is not Okoro, my name is Bright Chimezie Ironmuo. In Lagos, people will call me Omo Okoro, so I asked them to also add Junior to it. That was in the 1970s.
When did you come to Lagos?
The first time I entered Lagos was in 1974. I was still a student in the east then. I was here on holidays. From then till the late 70s, I was visiting Lagos on holidays. Then, by 1979, when I finished my secondary school education, I relocated to Lagos permanently. I played with a lot of bands and in clubs before I joined the Customs and Excise Dance Band and became the assistant band leader and the lead vocalist. I was here when my first album, Respect Africa, which launched me into limelight, came in 1985. Then, I resigned from the band on August 17, 1985 and formed my band, The Ziggima Movement.
The next thing I did was to relocate to the east and from there, I was coming to Lagos to power shows. By 1990, I came back into Lagos. I stayed here, got married here and started having children here in Lagos.
By 2001, 2002, my kids were becoming grown and I realized that being in this environment, they would soon start taking Lagos as their first home. I wanted them to know where I come from and how do I achieve that? I brought out my script and the ten-year plan to take my family back home for them to know their roots and not get lost in Lagos.
What’s the next stage of your script?
I won’t tell you. That’s my game and I am playing it out to the fullest, pre-empting me would only scatter it.
How much education did you get in schools and where and how did you acquire the rest?
I had my primary and secondary school education in good schools. I never attended any university, but I have been lucky to mix up with intelligent people. Most of them have influenced me. My profession as a musician has also helped me because I travel a lot. Inwardly, I think I have depth and all these have woven themselves around me and helped define my person.
What do you think about your music at this time?
If my music was not accepted, I think I would have gone into oblivion. I still have my band and people still patronize me and call me for shows. In the east now, there is one guy that plays my kind of music. His name is Eje and if he plays here, you will think it is me.
Being so passionate about African culture, what do you think of other Africans who do not have great regards for it?
The African culture is not adequately represented, but what can one do. I believe God intentionally created me African. Gave me the Igbo language, gave me Ogbono soup and garri and other African delicacies. All I have to do is embrace them and take things to a particular height. I have a God given opportunity and I don’t joke with it. I don’t know about other people and I don’t want to worry about them.
BRIGHT WITH HIS BAND MEMBERS
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