The discovery of one’s potentials is always a sure way to success. Every individual has in him/herself, natural deposits of talents which when harnessed, can skyrocket them to unimaginable heights. Little wonder a philosopher said the richest part of the planet earth is the graveyard, for there lay talents that were never put into use, skills that never saw the light of day and destinies that never manifested.
Augustine Ogwo is a man who in his early life, discovered his musical talent and through training and commitment, developed and nurtured it. Today, his musical works and projects speak volume of his musical prowess.
In this interview with the musicologist, he speaks of his early life struggles, how he discovered his musical talent and his hopes for the future.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Augustine Chiwetalu Ogwo, from Aguluizigbo in Anaocha L.G.A, Anambra state. I am a musicologist by profession, and I run other businesses. I am a graduate of Music from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
I was born into a family of 8 and I am a twin. Growing up for me was not funny at all because I lost my father when I was just 5. And my mum, who was left with 8 children without a job was really overburdened with so much responsibilities. We couldn’t even afford one meal a day. Nevertheless, we believed in God and my mum was also very industrious. She struggled to ensure that we were not starved. With these childhood sufferings, I started on time to look for ways out of the situation. As early as 11 years of age, I started catering for my fees. I engaged myself with working in people’s farms and cutting down palm fruits, which I was paid for.
After I managed to see myself through secondary school, there was no money to further my education to the university, because the money I was getting from the menial job I was doing couldn’t go far. Although, at some point, some persons promised to sponsor my academics but when I looked at my family background then, I knew I needed to work more at least to cater for my family needs before going back to school.
So, I went into business. I had to go to Lagos and later to Onitsha for apprenticeship, but I couldn’t cope with the environment and I left. Later I went to Port Harcourt to stay with a relative. It was then I started a call center, where I raised some money and networked with a lot of people. But I felt unfulfilled.
How did you venture into music?
As a child, when I was with my aunty in Nanka, I went on an errand for her and I saw some people playing the trumpet. I became so engrossed that their leader asked me if I was interested and I nodded, then he allowed me to try it out. As I handled the trumpet for that first time, they were so surprised I could learn and even perform better than others, who have been learning the art. That was how I continued the lessons and I learnt how to play the trumpet. From there, I joined the parish band brigade, and started playing trumpets. I learnt other musical instruments and with that, I was raising money for my upkeep, and to support my family.
So, while in Port Harcourt, I had this burning desire to go back to my passion, which is music. I had to start networking with people and then I recorded my first album, titled ‘’Jesus Odimma Na Eme Mma’’. But as you all know, the industry is quite expensive. As a startup, even to get a marketer was very difficult for me, so I had to keep my song in the cold room. Nevertheless, I still produced another album, which was so powerful and fortunately for me, immediately I released the album, I got admission to study music at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. So, I went back to school.
It would surprise you that I applied for Music myself, I started the course as a diploma student. When I finished, I had to work in Enugu for some time, raised money for my degree and then I applied to further my education. Subsequently, I graduated, and it was fulfilling for me.
When I graduated, I had this burning desire to improve my society through music. I had to use the experience I acquired when I was on a field trip where I met a man who produced local musical equipment. They call it a different name, but we call it Gedelegwu, which is a local musical instrument made from woods to produce good sounds. So, as a graduate, I remembered that gedelegwu was used in every family during the dry season. So, I needed to make gedelegwu to appear more appealing, meaningful and important than it was.
I have this sincere believe that our traditional musical instruments can be taken to Canada and people will recognise it and make use of it. The whites have their musical equipment which have gone through series of reformation and they are now generally accepted everywhere in the world. But, it pains me that most of our musical instruments which were so deeply rooted into our culture are now in extinction. Our music which was good to us, can’t even compete globally.
For instance, our Qja, can play maximum of six pitches. But originally, any instrument that plays below eight pitches may produce good sounds but can’t compete in most areas. So, I had to look for how I can tune gedelegwu to produce harmonious melodies like the Piano. I was able to establish a scale on it. Although it was not easy, but it has been fulfilling. I got a team that worked with me, and we were able to achieve a lot on the gedelegwu musical instrument. .
Along the line, I modified other local music instruments such as Ichaka and Qkpqkqrq, despite the fact that the westerners classified most of our instruments under indefinite pitches scales. So, I worked on them and I was able to produce definite pitches and melodious sounds with them. We don’t know what we have because we have abandoned them.
Have you written any song?
I have been able to modify Qja, Gedelegwu, Qkpqkqrq, Ichaka and several other Igbo musical instruments. I have also written several musical works and composed songs for the Church choir. In fact, my degree project was on Mass, Missal Concert, which was the proper of the Mass, from Kyrie Eleison to Agnus Dei; the five major parts of the Mass.
What inspires you?
My family background. Right now, I am the only graduate in my family. I would not want my children to suffer same things I suffered while growing up.
I want to use this research to unite African culture, in such a way that I can go to Ghana, Liberia and other African countries and we could resurrect our local Igbo musical instruments and unify them. Our masquerades and art forms would be synchronised to portray the real Africa.
What is your brand name?
It is NAME. An acronym for New African Music Ensemble (NAME).
I look up to Mozart and Handel for the western world of music and then from Nigeria, I look up to Sam Ojukwu. I understudy them a lot and I want to become better than them.
Have you been able to influence anyone?
Some who follow my social media handles are now toeing the same path of modifying African Musical Equipment. The Qkpqkqrq I just modified is now being researched into by one of the final year music students of University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). She decided to do that because of my work.
How do you compare Nigerian Music to the western?
Pop music is very much on top. The era of blues and rock is gradually waning. Nigerian musicians should embrace our rich musical heritage because that’s where the focus is now. The Westerners can no longer be fascinated with works of Handel and Mozart. But if they see you playing ‘’ Qja’’, a local musical equipment that has only three holds, and you can manipulate it very well, they can pay anything to have you. I know of a friend who went to Austria with ‘’ Qja’’, today he is making it, because he is unique.
Africans should not look down on what they have but think of ways to modify them and make them globally acceptable.
Where do you see your innovation in the nearest future?
On top of the world. Laughs…I see my Qja, Qkpqkqrq and Gedelegwu, making serious impacts.
In your next world would you take Music as a career?
Yes of course, that is the only profession that exists here on earth and in heaven. Every other profession ends here.
What is social media handle?
FACEBOOK: Augustine Chiwetalu Ogwo