By Gerald Eze
On July 3, the award-winning poet, Amu Nnadi, was hosted in Awka to a literary evening of poetry reading, drama and musical performances that also featured James Eze and Greg Mbajiorgu. Not in any hotel and not by the government. But by a private organisation that has contributed resources and talents to develop the Awka community through the arts, and impact on the world at large. The Eagle Nest Book Club which is a literary group under Ama-Ijele Theatre has been consistent in creating literary events in Awka, once every month since July 2021. One year after, the space has become so big to accommodate any Ijele spirit and offer the required serenity and ambience!
The Eagle Nest Book Club was founded by Mark Obumneme Osuchukwu, a student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka and Michael Chukwudera who is a graduate. These two stand tall with the special gifts of creativity, passion and resilience. The interesting thing about the book club is that it does not stand on its own. There is always collaboration. Thus they foster and re-imagine the Igbo spirit of Igwebuike as they team up with other groups of Ama-Ijele Theatre in hosting quality shows. It takes community commitment and ingenuity for the Ijele to appear. The services of the Omenka/dinka (the artist), Ogbu-oja and the Igba-ijele (the master performer of the Oja and the drum ensemble of the Ijele), the master performer of the mbem (Igbo chant), the strength and resilience of youth and the cheer and presence of the community are some of the vital things that make the Ijele spectacle a memorable experience.
In 2012, Prof. Ike Odimegwu and I embarked on the mission to create a theatre of integrated arts. The journey has been very organic and at every time some fruits are sighted. In 2021, the Theatre began in earnest to radically bring her numerous projects of integrated arts to the experience of people in Awka, Anambra State. It was at this point that I got to know Mark Obumneme Osuchukwu and Chukwudera. From my office in the university to the bar in school where we drank beer, we discussed about the role of the young artist in the society amongst other things in the areas of literature, music and theatre. This meeting continued in my house and at a point, we decided to start up the official and public meeting of the Eagle Nest Book Club at the pavilion of the Testimony Place, Awka. The Testimony Place which was offered for free by Dr. Patrick and Mrs Amaka (Esq) Ezeno has become a special art arena for hosting musical concerts, drama performances and the literary activities of the Eagle Nest Book Club.
The partners and staff of the Law Zoomers, led by Barr. Amaka Ezeno, have contributed to the projects of the Ama-Ijele Theatre by being present at the various activities of the theatre and always providing sits free of charge anytime the Eagle Nest Book Club or any other performing group of the theatre has workshops, retreats, seminars, performances. The Ichoku Ensemble, another (performing) group under the Ama-Ijele Theatre always supplies the sound equipment and music. The former commissioner for culture, Hon. Kenn Anierobi has graced some events of the Ama-Ijele Theatre with his presence and personally supported the young performers of the Ichoku Ensemble financially. This is the communal spirit that the Ijele inspires. This is the vision of Ama-Ijele Theatre – to bring people of various gifts together for noble and innovative services to humanity through integrated arts.
On a certain Sunday in July 2021, Mr. Dulue Mbachu had wanted to interview me in any garden in town. But I told him we just started a movement of integrated arts under the umbrella of the Ama-Ijele Theatre. Mr. Dulue Mbachu personally acknowledged that this is how many great ideas boom, and he particularly pointed out to me that this theatre is headed for greatness. Gradually, in a good way, the ogbu-oja will play this: “oku gbara achara, agbaana”. Indeed the bamboo plantation has caught the fire lighted by young resilient minds, and it is for things like this that Anambra remains the light of the nation.
What remains fascinating in all these is that the torch-bearers of this colourful light in Anambra are mainly Unizik students. These students put in their time, money and energy into creating art and quality ambience for the society. They go beyond the transactional lifestyle that has dominated the psyche of the society, and they consistently create enduring life through arts, literature, music, drama and dance.
Perhaps it is time for government to set up structures that easily identify with creative groups like the Eagle Nest Book Club as well as other groups of the Ama-Ijele Theatre, and collaborate with them. The arts can be instrumental to curbing social vices and improving security conditions in any environment.
Indeed while we fight insecurity and send down soldiers to hunt the gunmen, it is time to also channel recourses to those who possess the power of the pen, language, voice and intellect. Perhaps it is time to realise that channeling resources to ideas like this in turn reduces the number of people who will tomorrow fancy money rituals, kidnapping, killing and maiming.
This Ijele has stood strong anyway, and will continue to thrive. I doubt if it will stop if those who are supposed to support turn their faces away. No, the Ama-Ijele spectacle will continue to boom! Not long, this spectacle will culminate in a festival. The Theatre is planning to hold a festival of integrated arts in November. Kindly anticipate!