CHRISTY ESSIEN-IGBOKWE: The Music Plays, Memory Lingers

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Even when it is eight years after the death of Nigerian music matriarch, Chief Mrs Christianah Uduak Essien-Igbokwe better known in the music parlance as Christy Essien Igbokwe her works still continue to roar and speak in volumes.

Taking a look at her profile, I couldn’t help but got swept off my feet. I noticed the resilience and perseverance with which the little Christy took on the vicissitudes of life when she lost her mother at a tender age of 12 and how she had to be brought up by one of her late mother’s friends in Aba, Abia State.

Interestingly, I was made to realise how she (Christy) featured in her Secondary School Club and she was discovered as a girl with innate qualities in the artistic world. With her doggedness, courage and candour she was noted for, it took her some minutes to perform at the then NTA CHANNEL 6 to be discovered in Aba in the year 1976. One thing led to the other, and she was offered a role in the celebrated Soap “The Masquerade”. She was given the role of Akpenor the wife of Jegede. She fitted into it and excelled. She was truly a team player.

Essien-Igbokwe began her musical career in her Secondary School, singing at various clubs such as Uka Onu’s Club and Unikoko in Aba, Abia State. She featured on a programme called ‘Now Sound’. Her talents in music tremendously received a boost from her late mother’s friend who encouraged her singing prowess and bought her a fairly used cassette player to record her songs.

With such undaunting spirit to make a mark, Christy shuffled and swapped roles between her acting and musical careers when eventually she decided to release her debut album titled FREEDOM in 1977. The popular track ” Time Waits for No One” was a sell out.

As the evolution of Christy Essien-Igbokwe started unfolding, the society began to enjoy her penchant as a social crusader. She was seen more in the vanguard of people campaigning against Child Abuse and Female Circumcision. She featured in some movies that berated similar insults and assaults on womanhood such as “Flesh & Blood” and another one titled “Scars of Womanhood”. She also had the honour of composing and performing what would later be known as her state’s informal anthem, “Akwa Ibom Mmi (My Akwa Ibom)” in 1987, its year of creation as a State of the Nigerian Federation.

Christy’s second Album  “Ever Liked My Person” released in 1981 was what she needed to be heralded into the global stage. Essien-Igbokwe sang her songs in Igbo, Ibibio, Efik, Hausa, Yoruba as well as in English. Essien’s fluency in Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, English and her native Ibibio earned her an appeal which cuts across tribal lines and in this case the Yoruba track SEUN RERE turned out to be its selling point. According to records, this is the track that was translated into other 124 ethnic languages to drive home the message content of its lyrics.

This woman later established herself as a rare gem, a team player and a catalyst needed in the league of friends. It was sometimes in 1980 she conceived an idea, the idea bothered on her concern for the Nigerian music house to form a united front.

Many people like my humble self had written off such exercise as an effort in futility. My pessimism was borne out of the fact that there was no love lost among the Nigerian music gladiators at the time. The untold acrimony and bitter rivalry between King Sunny Ade and Chief Ebenezer Obey was so fresh and lingering at that time, not to talk of the feud between Haruna Ishola and Kasumu Adio and of course the ravaging fiasco of Sikiru Ayinde Barrister and Kollington Ayinla.

By all permutations, no one could believe that someone in the mould of Christy Essien-Igbokwe’s age, gender and experience would find it so cool and comfortable at bringing these stars to the same table to discuss positive agenda. But this woman stunned the world and beat everyone to it. Mama SEUN RERE achieved it. She danced where the angels fear to thread. She initiated and convened the unity forum of all Nigerian musicians, they moved ahead to become an official body and today it is known as Performing Musician Association of Nigeria PMAN. The body had its first set of officials as follows:

 President: King Sunny Ade

 Vice President: Sonny Okosuns

 Chairman: Chief Ebenezer Obey

 National Treasurer: Christy Essien-Igbokwe

In 1996-1999 period, Christy Essien-Igbokwe eventually emerged and served as the first and only female President of the organization.

She got married in October 1979 to Chief Edwin Chukwunenye Igbokwe the then managing director of Punch Newspapers, till her time of death she remained married with four male children. They are Mr Obiora Chukwuemeka Igbokwe, Mr Chinwuba Kenechukwu Kaka Igbokwe, Mr Solomon Chukwukadibia Olubunmi Igbokwe and Mr Lucky Samuel Azubueze Igbokwe. Her grand Children are Miss Elizabeth Uduak Igbokwe, Miss Christiana Chizaramekpeleamaka Ijeoma Igbokwe and Master David Igbokwe.

 Awards               

  1. “Lady of Songs” by Nigerian Entertainment Writers – 1980
  2. “Star Performer” Award of Nigerian Television Authority – 1983
  3. “Best Actress Runner-Up” Award for Excellence by Silver Jubilee Committee of the Nigerian Television Authority – 1984
  4. “African Music Mother” Award by Music Extravaganza’84 in collaboration with African Music Development, New York, USA
  5. “Adaha Onna” (Pillar of Onna LGA)
    Akwa Ikwo Eket (The Greatest Singer from Eket Community) by Eket LGA Authority
  6. Aha Nwanyi Ejiagamba 1 of Oru Ahiazu, Mbaise, Imo State
  7. “Golden Voice of Africa” Award by Music Students Association, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
  8. “Gold Award” of 25 Nigerian Celebrities – 1988
  9. “Certificate of Honour” by the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Anambra State Council – 1990
  10. “Certificate of Recognition” by National Film Festival – 1992
  11. “Silver Prize” Winner at 6th Seoul Songs Festival, South Korea – 1983
  12. “Grand Prix “ Winner at Neewollah Music Festival at Independence, Kansas, USA – 1983
  13. “International Special Achievement” Award of Musexpo, Acapulco, Mexico, 1983
  14. “Certificate of Merit” Award for songwriting and composing at the 10th Annual American Songs Festival, Los Angeles, USA – 1983
  15. “Audience Favourite” Award of International Music Festival at Baker University, USA – 1983
  16. “Silver Prize” Winner at Second International Music Festival of Oklahoma University, USA – 1983
  17. “Outstanding Performance” Award at the World Song Festival, L.A. Arts Academy, USA – 1984
  18. “Distant Accord” Award at the FIDOF Festival in Hollywood, L.A., USA, 1990
  19. Honorary Doctorate Degree (Honoris Causa) Award in Business Management by Cornerstone University & Theological Seminary, Jerusalem, Israel – 2010
  20. Honorary Doctorate Degree (Honoris Causa) Award in Literature-in-Africa by University of Berkeley, Chicago, Illinois, USA – 2010 plus 35 other Chieftaincy titles and Musical Awards from Nigerian governments, institutions and entertainment industries.
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