The CD opens with the punchy line: “My family Tree is more branches than trunk.”
And in that spare line, with those eight words Onuoha Ndukwe sums up his family history; one lacking the anchoring hold of a pater familias.
His new CD of spoken word poetry titled Nwa Chukwu and which features the singer, Maka, X3M music act Praiz, and hip hop god, Ill bliss is a searing confessional steeped in nostalgia with a generous dash of regret and pain.
This is a 22 minute long intensely personal spoken word CD which explores what it means to be a man, an Igbo man navigating his way in today’s world.
Ndukwe Onuoha is a member of a growing tribe of discerning spoken word poets whose words make sense on the stage and the page. Before the coming of performance poets like Sage Hasson, Efe Paul Azino and Tiitlope Sonuga, performance poetry was an annoying endeavour, one full of sound and fury signifying little. Shorn of the staccato pace and petulant rhyme schemes all you got was nothing.
The times have changed and two CDs in, 2017’s Revolutionary Verses and now this, Ndukwe Onuoha evinces a measured pace and mature style.
Maka’s voice imbues Genesis, the first track with something plangent and elegiac as if we are mourning the passing of an epoch and transitioning into a brand new era free of pain and hurt in which he repudiates the old order of things. This new man is reborn.
“And I am reborn
A family tree of trunk and branches.”
“Dance with me” is a poem riding on waves of nostalgia borne aloft by qualifiers and signifiers like “remember’ “used to’ and “then.” This is a love poem but it is more filial than eros. This tear inducing poem is actually regret flying below the radar as nostalgia.
“Is this what happened to you?
Did life sneak up on you when you least expected it to?”
The poet is full of questions but there are no answers to be had and when he steps aside for Praiz, the crooner comes bearing a pouch filled with more questions.
“How did we get here?
How did we let love go?
Staring at the mirror all I see is pain.”
The same can be said of “Memories” which casts a gaze back to good times, simpler times now lost in the whorls of memory.
Maka’s lilting Igbo vocals set the stage as she sings words dripping with yearning for a time past and ruing that which has been lost.
“Echetara m o, echetara m o, mgbe oge ihe di ima.”
( I remember, I remember, that time when things were good)
And the stage set, Ndukwe takes us on an excursion back into time to an era
“When police and thief
Were two different people”
The vignettes he excavates from memory will be familiar to anyone who grew up in Nigeria of the 80s and early 90s. They are poignant and painful reminders of the atrophy that has befallen our society.
“Home” is a scathing indictment of emigres and emigration. Sitting in an airport lounge in a foreign capital the poet watches:
“The black sea of immigrants
Wave after wave
It pours into a white sea of hope.”
Once again, white is privileged. It is the subject and black is the other perpetually exiled from the center by a centripetal force that will not be assuaged.
And these ‘mimic men’, for whom “home is now a stench that must be forgotten” are oblivious, enamoured as they are of their “early morning runs”, “fake accents” and late night snacks.”
These caricatures have forgotten their heritage. They have travelled so far around the earth they have forgotten Ani, the hearth from which it all springs.
All through this CD, Ndukwe Onuoha presents himself as a man torn between his Igbo tradition and his christian faith but in “Say My Name”, he reconciles the dichotomies by owning his God, Chineke, who was presented by the missionaries as a blue eyed deity.
“You see where I come from
God is a burden we carry in our names
And we had him on our lips before we learned of his blue eyed goldilocked beauty
Long before we buried Ani in the earth and cast her shadow on the moon.”
The track “This Poem” is the low point in an otherwise excellent CD. It grates and more so after repeated plays and the reason finally makes itself obvious., It is too similar to Efe Paul Azino’s “This us not a political poem.” Each time Ndukwe intones “this poem” one hears echoes of Mr. Azino reading his more popular poem.
The track “I am” is a panegyric, a paean to Igbo manhood. Enlisting Ill Bliss, Ndukwe pays homage to Igbo men. This is a welcome poem at a difficult moment for Igbo men especially in the wake of the Invictus Obi saga and South African Xenophobia attacks where Igbo men have been singled out as the major dramatis peersonae. Ill Bliss serves a rousing cocktail of Igbo and English rap in which he apotheosizes the Igbo experience while celebrating the Igbo work ethic.
“Nwane imaro the story
We came from mud to glory
We rose from gutter to roof top
Dem Igbo boys we cant stop…
We kings! Warriors…
Igbo na agba mbo, hapu cha!”
Ndukwe’s opening lines highlight the Igbo world view, one of heroic vanity, of odysseys and conquests, of questing after greatness whether at home or abroad.
“I am a traveler..
Don’t ask me about home
I swallowed my compass a long time ago…
Yet no matter how far I run
I cannot shake off this dust
Wrapped round my bones”
And the reason is not far fetched because as Buju Banton sang:
‘’Til I’m laid to rest
Always be depressed
There’s no life in the West
I know the East is the best.”
Ndukwe Onuoha’s ‘Nwa Chukwu’ is a good example of poetry that works on stage yet coheres on the page but as a CD with musical accompaniments, accolades must be given to Tony the Emperor’s production which is top notch and thanks to him, these poems will take you to church or move you to tears but they wont leave you feeling the same.