By Chinelo Chikelu
JIDEOFOR, the latest project of Abuja-based musician CEF, packs sonics sourced from traditional Igbo instruments, with lyrics that are simultaneously light yet heavy on the mind. The seven-track album is heavily influenced by ogene, highlife, Afrobeat, soul and reggae and jazz. Fans familiar with the artiste’s work will understand the progression and morphing of his musical style to what he terms Genti music.
Genti translates to ‘listen’ in Igbo, and with this style of music, the artiste beckons listeners to listen past the choruses, to the simple yet intellectually driven lyrics and the pleasant reverberation of sounds crafted with the merging of modern western instruments (guitar, piano, percussions) and traditional instruments. One song in the album that clearly expresses the aforementioned is Ebelebe, which is a local Igbo instruments comprising the ogene, oja and ekwe that is quite spiritual and a tad ethereal even as it declares: ‘it is time to rise/it is time to move/it is time to fight for your rise/ nzogbu enyimba enyi.’
Also set to be a favorite of listeners is ‘Animal farm,’ one of the album’s two tracks featuring CEF with other artistes. Inspired by George Orwell’s literary text of same title, ‘Animal farm’ compares present Nigerian society to a farm of animals where the pigs get fat, and the dogs are the workhorse; both sides predator and prey to one another. And in case the listener missed it, seasoned performance poet, Dike Chukwumerije deconstructs the song’s nuance at intervals by speaking the lines ‘All animals are equal/but the tragedy is in this place/ some are more equal than the others.’
Piano and guitar are the dominant instruments on the love song ‘Dikeke’, which holds the most flowery and airy lyrics, where the artiste reiterates to his lover that her love ‘de shaq me pass ikebe/your love de sweet me pass.’ While ‘Jeje’ assures listeners to take life easy as hard times are not forever.
Other songs in the album include ‘Ije uwa’ and ‘Ekwe kuo’ featuring Nze Chidi Echefu and ‘Odo yewu.’
Speaking to media men CEF commended his artiste collaborators and team who made the challenging task less arduous, when he said, “There was no one else who understood the idea of (Animal Farm) as Chukwumerije did. We were both coming to it from the perspective that we are a part of those animals, and we have a responsibility. Chukwumerije is self-reflecting, and looks deep within. So, when we had the opportunity to create this, he was the best person for it. We didn’t have to think much because it is our reality.
“I am very thankful for the creator, and the kind of people I have worked with on this project. I say ‘we,’ because there is no individualism here. I didn’t play all the instruments. Little contributions by everyone gave birth to this work. This is a community project. What made it less difficult is that a team of people who believe in the idea came together to achieve this.”
On future projects, the artiste is dedicated to getting deeper into his Igbo culture, exploring its traditional music instruments and sounds beyond their present state, digging deeper into his culture in order to serve original and unadulterated sound to the world, drawing more ships to the high sea of Genti and other music forms.
With the added responsibility of family to this calling, CEF said it is a daily lesson on bucking up and introspection, with the knowledge that in shaping a better family one shapes a better society.
“Family teaches you so much. It teaches you wisdom. It is a yoke you can carry but not a burden. Family continues to teach me responsibility and how to be introspective.”
The artiste will kick-off Jideofor tour in late October starting with Abuja, Lagos and the rest of the world.
CEF also spoke about other aspects of his musical and spiritual evolution that includes wearing white as a symbol, and the deeper essence of remaining true to one’s roots that makes his musical journey akin to a call to something great, something special that he must treasure.
According to him, “Why I wear white is because it teaches me patience; it teaches me consistency. It teaches me not to care, but also to care, because I see and can’t hide but be aware of my fears, my failures. Just like when you get white stained, it’s very obvious. It constantly reminds me of my frailties, my form, who I am and the fact that regardless of how much the dry cleaner washes, it cannot stay clean. It is a constant reminder to check yourself, to clean your mind, to check yourself. The white is a spiritual reminder to check myself.
“It is all about the call. I believe that we all have different paths in life. For us, one things is to shape the cultural and spiritual consciousness. We are keen on going back to the roots. When there is a yearning deep inside your core, or your soul, only if you want to deny or pretend, which often leads to frustration. You can’t run away from the calling. For us, it is not really about becoming very famous or being entertainers. It is the responsibility that is heavy on the mind. It is a burden but not a yoke that we cannot carry. It is like having a child. When you wake up every morning and look at that child, you are reminded that you have responsibilities, and you have to go out and work.”
He further explored his fascination with traditional musical instruments that no longer seem cool with modern artistes, but upon which he is hoping to establish the rootedness of his Genti music.
“Guitar or the piano are traditional musical instruments of the West (Europe),” he explained. “For us identity is key. We need to be able to go back to our roots. I had a concert in Brazil a few years ago, and went into a music store ad saw the Udu. The vey small ones that you rarely find here (at home in Igbo) anymore. It is used in a few places like Mbaise. But Brazilians have taken our instrument, and explored it to a higher capacity. In India, percussion companies have taken the instrument to levels beyond what we have here. But we don’t know what we have. This is our pride, out heritage that we are going to pass down to the next generation. We must be able to take those instruments and begin to infuse them in our day-to-day living.
“Some of the things we want to be able to do is take some of our traditional instruments that are no longer played. The sonics from those instruments are amazing. We want to be able to do this. When we collectively begin to do these things, we start to regain our identity. And with that continue on the journey to exploring this and digitalizing them. That is what we are doing and we are going to continue on that path.
“Afrobeat is still alternative music to someone who is listening to rock in America. There is nothing small about what we are doing. This is not alternative. Or it could be but we are not small. We are putting our lives, our energy into it, and we are going to continue building it. I don’t identify Genti with alternative music. Genti is what it is. We are not going to downplay what we are doing. There are a lot of people already doing what we are doing, but maybe not in the exact same way. As artistes, we don’t really create but discover. And sometimes we discover that which was lost. We have discovered this path, and clearing the grass and asking people to come on it.”
CEF is not a politician but he’s not exactly apolitical, as he follows development on the political terrain with keen interest. He believes the ‘jideofor’ philosophy embodied in his new work is the path to follow, so as to make sense of the current political season and not another hankering after some phantom messiahs.
“I have an interesting perspective on politics and democracy: that whole religious idea of constantly seeking for a messiah to come from somewhere and change everything (as fad),” he ruminated. “Politics is much more than that, because change starts from the inside. In summary, I will say that if you are trying to have a better life, start from inside, because it is easy to point fingers and say: I am looking for help there, if I want my solution from this person. Or that this person will come and change Nigeria. Nigeria is too grand for one man to come and change overnight. Moreover, history shows that people always complain about the people in power, even though before he came he arrived like a messiah.
“The same story with Christ. He came as the messiah and the same people he was trying to save killed him.
“On the coming elections, I will advise Nigerians to make the best candidate yourself (themselves). Vote yourself. Vote for responsibility, vote for ‘Jideofor.’ Vote to ‘jideofor’ for yourself, and when you do that, if we are going to have a good leader, he would know that he can’t mess around with people who know where they are headed. But if you are ignorant, when you are not rooted or know your spiritual bearing, anybody can come to deceive you.”