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By Ebele The Flutist
The Oja is as old as the Igbo people. The culture of the Igbo people is an ancient civilization, and their art of music is as old as the culture itself. You can’t relate age to folk art, and like most African societies, what we can call art today was part of a whole institutionalized ritual and spirituality. The worship of the Igbo man is as old as the Igbo man himself, so the poetry, music and instruments of that music can only be found in the deep spirituality of these people.
Another school of thought says that Oja originated from the city of Uga in the state of Anambra (precisely in my state). It’s hard to say what particular year it was, but it’s as old as Igbo culture. Oja was also used in an old Igbo movie called “Things Fall Apart” when a missionary brought Christianity to the eastern region of Nigeria. (Igbo)
It is important to note that no person can provide a timeline for when the alleged invention of this instrument may have occurred, or who the first “Ogbu Oja” (the first Oja performer) might be.
The significance of oja to the Igbo culture
Oja is more than just a musical instrument. It is a being and instrument of invocation and intoxication, and sometimes both. For an Igbo person, Oja is a voice that speaks. Not a human voice, but Spirits speak through Ogbu-oja (playing it). Thus, it is a communication tool, which is better called an invocation. In a theatrical performance, Oja intoxicates the person to whom it sings its praise.
Oja adds value, life and relevance to Igbo culture when played by a professional. It has its own unique way to convey information to people who not only hear, but also understand the rhythm it produces. Oja is played depending on the situation on the ground.
My grand father was an Ogbu-Oja , he was a player of this instrument. I have often been told that I took after my grand father.
In order to get much insight to it’s techniques and musical inclination, I interviewed two professional Oja players: ’Chike’ and ‘Otika’ .
(Chike)”I started to play the Oja in 2016. I met an old senior friend who sold Igbo musical items at Onitsha, where I was born. We spent time talking, and by the end of the day, he gifted me an Oja. I practiced from 2016, and was already learning the tunes, but somehow, I stopped and never played again till 2019 December.
I had gone back to the same Onitsha to buy local musical instrument in preparation for documentary on a deity in Nnewi, and on Ojukwu’s father. The Oja told me to buy it again. This time, I bought three. One for myself, and two for my Ghanaian friends, Eric and Christine. I started playing again in 2020 during the Pandemic. I was coming closer to my spiritual roots as a Igboman, and the understanding of the sacrament of music became expedient for my soul.”
(Otika) I started playing the Oja in the year 2006. Then my 1st teacher taught me the Oja in less than 2-3 weeks, I was able to make some sounds with it, but I wasn’t perfect, until I met my 2nd teacher Okpala Basil who used approximately 1 month of daily tutorials to make me better in playing the Oja. After that, I had the task of developing myself to the level I am now, I later found out things I never knew about the Oja.
For instance, I found out the Oja has Solfa notations, later on I found out they have Keys like the keyboard, I also noticed I could slur on the Oja and even roll-tongue on the Oja. This has also made me fit to teach others who care to learn the instrument. This year will make it the 18th year on the Oja.
Types of oja
This is also known as the singing flute. It is a type of Oja that is primarily used in the accompaniment of women’s dances of all types. It is characterized by its melodic and expressive sound, which adds to the vibrant atmosphere of the dance performances.
Oja Mmanwu (Mmanwu music flute)
This is the smallest and highest-pitched type of Oja, specially used in the performance of masquerade music. These flutes are typically shorter in length, which contributes to their characteristic high-pitched sound. Oja mmanwu plays a crucial role in the musical accompaniment of masquerade performances, adding a celebratory and festive atmosphere to the events.
This is a type of Oja that is characterized by a low sound. This Oja is usually used in pairs, with one Oja playing the lead melody and the other responding. Oja Igede is usually played in combination with the Igede drum, a type of music used for funeral ceremonies.
This is a type of Oja that is specially used in the ceremonies of men who have reached maturity. Ọjà-okolobia plays an important role in the cultural and traditional rituals of the Igbo people, symbolizing the rite of passage into adulthood.
The relevance of oja to the society
The influence and relevance of Oja is the same as the influence and relevance of art in every society to question, entertain, exalt, ritualize, praise.
Art in itself is pristine. The Oja is an art indigenous to the Igbo people. Whatever relevance you imagine in art, imagine it in relation to Oja.
The role it plays in society when a professional plays cannot be overestimated. It has its own unique feeling that it sends to the listeners, and I can not now begin to explain it.
It plays a vital role in traditional and cultural activities and activities.
The succession and sustenance of Oja
Not all of us can die. Death will always leave someone to bury the bodies.” This is true of Oja. One would have thought there would be no more Oja players in Igbo land, but somehow Oja survived. There will always be remnants. I firmly believe that the instruments should be open and known, like other western instruments known to all. There is no secret in this. I am glad that we have professionals in Nigeria who work so hard in this field. At the same time, we should not depend only on the fact that Oja exists on its own. This should be the body of knowledge on African musicology.
“When I visited Rwanda, Togo and Cotonou last year, I noticed they love and appreciate the Oja melody because they watch our epic Nigerian Movies where they’ve heard similar sounds. They gave me a warm welcome” (Otika)
Psychology states that when a behavior is reinforced/rewarded, it tends to continue, but when it is punished, it gradually stops. When such people are encouraged, motivated, well paid, respected and promoted, they will have the opportunity and desire to continue to make art and develop as vibrant flutists.
Ebele The Flutist
Ebele is a versatile, creative and innovative MUSICIAN AND PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT COACH. She believes in the power of music and its ability to induce progressive positive transformation in an individual. Ebele continually strives for excellence in music compositions, performances and interpersonal relationships and in the process inspire, influence, motivate and raise a generation of people that thrive in Spiritual development, Personal Effectiveness, Stress Management and Social Etiquette.
In addition to her music, Ebele evinces her passion by engaging her audience in Personal development activities through Talk Shows, Health & Fitness Talks and Music Trainings.