Rising from the South-South seminar of Real Estate Developers’ Association of Nigeria (REDAN) in Calabar on Thursday, February 15, 2018, a seven-man team of the Rivers State contingent decided to spend the night in Abak for the dual purpose of early arrival in Port Harcourt the next day and a musical pilgrimage to meet the legendary Emmanuel Ntia whose Solo Hit smashed the highlife charts in1962 and has remained one of the all-time greatest hits of the highlife genre. I was excited to be part of the team.
When we turned left at Itu junction, I called Goddy Oku (ex-postmen, silhouettes and hygrades) and confirmed the phone number of Emmanuel Ntia. A second call got him on the line and the direction to his abode was given. Our expectations were, indeed, high.
Eventually, we arrived at the home of the legend who, incidentally, was hosting two of his daughters and grandchildren. Igwebuike Francis Ifi, Emmanuel Ikata, Edmund Amaranjo, Israel Okenwa, Otuekong Goddy Jacobs, Barinua Zitte and I introduced ourselves. Ntia, on his part, introduced his daughters (Glory and Mabel), his son, Pastor Israel and Okuku Saaforo, his music “son” who is expectedly dexterous on the saxophone.
By 9.30pm, the impressive crowd had taken over a corner at the Tilapia Island Resort, which is only a yodel away from the Ntia residence.The presence of Ntia, who at 92 still reads without glasses, with eyes that still twinkle youthfully, and still struts with the rebellious arrogance of the swinging sixties, attracted many patrons of the Tilapia Resort to the corner where the music legend sat. This attests to his indisputable status as a living legend.
All settled in, I narrated the essence of the pilgrimage thus:In 1964, Emmanuel Ntia came to Omoku, in the present Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government of Rivers State with his Eastern Stars Dance Band to promote Solo Hit. The song commenced with a feverish and compelling guitar riff that forced people to the dance floor. At the commencement of the guitar interlude of Solo Hit, I sneaked through the palm frond fence that secured the venue, jumped on the dance floor and danced in the then popular highlife choreography known as ajasco.
Following the conclusion of Ntia’s saxophone segment of the interlude, I joined him on stage and sang Solo Hit with some dexterity and the appropriate body moves. After the performance, which was the grand finale of the show, Ntia tapped me on the shoulder and said: “Ol’boy, you’ll be a good musician.”
That casual comment struck me and stuck to my teenage mind as I read the word “Ol’boy” as peer approval:”Emmanuel Ntia says I will be a good musician,WOW!” I soliloquized. I was on cloud nine.
While the audacious act with Ntia made me talk of the town and the acclaimed hero of the youths, it thoroughly embarrassed my devout Christian parents. Again, the fact that there was an amatory innuendo associated with Solo Hit was a great outrage to the parson and laity of St. Michael’s Church, Omoku. Solo Hit was sung in what Ntia branded as “fish language,” which is a musical mumbo-jumbo coined as igenyem nwancholonwu in Igbo language by Mazi Ukonu, Nigeria’s pioneer TV impresario and comedian of blessed memories.
The Ukonu coinage translates as “would you give me nwancholonwu?” and Nwancholonwu, another formulation in Igbo, was mischievously inferred as the female genitals; this implicit erotism was the source of the controversy and, incidentally, the song’s success.
Furthermore, on the heels of the success of Solo Hit, a mischievously ingenious manufacturer produced an oval-shaped plastic purse that opened like the female organ and named it “nwancholonwu purse.”So, the song and the purse were very successful in the music and commodity markets, respectively. At this stage of my narrative, IgwebuikeIfi interjected with the confession that he bought the purse for numerous damsels who took the bait.
One year after the freak performance with Ntia, I was arraigned before the historic juvenile court sitting in Omoku for singing a love song to the numerouno Princess of Ogbaland. Discharged and acquitted at the court, I bought my first guitar the next year, at 16.
The following year, I co-founded the Hardnuts in Port Harcourt. Thereafter, I co-founded the Silhouettes (with Goddy Oku, Justus Nnakwe and Donatus Nwadike) and jammed with Osita Osadebe and Sunny Nwamama during the civil war. At the end of the war, I did a couple of gigs as a solo artiste, formed JP Duet with Peter OC Adiuku-Brown and flirted musically with Rex Lawson, Sony Brown and David Bull before JP Duet morphed into the Blackstones Band. During the Blackstones years, I jammed with the Strangers, Funkees, Hygrades, Geraldo Pino, Erasmus Jenewari, Founders 15, Aktions and Burstic Kingsley Bassey before family leashed me back to school.
Today, while I’ve found incomparable fulfillment professing development studies in a university, I still play the guitar every day conscious of the fact that music is my primary constituency. Doubtlessly, a major element of my mission on this leg of the eternal journey of atonement (at-one-ment) with the Divine is to make people happy through music. Will I still do that? My children insist and I intend to oblige them and, therefore, fulfill the Ntia prophesy. After all, life begins when you wake up! Yes it does.
Finally, in a previous newspaper article titled “Song for Unsung Sons of Songs,” I eulogized, Erasmus Jenewari, King Sony Brown and George Iboroma and bitterly lamented the fact that these worthy ambassadors of Rivers State were not accorded the recognition they deserved by the people and government of the State before their demise.
It is, therefore, my humble submission that Emmanuel Ntia, who effectively projected the language, culture and image of the area now known as AkwaIbom and Cross River States through his songs and won the Golden Gong at the 1977 Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC), should be treated as the living legend he is.
Therefore, I suggest that since Ntia is still very strong and still plays his saxophone, a tour of AkwaIbom and Cross River States should be organised by the Ministries of Culture and Tourism (or by whatever name) and the radio, television and newspaper corporations of both States. I hereby offer to bring along my guitar on the tour and I am certain the idea will tickle the fancy of the two state governments. Incidentally, there is a brand that will naturally sponsor the tour if it is captioned Weekend With A Legend.
Osai is of the Institute of Foundation Studies (IFS), Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.