Time it is said changes everything. This maxim is at the moment true in the life of Chief Vincent Okoroego aka Ikenga Superstar. Upon founding the Ikenga Superstars Band in the mid 1970s and the release of the hit album “Ikenga go marry me” his fame and fortune soared, although according to him it was the producer Rogers all stars that enjoyed the lion share of the windfall. With Ikenga go marry me making waves in the market the music star and his band consolidated their place in the industry with release like “operation feed the nation”, Ikenga in Africa” and “In search of peace”.
Now, years after hugging the limelight Ikenga has slipped into the dungeon of abandonment and desertion. Consequently, he says he is dying of sickness and hunger. Rather, unfortunately, his tale is sounding like that of many stars like him who raised alarm after alarm but got no intervention from governments before they passed on. Ikenga is praying and hoping that similar fate do not befall him in this exclusive interview.
May we meet you formally?
I am Chief Vincent Okoroego, Ikenga super star of Africa. I am from Okwelle, Onuimo LG.A Okigwe zone and I am 66 years.
Many people out there may not know much about you and your music. So, can you tell us how it all started?
I started music in-my primary school days. My school bought a brass band and I was one of those that picked interest and registered. I used to blow trumpet and within a short time I started leading the band that was in St. Andrews school Okwelle. Because of my prowess I never paid school fees in my primary six. The school wanted to send me for further training but a section of my community objected to it on the ground that it is not only my village that should be benefiting from the school.
This opposition compelled me to travel to Lagos that was in 1964. There I joined music clubs. I recall that the first club I joined was Abuloda boys and Girls club Surulere but after sometime my brother told me that I did not come to Lagos to play music and this made me to enter the police college Ikeja. I was in training when the war started and we became victims in Lagos and I left police and came back to Biafra.
How you returned to music after the war
During the war I played music for Dim Ojukwu at Afo; Ugiri Umuahia and after the war I decided to go back to Lagos but when I got to Onitsha I went to where Osadebe was playing and stayed with him that evening and told him I know how to play the guitar because by that time I bought a guitar which I was practicing with. He gave me one and I played one of his numbers. Osadebe said I was not going to go to Lagos and that was how I stayed with him in Onitsha. I started with him in 1970 and I was playing very well within a short time I became his lead guitarist. We stayed till 1973 and traveled abroad for a music tour. While there, we performed very well and came back but Osadebe short changed us because the money we made there, he refused giving us our share there, he said he will give us back home. Even when we pleaded that we needed to buy little things for our families he stood his ground and this angered us and we decided to look for where we can go to do our recording.
We decided to pull out and that was how Ikenga was born. People have asked about the name which I invented and I told them it is not a fetish name. Ikenga means power from your place. Even in Imo state I was the person, Dr. Chuks Osuji called when they brought the whole bishops, Ndi-Eze and other stakeholders because that time they wanted to name the art work at whetheral road roundabout Ikenga and the priests kicked against the name Ikenga, so I was invited to come and explain what Ikenga means this was in Concorde and Chuks Osuji told those gathered that there is a man who has been answering that name let him explain what it means.
Then I got up and asked does anybody here know the meaning of Ike everybody said it means strength and I asked do you know the meaning of Ngam? Again they said Ngam means my place. So, I said Ikenga means strength from my place. Everybody applauded my explanations and that was how that statue became known as Ikenga.
When you released your first album
That was October 1973, after that early 1974 I released “Ikenga go marry me” and it became an instant hit selling all over the Africa and the world and the producer made money with the album.
The producer only bought a bus, musical instruments and motor cycles for us and we were only interested in our music but we never knew that the producer had made millions. I am talking about Rogers All Stars in Onitsha. We also released “Operation feed the Nation” “Ikenga in Africa” and many more records I can’t remember now because of this sickness.
Would you say looking back now that you are fulfilled, I mean in the areas of making music and making money?
I would be honest with myself. I am grateful to God. It was a successful career to me despite that I am sick now and have sold almost all I have otherwise I had a lot of things. It was from music that I married, trained my children; I have two graduates only that they are unemployed. From music I got money to buy land and built my own house in Owerri and built one in my village. If other musicians come here, they express respect for me so, I am successful despite this sickness that has practically drained me of all I have.
Let’s look at the issue of abandonment of senior citizens after they have contributed their quota to national development. I ask this because few weeks ago James Iroha Gregory died in penury and now you are almost wallowing in penury too?
It is a very important question. I say this because I won the highest music award during FESTAC 77 and I represented Imo State, I have received awards from governors, I have been the Chairman of PMAN Imo State and a national Officer of PMAN. What is happening now is disturbing me. PMAN Imo State wrote a letter for me to see Governor Okorocha for help because I have sold all I have and I am dying but up till this minute that letter I don’t know what has happened to it. And my condition is bad that going to Owerri is difficult task because of my legs. My letter is still with Imo foundation. Governor Okorocha knows me and I did a lot of things for him during the election for instance I was the Chairman of Rescue Mission in my ward in Onuimo and I played for him during that period. Now, I have tried to reach him and no way so I am worried.
What do you want the government to do for you and by extension other senior citizens that have paid their due?
For people like me government should not keep quiet because what I did is for national development and I know that if not for sickness 1 would not be asking anything from the government. So, they should help us by assisting us financially, if we have children they should employ them so that they can cater for their parents. When I took ill I went to hospital in Delta state and when the doctors heard that I am Ikenga super star they were surprised and said is this not the man that did something during FESTAC. They wrote a letter for me to give to Imo State government that the government of Imo state should foot my hospital bill but I could not succeed because there is nobody to help me. That was when this sickness started in April 2012. I have gone to all the nooks and crannies of the state looking for care but all to no avail. And what I need is not even up to N 2millon.
If God helps you get well will you produce another album and what is your advice to boys and girls running into music now.
If I get well now I will first of all help one of my sons who is interested in music and teach him how he can become successful in music. Right now he is stranded because I sold all the instruments because of my health problems. For the musicians who are coming now they should know that music is talent and not something you can learn if you check those reading music in the university not all of them become successful at the end. They should first of all find whether they are talented, don’t force yourself into music because if you are really gifted someday your talented would manifest. Again money would come if you are talented but if you are not talented the money may be hard in coming.
Look at Highlife music now and your time. Do you agree with those saying that genre of music is dying in what about the music of these days do you see them as meaningful?
In the real sense our time was quite different from now. What we sang then and what they are singing now are all good but high life music is good when you sing sensible things which makes meaning and which people would use to better themselves and the society and equally praise God.
But to be honest there is no highlife now because the great men of highlife are all gone. If you have noticed what people do now is play the records of these great musicians. The highlife now is not mature but some people still love it, it is just like we are saying that our language is dying.
You are human and you know that you cannot live forever. What would you want to be remembered for after you have gone?
I am only a human being who can only do what humans do. I am grateful to God that I found out my talent on time and used it very well. At least I am known in Nigeria and all over Africa. I opened the national theatre of Togo; I have played in Ivory Coast, Ghana and Liberia. I have also played in UK as a whole and I am happy Almighty God used me very well that is my legacy and that is what I want to be remembered for.
Credit: Nigeria Newspoint