I was just minding my business on Instagram when I came across a post announcing the death of Pericoma, the Nigeria traditional music maestro.
Chineke! O kwa Pericoma nnanyi ukwu? Pericoma, our big daddy? Nnukwu osisi adago! An Iroko has fallen!
The post made me go down memory lane.
One of the earliest memories I have is of my father singing along to the music blaring from his car stereo. I can never forget that car…a Mazda. Pericoma’s music was one of his favorites. In fact, any kind of traditional music was. When he got a new Mercedes flat boot (190) in the 90s, it was the same cycle. The traditional music came to include KSA, Ebenezer Obey, Oriental brothers, Osadebe; foreign acts like Dolly Parton, Don Williams and of course, the Jacksons.
My father had a ‘relationship’ with Pericoma. My dad admired his music but not his way of life. They had met a few times at events but it never went beyond the normal admiration you have for a musician you listen to or someone you are intimate with his music. At some point, it was more that but it never went beyond the normal influential-man-meet-influential-man and have a few laughs –a few talks and a few pats on the back (ok, let’s go with greeting with the staff, shall we?)
His obituary read: An Icon and Legend of our time has gone Home, Rest in Peace to the Big Masquerade of Igbo land. The Igbo Nation has lost a Legend, Ichie Mezuo Pericomo Okoye, Arusi Makaja 1 of Igbo land popularly known as Pericoma.
In Igbo, Arusi means oracle. Small god. That title should give you an idea of how the music maestro was perceived.
Pericoma was a great traditionalist, musician and medicine man. No, I’m being polite. He was a jazz-man without the Olofin. His jazz was top notch and he became famous because of his notorious ‘ogwu’ cases than his music. In Onitsha, tales are still being told of how he became famous for stopping illegal tax collectors at Upper-Iweka Onitsha.
The story goes thus: Pericoma was on his way to Onitsha when he was waylaid by agberos (read tax collectors) who demanded for his tax receipts. He ignored them and they lifted him on their shoulders enroute their office. He ‘jazzed’ them (‘held them spellbound’ is right word to use but who English epp?) and refused to come down from their shoulders for hours until they pleaded and made sacrifices to his deity.
Dear Tatafo lovers, that singular act instilled fear in the heart of all agberos operating along Upper Iweka, Onitsha thereby curtailing their excesses. Let’s just us say the fear of Pericoma is the beginning of wisdom.
He may not have been perfect but I am using this medium to pay tribute to him. Pericoma was a titled minister of the Arondizogu community in Imo state until his death in 2017. Haven listened to him as a child, I can say that his music style could be best defined, described and explained as oral rendition of the culture, proverbs, as well as the tradition of the Igbo people.
He had a brief stint as an actor in Lion of Africa alongside Pete Edochie, a movie which was in two parts was a biography of his early life
Pericoma was a firm believer and practitioner of the traditional religion of the Igbo people. You know that quote they say about “monkey no fine but him mama like am?” Good. While Pericoma was alive, he was seen as the next thing since sliced bread by his people. They knew the term ‘medicine men” but almost worshiped him nevertheless.
His title ‘Arusi Makaja’ also portray this, as ‘Arusi’ means ‘Deity’ or ‘Oracle’.
Pericomo loved showed and used every events to “show off” his skills. His popular magic tricks included fetching water with baskets and tying goats without ropes to tree branches. His last show before deteriorating health set in was during the Ikeji festival where he performed several feats which defiled several rules of physics, just as he was announced by his title “Arusi Makaja” which translates to “Deity of Makaja”.
While my father loved music, the people from Arondizuogu believed he was a little god. This and many more displays of “supernatural powers” or “sorcery” as it was often tagged, and back-to-back victories in contests, earned him the alias “Lion of Africa.
Towards old age, he focused more on the development of the Ikeji festival held in his community yearly. The festival done yearly serves as a source of foreign income for the nation Nigeria, as it attracts tourists from around the world
Rest in peace, Sir. My Dad and I will miss you.