Dr (Sir) Jude NNAM is a Catholic liturgical composer with over 2000 Catholic songs to his credit. He hails from Amechi Uwani autonomous community in Enugu South Local Government Area of Enugu State and based in Abuja.
In this interview with Ijeoma Ekwowusi, he takes a look at his journey into the world of music, his foray into liturgical compositions, his diversity into other areas of music and his recent project, among others.
JOURNEY INTO MUSIC
I got involved in musical activities as a little boy of 9, when I joined the church choir at St Paul’s Catholic Church, Awkananaw in Enugu, Enugu State. At this period, I noticed that there weren’t many professional composers and song writers who were practicing Catholics. I decided to take up this line of career to see what I could do to fill up the space.
God has always been my inspiration and I thank Him for the successes recorded so far. As a student of Boys’ Secondary school Umueze-Awkunanaw, Mr Matthew Onyeabor, my music teacher at that time, discovered this talent in me. He taught me how to sing, play the keyboard and rudiments and theory of music.
He tried his best to make sure I have a little of this and a little of that as far as music is concerned generally.
He also taught me how to play the flute, master the recorder, the guitar and several musical approaches in the areas of composition.
In 1984, at the completion of my secondary education, he introduced me to late Mr Alphonso Okosa aka ANGO, who had a private choral group at 11 Adelabu street, Uwani, Enugu, known as Chorale De Ango. I joined this group and there, gained more experience and exposure in choral works.
In 1989, I was enlisted as a member of the contingent representing old Anambra State at the National Festival of Arts and Culture – NAFEST ‘Bauchi 89’.
That was when I met Prof Dan. C. C. Agu. He was the leader of the Anambra State contingent. With his powerful choral compositions, he led our team to victory to win the National Golden Gong. Thenceforth, he became like a father pillar for me. I also understudied some compositions of other music writers like Sam Ojukwu, Felix Nwuba and late Rev David Okongwu. These were the people I looked at their works and then tried to pick up some elements in their musical styles.
I also looked at the works of great masters like Handel, Schubert, Mozart, Mendelssohn and some other composers that I love their works. All of these contributed in one way or the other to the way I write or the way my song come out today. All these people mentored me in various ways directly or indirectly.
I am very grateful to God that I have been gifted with the ability to write under different environments both inspirationally and technically.
FORAY INTO LITURGICAL COMPOSITIONS
I am inclined to choral compositions, hence my first composition was a choral work. I love choral works and most of my musical compositions came out in choral form.
I started writing very early in life as a teenager and my first composition that was widely received by the Catholic Church was written in 1983, titled: ‘Chineke gbaghara’. I have over 2000 works right now and still counting. They are mostly choral works with a few solos and duets.
Apart from the liturgical compositions written directly for the church, I have also written many commissioned compositions.
They are numerous and their names can always be found at the footage of the compositions dedicated to them. The Arts and Culture department Abuja, FCT have commissioned me severally to write for them. Some of these compositions were performed by the Abuja contingent during the National Festival of Arts and Culture ‘NAFEST’ some years ago.
I have also written for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which is being used here in Abuja. I have written Anthems for some parishes in Abuja, Lagos, Enugu, Onitsha, Asaba and Port Harcourt.
Since my works are generally choral in structure, choirs around the world find them useful during Masses and church services.
STYLE OF COMPOSITION
Actually every composer has his/her own style of composition or musical arrangement. The title I choose, most importantly, summarizes what my song is all about. For instance, if I choose to write a song on Faith, the title therefore, must be Faith based. Like the summary of what the song is all about. Generally, I pen down my words before setting music to it.
This way, I am able to know the kind of musical flow and melodic arrangement that will suit the words. Whether it has to be happy, solemn, joyful, etc. The emotions within the words help me to create a melody that will also affect the thematic play that will actually build up the entire work.
Generally most of my songs come in chorus/verse arrangement. The main story and the theme will be found in the chorus, then in the verses. It will be like developing them little by little and spreading over the verses yet talking about the same theme.
VENTURE INTO OTHER MUSICAL AREAS
Like I said earlier, my adventure into the music world as a child exposed me to different areas of music. At the moment, I conduct, perform, write, direct and teach music.
It all depends on the need of the moment. Sometimes, a group may need me to write and send to them and I would do just that. Knowing that they can teach and perform the song themselves. If there is need for me to be on ground, I will then teach and direct the songs myself. I have also written many christian songs that can not be classified as liturgical.
There are also secular compositions and arrangements which I have written on demand. Some of them are folklores and they are also usually performed in choral form.
It’s always a thing to be grateful to God for, when you listen to other people perform your work. I perform my work myself, if there is need or if I am actually the person in charge of the choir or maybe I have been called upon to do so. But then, the truth is that it is always beautiful to sit back and listen to what other people can do with your composition, if you are convinced that they can interpret it well. It is fulfilling.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE CHURCH HYMNAL
I am not in a position to say that my compositions have actually contributed so much. It left for the people to say that and be able to judge what they feel my input has been able to achieve in area of church music.
But I know that before my entry into liturgical music the songs have been very solemn and it was more of a Vatican one kind of songs all around. When I came in, I was a young, boisterous and very lively teenage boy. Probably that influenced my composition.
WHICH COMPOSITION IS RATED BEST
I had an unpleasant experience when I lost two of my friends to the Pentecostal world. They left the Church because they felt the Church was very boring. That actually got me thinking: where have we gone wrong?
Does it mean that the Catholic church does not allow people to compose or the choir to sing songs that make people to be lively and joyful at Mass?
In that light, I began a trial composition but it didn’t go down well with some priests at that time but to God be the glory, they have all come to realize that it is important to have a couple of rhythmic tones fused together. We are already faced with a generational change in almost every face of human endeavor, this generation need something they could flow with. A kind of music that their heart and mind can identify with. And that is the reason why it seems like my songs have a wide acceptance by the people. People classify my songs according to how they appeal to them.
A song that appeals to one person, may not appeal to another. These songs are written for different reasons; and for each reason that a song is written, the person who it appeals to will always identify with it. For example, I set my life experiences to music.
I write according to how I feel. When I had an auto crash, I wrote so many songs that told the story and expressed my emotions at that time. When I had each of my baby, I wrote songs of Thanksgiving to God expressing how I felt at their birth.
When I got married, I wrote songs. For various occasions, there are songs. And these songs maybe naturally appealing to people who may be going through that same phase in life. And so I will not say that this particular song is the best for me. I will always leave that for the people to judge.
OTHER PROJECTS IN THE PIPELINE
I have published an ebook that can be found online titled: ‘ The Ancestor’s Opium’. It is a collection of a hundred compositions written by me.
SOME OF HIS COMPOSITIONS
Among the over 2000 songs I composed are songs like: Take and Sanctify, In Thanksgiving and Love, In love with Jesus, Abichi Alheri, Naranu M Rie, Chineke Gbaghara ( Lenten song), Asante ( Ghana), Aga M Eje N’ Altar, and Abu M Achicha. So m Too Chukwu, Uche Chukwu, Kosisochukwu, Olisa, Thanksgiving of Amazing Grace etc….