Chukwu Oba Kalu, an entrepreneur is the founder of bagpipe music in Nigeria. His passion for the pipe music has permeated the security services, and today, President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the music Presidential Pipe Band under the Guards Brigade. In this interview, he speaks about the significance of the music and the first time it was played for the president.
What are the benefits of bagpipe music in our society?
The bagpipe music genre helps to achieve team spirit because different team members play the same keys, the same instrument, tune and pattern. In the process, team work and harmony are built. Also, it is a means of empowerment. The instruments are expensive and rare. But when you learn, it has economic benefits in terms of remuneration.
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It can be used on significant occasions as royal programmes, funerals, weddings and international events. In the military formations, it is used to conduct pulling out, graduation parades or induction for heads of such formations. A typical piper earns about N15, 000 at a single function. A youth who learns the pipe can accumulate monthly earnings that is higher than a paid job.
Can this music play any role in this period of insecurity and tension?
There is a song titled, ‘We are no more about the war’, which when played, has a way of calling people to order; making them embrace peace. It was composed in Europe during the war years. Also, the song, ‘Amazing Grace’ is a peaceful song. Most of the songs we play have their significance; they are not dancing songs; they are solemn songs and hymns which make a lot of meaning and stabilizes the emotions. If there is any time this type of music is needed in our country, it is now that the tension is high. In those days, death and funerals used to be a moment of soberness, now death of people is reported as mere statistics. So, bagpipes have a way of restoring that human consciousness, love and value for life among the people.
Tell us about the first time President Buhari was ushered in with bagpipe music?
If you recall, the regular thing is the arrival of advance outriders to the Eagles Square, but on May 29, 2015 we had a troop of pipers playing alongside the convoy as the president arrived. It was glamourous. The president loved it.
What makes you believe the president was thrilled with bagpipe music?
If you try to give someone such an honour and the person is not impressed, the person discards it. But he has accepted it just like all over the world where bagpipes are played for leaders. If you go to the White House, you will see the picture of past presidents with bagpipers who play for them.
The bagpipe became part of the presidential fleet during the time of President Umaru Yar’Adua after he returned from a foreign trip. The band continued under Goodluck Jonathan. But it has become prominent under the present administration. This is not the regimental band that the president is accustomed to. This instrument is used for general songs of salute when the president mounts the podium or on the president’s arrival to an event. The bagpipe ushers him in from his entry point till he gets to the podium, and as soon as they stop, the regimental band then gives the salute.
Do you play Nigerian cultural or religious songs?
Most of the songs we play are Christian. But we are beginning to improvise on some Islamic songs. For instance, at the end of the Nigerian Air Force Pipe Band project last year, we played a song: ‘Sadiq Baba’, dedicated to the former Chief of Air Staff, Sadique Abubakar, it had Hausa and Islamic songs. We have Yoruba songs ‘Omotomo’ and ‘Iyanowura’ introduced into the pipe music. In the East, we have songs that are culturally based. For me, if you play a song I don’t understand, it doesn’t make meaning.
What are the challenges you face in this type of music?
This is not what one man can do alone. Having started this project 13 years ago from one ‘Practice Chanter’, I now have seven bagpipes, each of which is worth above N1m; I have drums and costumes, which we design with one of the oldest fabrics in the world, the tartan fabric. But as we use these, we are thinking of how to improvise locally and stop importing them because of the high exchange rate. Also, we are looking forward to partners who can support the setting up of our bagpipe school. Some institutions in the world for instance, India, are incorporating bagpipes in their curriculum, so we need to encourage same in Nigeria. In Europe, Trusts are funding the learning of bagpipe.