front page


A composer and researcher from Nigeria

Christian Onyeji from Nigeria attended the IAML-IASA conference 2004 on a grant from the IASA. 

Christian – whose African first name is Uzoma - is a senior lecturer in music at the University of Nigeria in the town Nsukka. He is 37 years old, born in Atta, Ikeduru, Imo state, Nigeria. He is married and has a little boy 3 months old. Christian is also a composer and a researcher. 

- What are your duties at the university?

- They are varied, but the coming year I will spend much time on a project to collect traditional music of Nigeria to create a national sound archive. Each of my new students this year will be commissioned to collect at least 10 tunes on tape from their local home area.

- What is the background for this project?

- I attended the IASA conference in Pretoria last year, and this experience wakened the desire to preserve our musical heritage. Our cultural heritage is fading – there is no awareness of this in the society or in the schools. The children do not learn anything about it. Somebody has to start saving this for the coming generation, and I have decided to be that somebody! I am very enthusiastic and interested in this. It is also in line with my composition, as I am inspired by the traditional idiom. I may mention that my wife, who is a student of music and a competent singer, sings as well classical European music, as traditional African music. Being a pianist I often accompany her at concerts. 

- How long will you work on this project?

- It is hard to say, it partly depends on money! At least for 4-5 years. After finishing the collection there will be new activities drawing from this, like preservation! Already I am in contact with representatives of institutions in other countries to get help for safe keeping. 

- What else do you do?

- I give lectures, I supervise students in composing and in African music, I collect abstracts for RILM, I compose, I direct the Cathedral Choir, I play the organ in the Cathedral and I give concerts. I have attained a doctor’s degree and my dissertation titled “The study of Abigbo Choral-dance Music and its Application in the composition of Abigbo for Modern Symphony Orchestra”.

- Has your music been recorded?

- Not yet, the Cambridge university in England is however producing a CD with my and others’ music in connection with a benefit concert. It will be edited this year.

- You are the only African on this conference. What do you think about that?

- I think it is a problem. I am aware that the lack of money plays an important role, but there is at large little interest in sound archives in Africa. Some activity is going on in Ghana and in South Africa, of course, but else nothing. It is troubling me. 

- Can you tell us about your background – how come that you became an academic?

- My father was a teacher, in money poor, but very rich in cultural interests. He conveyed this to his children – I am the oldest child. My sister has a University degree, and my younger brother wants to study law – I am trying to get forms in Norway for him to apply here! I started studying at 17 and I have worked very hard to get where I am today. My results were the best in my class, and I am one of two who recently got a position at the university. It is hard for young people in Nigeria to compete with the older ones! The young have to wait! My father was not very pleased with my strong desire to study music – music in Nigeria is connected with rock’n roll, drugs and girls. But now he is very proud! During my studies I earned my living by giving piano lessons and playing in churches. I also got a small amount from my father. 

- How much do you earn at the university?

- My salary is $600 a month. A professor gets about $1000. My flat costs $80 a month excluding water, light, security. We are a bit upset now, because the government recently has decided to draw 7,5 % off the salary of everybody to pensions. 

- You have a stable political system in Nigeria now, haven’t you?

- Well, since 1999 we have a democracy, but the retired generals are still the rulers, exploiting the people. The massmedia is indirectly controlled by the government, and there is a lot of collaborating going on. 

- How do you like Oslo?

- I like it very much - fresh air, much space and little crowding! Everything and everybody is so cool. Nobody seems to have worries. People seem confident that they will get their rights. I wish you would pray for us! For the sanity and progress of the Nigerian people!

Text and picture by Tove Jareld / Edited by Marte Horndalen.

Published 13 August 2004




Webmaster: Jon G. Olsen

Webeditors: Heidi Lorentzen & Marianne Olsen