Tribute: Pericoma and Igbo masquerade music

While such artists as Ikechukwu, Naeto C and Chidinma, all from Imo, have found mainstream success, perhaps the one musician whose music is directly connected with the eastern Nigeria state is Pericoma, who died on 16 February after an undisclosed illness. 

Pericoma, right, at an event. Photo: CTN
Pericoma, right, at an event. Photo: CTN

A major exponent of the culture of his land, Pericoma was renowned for his use of Igbo proverbs and prayers in his music. He was equally renowned for spiritual displays said to be from his deep belief in the powers of the gods of his fatherland.

The Ikeji festival, popular in Igboland, was the site of several displays. And while alive Pericoma was called Arusi Makaja, a title which translates as the “Oracle of Makaja”. He was also the head of the Arondizuogu community in Imo State.

While uncharitable reports of the use of his powers abound, one of the most frequently recounted stories about the man is seen in a positive light. Pericoma, it is said, was on a trip to the eastern Nigeria commercial hub of Onitsha when he was accosted by a group of unofficial tax collectors. Asked to produce tax receipts by this sub-legal group, he refused.

The tax collectors then hoisted Pericoma on their shoulders and carried him to their office. But when they tried to set Pericoma down, they couldn’t, because, as he claimed, his god was unhappy with the erring individuals. Thereafter he was appeased, brought down and allowed to leave. This episode, it is claimed, was critical in the cessation of illegal tax collection in the area. Although never confirmed, another popular traditional music artist, Apama, retold the story in a song, thereby spreading the story even further. 

Pericoma’s fame and music was widespread in Igboland, his songs mixing with his exploits. A movie, 'Lion of Africa', was made about his life. The film starred Nollywood actor Pete Edochie as the famous musician. Pericoma himself featured in a few films.

Pericoma and his music were important to the staging of the Ikeji festival. His collection of albums includes High TensionIkeji IzuoguObodo Aghoka and Igatakwuteya Aja. His music, generally a type of egwu mmanwu (masquerade music) accompanied Igbo masquerades, and he was considered the biggest masquerade musician in Igboland.

Another type of egwu mmanwu, ogene, is finding a place in the mainstream Nigerian music scene, with young artists such as neo-Igbo highlife man Flavour having recorded songs adapting the genre's sound. The video for the artists' song 'Gbo Gan Gbom' features a number of masquerades from Igboland.

Pericoma's death may be the end of an era in Igbo traditional music but the broader context birthing his music is alive and well.

Pericoma is survived by several wives, children and grandchildren.


 

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