Chinwuba is one of the children of the late ‘Lady of Songs,’ Christy Essien-Igbokwe. He talks about the life of his mother with GBENGA ADENIJI
Please give a brief profile of yourself.
I am Chinwuba Kaka Igbokwe, the second son of the late Christy Essien-Igbokwe. We are four boys. I studied Geological Sciences at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State. I am a music producer, businessman, and President of the Christy Essien Igbokwe Memorial Foundation.
What memories of your late mother can you recall?
I have good memories of my late mother. She was such a good woman that I did not know she was famous until I got into the university. One of the lovely things about her was that she always created time for us despite her busy schedule. This thus made it difficult for me to believe she was one of Africa’s biggest musicians.
I really do miss her meals. My best memory of her was when I would sit in the kitchen to be fed by her. She was the best cook in the world. But now, my wife has taken that title.
Where were the places she took her family to for relaxation while you were young?
The places she took us to? We visited mainly our country homes in Awka (Anambra State) and Eket (Akwa-Ibom State). Although during most festive periods when my mother had big shows or was on tours, she took us along and made sure we were lodged in the best hotels around the places. Back then, I did not know why she would ensure we were lodged in good hotels. But when I grew older and started my own family, I understood that it is important for parents to give quality time to their children notwithstanding how busy they may be. My parents, especially my mother, did her best to make sure we had great memories growing up.
Your mother was a celebrated singer; did she encourage any of her children to follow in her footsteps in terms of career choice?
Yes, she did encourage us all in our respective fields. She, however, did not force any of us against our will. My mother was surprised when we showed interest in music production. I remember when I was in primary school and she helped me to secure roles in a popular television series then, Ripples and a couple of stage plays. I would have continued acting but I was too shy to watch myself on the television.
Did you ever watch her perform?
Yes, I watched my mother perform many times. She had so much energy and I remember fondly the times I performed with her. There was a moment she got the crowd ecstatic and I got caught up in the frenzy and jumped off the stage and sprained my ankle. After the show, she told me how to keep my cool while on the stage. It was really a wonderful show.
Which of her songs do you like most and why do you like it?
I like many of her songs. Let me quickly add that Seun Rere does not make my top 10 list of my mother’s songs. I like Ever liked My Person; Kaanyi Gba Egwu; Tetenula; Ego Emebigo Uwa; Akwa Ibom; Taking My Time; Change the System and Ife. I could go on and on. I love her songs because they relate to real life situations and they are timeless.
In what ways did she enforce discipline on any erring child?
Discipline is an understatement; my mother’s name should have been used to replace the word ‘discipline’ in the dictionary. She could use anything to beat any offending child. My mother could use the cane, slippers and her hand. These were used to shape me and my brothers to become the fine young men we are today.
Can you recall any time she disciplined you and what you did wrong?
I recall she spanked me when I misbehaved but now, I cannot remember what I did wrong.
Who were her friends?
My mother kept good and few family friends. They included a circle of three to five families. But her closest friends were members of her family and of course, God.
What was her best form of relaxation?
She relaxed by praying and singing praises to God.
How close were you to her?
Let me say that we were like the characters in the American animated series of short films created in 1940, by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, titled Tom and Jerry. The animated characters depict best of friends that gossip and fight a lot. She was not just a mother to me but a confidant. Before her death, she helped me choose my wife. That should convey our closeness.
What are the ideals you have learnt from her?
There was a saying of my mother: “No matter what you do people will never be satisfied, so do good, do your best and satisfy your conscience.” That is one of the things I learnt from her.
How did she settle misunderstandings with her husband?
My mother kept her marriage and married life strictly between her husband and herself. We never saw her argue with her husband in public or in front of us. You can say she was old-fashioned but I learnt how to keep a family together from her.
In what ways would you say her name has helped you?
Of course, her name has helped me a lot. One of the favours I get from being her son is that people give me a listening ear because I am her son. It is then left for me at that stage to impress them by seizing the opportunity.
What kind of mother was she?
She was the best mother any son or child could ever wish to have.
What was her favourite meal?
I cannot remember if she had any favourite meal. Maybe her native delicacies; atama soup, edikaikong andaffang soup.
What was her favourite drink?
She enjoyed châteauneuf-du-Pape, a French wine, Appellation d’origine contrôlée.
What was her normal schedule like?
My mother woke up by 6am for family worship, entered the kitchen by 6:30am and by 8am, she would have a bath and be ready for the day by 9am. Before leaving the home, she often had her personal prayers for one hour and nobody could make her miss it for anything. From 10am to 6pm, she handled the day’s business and from 6pm, another family prayer would hold. By 7pm, dinner would be served after which she searched for her ‘gossip partner,’ which was either me or her husband.
How do you feel each time you listen to any of her songs since her death?
I feel blessed, honoured and privileged to be her son. When I listen to her songs, it is like she is talking to me.
Did you receive any form of special treatment from schoolmates and lecturers by virtue of who your mother was?
I guess I did sometimes. People did things for me all because I am Christy Essien-Igbokwe’s son.
In music, your mother excelled brilliantly likewise in acting especially in her role as Apena in the rested television series, The New Masquerade. What can you say you missed most about her?
I miss her character. I have always said that I will still produce a situation comedy on my mother’s last 10 years before her death. My mother was a comedian to the core, always making us laugh at every opportunity. She was too lively and a great person to be with. There was never a dull moment with her.
How sociable was she?
She was very sociable and full of life. Whenever we had parties or gatherings at home, she was always the life of the party. She loved seeing people around her. She would cook and call the neighbours to eat with us.
You performed with her on the stage. Tell us about the experience.
I performed with her on the stage many times and each time was a new experience. She always had something new to offer. There was always a new lesson about showbiz and the arts to learn from her. I earlier talked about her exciting performance that got me overjoyed on the stage.
How did she like to dress?
She was a woman of class. Her outfits were African-inspired. When she passed on and we re-launched her foundation, we had a fashion show showcasing her style. I tell you, most of her clothes sewn over 20 years ago still look like today’s current fashion trends. That shows how fashion forward she was.
Would you say your late mother’s musical feats and popularity put any burden on you?
In a way, there will always be pressure on anyone who has such a famous and legendary mother, because anything one does will be compared with her achievements not with what is available. In a way, it also keeps me on my feet and like she always use to tell me, ‘Life is not a competition; we shall all cross the same finishing line.’ Also, it is on record that what the states located in the littoral areas in Nigeria are enjoying today is as a result of the abrogation of the obnoxious onshore and offshore oil dichotomy made possible by God using my mother. She mounted campaigns that saw the regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida initiate and abrogate the dichotomy; thereby ending the struggle that lasted decades.
Where were you when she died?
I was at home waiting for her to return from the hospital. I saw her a day before her death in the hospital. After spending some time with her, I asked her if she needed me to get her anything from the house as I was leaving, and she smiled and said no. That was at 3:42pm on June 29, 2011.
That was the last image of my mother alive, and I do not think it will ever leave my memory. Sometime, I tell myself that if I had stayed back maybe she would have not died so soon. But I still thank God for the times we spent together and for giving me such a lovely woman as a mother.
How does her family remember her yearly?
We reflect on her life and how she touched the lives of many people. We choose to celebrate her rather than mourn. We have inaugurated a foundation; Christy Essien Igbokwe Memorial Foundation to keep her legacy alive. We hold an annual event to remember her and keep her other charitable programmes going.
Her hit song, Seun Rere, is didactic for the young in particular. Did she at any time particularly play it for her children to listen to?
No, she did not. I cannot remember her playing it but she always told us if we wanted to learn life’s lessons, we could listen to her 1998 songs.
Your mother’s songs break tribal barriers. She sang in Igbo, Hausa, Efik, Yoruba and her native Ibibio. Do her children also speak these languages?
People ask me this question a lot. I can tell you that at least, I can boast of two of those languages; Igbo and Ibibio. I think I try.