The Nigerian on a quest to witness a bagpipe revival

Chukwu Oba Kalu

Pipe Major Chukwu Oba Kalu is attempting to turn a teenage fantasy into a resurgence of bagpiping in Nigeria.

When he was 18 and a trumpeter for the Boys' Brigade in Abia state, south-east Nigeria, the 46-year-old first witnessed the instrument being played by a member of a police marching band.

He was mesmerized and promised himself he would learn to play someday.

"It sounds completely different from any other instrument. He said on the BBC World Service Outlook program, "It just has an evocative sound... It touches the mind.".

Chukwu's initial thought was to enroll at Scotland's prestigious National Piping Centre, but he lacked the money to do so and obtain a visa.

His next plan was to mail order the instrument to Nigeria, but this too proved difficult.

He reached out to US and UK bagpipe vendors via email to inquire about purchasing a practice chanter, the entry-level instrument for aspiring bagpipe players, but claims he did not hear back for a while.

Scottish Power Nigeria at a wedding
At a wedding in Nigeria, the pipe major leads his band.

When he finally received his first response, he only realized why people might have been avoiding him.

The Californian seller informed him that some people mistook him for a con artist after their bank account information.

Chukwu sent US dollars in cash to California to demonstrate his sincerity before waiting for his first chanter to show up.

"I was thrilled when it came in the mail. I simply kneeled down and prayed, saying, "God, this is finally coming to me," as I touched it. '"  .

Many years after sending his first emails, the chanter finally showed up in 2009.

Chukwu had been cautioned to be extremely cautious not to break the practice chanter's delicate reed, which is necessary for the instrument's mouthpiece.

I handled the reed accordingly as if it were a newborn child; it was so delicate that I didn't even want other people to approach me when I was carrying it. ".

Chukwu's family has contributed to some of his interest in bagpipes.

During the colonial era, when Nigeria was governed by the British, his grandfather, who was known to his friends and family as Sagin, or Sergeant, worked with British soldiers.

From his bedroom, he would sing war songs, and Chukwu was curious to learn what they meant.

Chukwu said, "This is more like a gene resurfacing.

"I want to think that my grandfather's enthusiasm for working closely with the British soldiers and the missionaries who came—the thing is still going. " .

Chukwu Oba Kalu with bagpipes
The bagpipes and traditional Nigerian instruments, according to Chukwu, share a musical heritage.

Chukwu soon upgraded to a full set of Great Highland Bagpipes after beginning to play the practice chanter.

Additionally, he searched for other bagpipe players across the nation in an effort to start a marching band.

Following independence in 1960, bands in the army and police continued the tradition that Scottish soldiers had started teaching Nigerians to play during the colonial era.

But as the musicians aged and the instruments stopped working, things started to fade.

In order to recruit more musicians and teach them the fundamentals, Chukwu tracked down some of the veteran musicians who could still play.

His band, Scottish Power Nigeria, is now hired for weddings, memorial services, and other occasions.

His ambition, however, did not end there.

"My desire to bring back and revive bagpipe music in Nigeria transcended my pipe-playing as an artist. " .

Chukwu proposed that the army, navy, and air force train marching bands.

A three-month band training course was organized for him after the chief of air staff decided to take a chance on him. Early in 2019, there was a graduation ceremony.

Chukwu greeting former Chief of Air Staff Sadique Abubakar at the graduation of the first NAF pipe band
Chukwu Oba Kalu played a crucial role in the establishment of a pipe band in the Nigerian air force.

Other military agency heads were invited to the ceremony, and the head of the navy requested Chukwu to plan a course along those lines.

He also suggested changes to the army, including the creation of a special unit for the president, which was well received because Muhammadu Buhari, the president at the time, had already expressed interest in the instrument.   .

Some people might wonder why Chukwu is so devoted to an art form and a way of life that have their roots in a different continent and were tied to Britain's colonization of Nigeria.

But in his opinion, Scotland and Nigeria have more in common than might be expected in terms of music and culture.

"This specific instrument is not unusual in Nigeria or Africa. Through my research, I discovered that the oja, a flute-like instrument from Nigeria, is related to [the bagpipes]. In other words, this instrument has been with us. " .

Chukwu hopes to continue instructing pipe bands for other armed forces and security organizations.

Chukwu expresses his joy at the fact that the object is moving and will continue to move.

And he continues to have his sights set on traveling to the birthplace of the Great Highland Bagpipes.

"By the grace of God, I intend to travel to Scotland this year, once I have the means to do so, since I haven't been there before.

. "

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