Once a composer always a composer Rev Fr Simon Obelenwa Azuka

By Mercy Hill

In this second part we conclude the exciting interview with a great Igbo liturgical music composer, Rev. Fr Simon Obelenwa Azuka. Have an exhilarating read.

How many hymns have you composed in total?

Over sixty of them. What I noticed is that people so much love my hymns. Once they hear them, they never let go of them. I remember back then in the Seminary, each time Seminarians were to go for Apostolic work, they will meet me and say ”Simon, teach us some of your hymns so that we can teach people where we are going to”. I will joyfully teach them, and they will be so happy. Most times people come to me to ask how I got the hymns, my usual answers used to be, I don’t get these songs myself. God inspires me through dreams to compose them. The songs are not mine but God’s. I thank God everyday of my life for counting me worthy for His use. In spite of my unworthiness, He has given me the opportunity to give His faithful music for praising him. I do not know how the songs come.

People would like to hear you sing some of your hymns?

Alright, I will sing some of my songs. He sings:

Bianu n’ulo nso ka anyi jee too yaa,

Ka anyi toonu Chukwu, ka anyi jee too ya,

Ka anyi toonu Chukwu anyi, ka anyi jee too ya,

Onye kere uwa niile, ka anyi jee too ya.

Bianu n’ulo nso…. (he continues with the rest of the verses)!

He continues with next: the next song I am about to sing was gotten on the Christmas eve in 1973. I was just meditating what it would be like to experience the birth of Christ. When I went to sleep, again this composition came. God gave me this inspiration:

Geenti ndi mmuozi na-ekwee (2x),

Ha na-ekwe na-eto nwa eze,

Udo ga-adiri mba niile

Chukwu na ndi njo edoo… (he sings the song in different parts/verses).

He continues with the third song: When I compose, I transcribe into different parts. Soprano, Alto, Teno and bass.

Ebe Chukwu bi (2x)

Ka anyi ga-ezuru ike, nwanne biko nodu mma,

Ndi oma dube gi na be Chukwu, anyi ga ahu ozoo… this song is usually sung when a person dies.

What musical instrument do you play?

I did not focus much on musical instruments. I only compose and sing and others play the instrument.

Do you still compose songs?

Laughs…. A composer is always a composer! You cannot leave it unless you reject what God has given you. What else can we give to God if not praises and active service to Him. I always tell my priest brothers that you are a priest and will be priests all your lives. You should always be a priest wherever you are by leading good examples.

What was your relationship with late Msgr Cyril Ezenduka?

The late Msgr. Cyril Ezenduka and I met in the then Archdiocese of Onitsha, the then Archbishop Francis Arinze (now Francis Cardinal Arinze), was the archbishop of Onitsha. Three years after my ordination, he invited Fr Ezenduka and I to his office at Onitsha. He said to me first, ”Fr Azuka, I want both of you to go to America to do music”. Immediately he said this, I was happy and thanked him for his love and then counting me worthy to go to America to do music. But I pleaded with him to let me stay back and work in parishes. I love music as a hobby but have great passion to be a parish priest. He was incredibly surprised, commended me and asked me to continue. He told me that one of my songs: Jesu nnoo, nnoo nnoo, Jesu ibu Chukwu m, lifted his spirit. He noted that my system of music touched the soul. He told me, go on! Go and do the parish work. He turned to Fr Ezenduka and said,”go and prepare, you are going to study music in America. Fr Ezenduka agreed and then went to America.

I was sent to my first parish in Akpu community in Orumba south L.G.A, in Anambra state. I was celebrating up to six Masses every day because Orumba had up to twenty-six outstations. I went to all of them. I worked extremely hard that the bishop warned me to take things easy. I told him, my lord, I feel for my parishioners, the parish was too far from them, so, I had to reach out to them. All those outstations are now parishes with parish priests attached to each of them.

It was that period I was given the title Ogbuefi. That name was given to me after I had an accident – a collision with a cow and came out alive but the cow died. My car was divided into two, the doors to the cars were squeezed beyond repairs I was unconscious for some time, but God saved me because of His work in my hands. Even when I was taken to Orumba hospital, there was no doctor to attend to me. From there, I was taken to Ekwulobia and then to Adazi, which nearly two hours to reach. At Adazi, I was told that four doctors were on me. When I was resuscitated after four hours, I asked where I was. The doctor then told me, Fr you had a motor accident. Then all that happened was related to me. I thanked God for sparing my life. That was how I got that name, Ogbuefi. The car was beyond repairs, but I was not injured.

Any challenges in your life journey as a Catholic priest and a composer?

I had no challenge in my music career but encountered challenges in my priestly journey. When you tell people the hard truth, they will tend to fight you. But the happy part is that I succeeded in places where many people failed. I thank God for the how far He had led me.

My advice to young music composers

I am not happy with the way music is going in some places in the diocese and other places. A lot of terrible things are happening to liturgical music and I am unhappy about it. A lot of nonsense have been infused into our liturgical songs and that should be corrected immediately. The music commission should actively look into this and ensure that our hymns are not murdered.

He concluded his interview with another song:

Ihe m nwere ka m ga-enye Diwenu,

So onyinye nke dimma ga-aso Chukwu,

Were ihe oma kene Chukwu, kene ya,

Chineke nwee ihe oma dum

Nye nu Chukwu onyinye unu ihe oma dum

Ihe m nwere ka m ga-enye Dinwenu

So onyinye nke dimma ga-aso Chukwu..

I am so happy with today’s engagement with you, and I pray God to bless our diocese to continue being a shining light where others come to tap from.

Thank you so much nnukwu Fr. It was a nice time with you.