As My Village Singer Bows Out: A Tribute To Benard Elem Tasie
I grew up in Amuzi Village, Dim-na-Nume Isu in Nwangele Local Government Area of Imo State, savoring the melodies of the famous Nwanyi Maradiya Musical Group, led by the legendary Egwuatonwu Azubuike.
Stating the obvious, I was too young at the time to properly capture his personality, but I was told by my seniors that Egwu, as he was fondly called, was a remarkable singer whose performances earned great respect and admiration within and outside the community.
Egwu, was said to process extraordinary wits with which he effectively infused during performances, and often marveled his audience with uncanny acts.
Stories are told that at the peak of every performance, and in the full glare of the audience, Egwu would empty a keg of palm wine into a basket, and the bemused audience would watch as the basket held the liquid without a drop!
He would dip a cup into the basket and challenge members of the audience, to take the drink. Of course, I am told that only the bravest would usually accept the drink! That was the narrative of some of Egwu’s exploits as told by my seniors in the village.
But, like earlier said, I was too young at the time and could not adequately comprehend his exploits, but Egwu was generally described as a brave, bold, courageous and fearless man whose name sends jitters to some weaklings in the village.
However, one notable member of the Nwanyi Maradiya Musical group, seen as Egwu’s forerunner, was Benard Elem Tasie. We called him ‘Dee Elem’.
Now grown up, I could also recall a few other members of the musical group, like Dee Nwoke, Dee Innocent Nwahanonu and the man simply called M A, the immediate elder brother of late Damian Esonwune. All these great men, except Elder Nwoke, are now deceased.
That is why the news of the death of Dee Elem came as a rude shock to many in Amuzi. Elem was a great man. A remarkable apostle of Egwuatonwu, who carried on his trade with precision and splendor. You can’t discuss Elem and not remember Egwuatonwu, who handed him the baton after death.
And like Egwu, Elem thrilled his audience with an amazing voice. As one of his avid fans, I never hid my admiration from him. He was simply sensational. I related with him one on one, up to adulthood.
He was very close to my family. His wife, Augustina (now deceased), shared same root with me, being a daughter of my mother’s immediate family in Ogbaland, Rivers State.
From my perspective as a grown up, Elem had no rival as far as our local music was concerned. He was simply the best and my favorite of his many songs was ‘Uri Abu’.
Dee Elem was a crowd puller in and outside the community. Although, typically native, his style of singing was unique. If you knew what the late afro beat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti called ‘yabis’, Elem was master of his class.
He hardly rehearsed his songs before any show. He sang creatively, based on who or what catches his attention from the audience. Sometimes, a prevailing situation or circumstance could trigger a reaction, and before you knew it, Elem has formed a song and the crowd is thrown into frenzy.
That is why our village people, especially those whose characters raised questions, dreaded him whenever or wherever he performed. How he got to know peoples’ secrets beat our imagination.
If your mother, father, uncle or friend, was a thief, Dee Elem would look at you and immediately a song is composed, and would usually end with a challenge, ‘nghiri kigaeme’, which in English translates ‘what will you do?’
Dee Elem and the Nwanyi Maradiya Musical Group usually performed during festivities like Easter, Christmas and New Year. In December, the group begins their shows from the 24th, being the eve of Christmas, moving from one house to another.
On arrival to any house, Elem would begin by eulogizing the head of the home. He would flatter and mesmerize other members of the family. You cannot but dance as he sang.
And soon, it would be rain of cash on Dee Elem and his group. The process would continue late into the night until every home in the village is covered.
The grand finale usually holds at Elem’s house on New Year’s Eve and ends with ‘Ichu afo’ by New Year day (chasing away the old year and ushering in the new year).
For me, this is usually one moment to behold, as natives emptied into his compound. It was fun and never a dull moment afterwards as the people danced, ate and drank the finest and freshest palm wine.
Dee Elem was a strong and sweet hearted man. He loved to crack jokes.
He will also be remembered as a fine story teller. Because of his sojourn to Ogbaland, my maternal home, Dee Elem never ceased to amaze us with the names of our uncles, both in our paternal and maternal homes.
My older sibling, Theophilus Osinobi (Theo for short), who had a better perspective of Dee Elem, very succinctly captured him.
“Elem was the Head Hunter in the entire area and everything revolves around him. Any able bodied person from Abba, Osu Ama, Osu Owere, Agbaje, Isu Na Elili Gbarogu (referring to the ancient Isu without dichotomy), Amaigbo and beyond, will assemble in Elem’s place before hunting expedition, and they will return to his place to share the proceeds. This, they did even during the war”, Theo said.
“Nkwusakpuo is the name of one of the hunting dogs used by Dee Elem. Don’t forget that someone in Amuzi is called Nkwusakpuo from that name, he said.
Adiu Dee Benard Elem Tasie, the hunter, the singer and palm wine tapper. You have left an indelible print in Amuzi and beyond, including Ogba land.
Surely, when the history of our village is written, it’s obvious you will occupy a big space.
As you journey to join your forebears on Friday, August 12, 2022, I pray the Almighty to accept your immortal soul in His bosom.