Musical instruments have played a major role in the lives of human. Whether for entertainment, religious or economic reasons, the beautiful thing is that it transcends boundaries, race or class. Musical instruments come in different shapes, forms, sizes and the kind of sounds they produce. People interprete the sound of music instrument in different ways. In some communities with deep culture, certain musical instruments are used to pass messages.
One of these instruments is the Ogene; used majorly in the igbo speaking part of Nigeria (Eastern Nigeria).
The Ogene is a type of bell, commonly used as a “master instrument” in a band in the Igboland. It is an instrument of the idiophone class and is made of iron by specialist blacksmiths. The bell has a flattish, conical shape, and is hollow inside. The sound itself comes from the vibration of the iron body when struck with a wooden or padded wood, which is made to resound by the hollows inside of the paired bells.
Depending on how it is struck and the rhythm it makes, it can be a musical accompaniment, songs of marriage, praise, police and military encounters, moral and political situations, birthday celebrations, dedications and funerals, proclamation poetry and even a call for an announcement in the community.
Because some parts of Eastern Nigeria are rich in surface iron ore, people there have been smelting, forging and blacksmithing iron for a very long time. Blacksmithing is still an important craft skill in Igbo communities, so making the Ogene is not a problem for them. While there are various ogene sizes, the most frequently seen in the music ensembles is a co-joined pair of hollow flattened conical bells held in one hand. The Ogene is skilfully beaten to generate distinctive sounds ranging from sharply percussive clanks to deep, resonant notes.
Like it was hinted earlier on the Ogene has musical and non-musical functions depending on how the holder strikes it;
Non-musical functions of ogene:
Interestingly, the Ogene instrument serves a lot functions in the traditional Igbo society away from music.
The metal gong is the town crier’s constant companion. In the traditional Igbo setting, information gets disseminated to the rural indigenes through the town crier’s Ogene. The town crier moves across the villages and with the aid of the Ogene which he strikes at intervals to get people’s attention, he delivers his message. In some cases, the town crier skillfully renders his messages through the sound of Ogene alone. Every grown adult in the village without any stress understands what has been said. The sound of Ogene is taken seriously in the traditional Igbo society. So, whenever the Ogene sounds, it means that something very important is to begin announced.
Raising morale for war:
In the ancient Igbo culture, Ogene is considered an instrument of war which is used to rouse the adrenaline of the warriors. The sound of Ogene charges the heart of the warriors, and through the rhythm emanating from the gong, the warriors go into battle courageous and resolved to defeat the enemy.
The Ogene instrument is a useful instrument in the hands of diviners and sorcerers; for the purposes of connecting with the extra mundane world. Ogene is one of the key tools found in most shrines and other places of divination. While in the process of divination, the diviner uses the Ogene to hail the gods and the ancestors while invoking them to provide answers to a given challenge.
The Ogene instrument replaces the whistle in modern security operations used for sounding warning of alertness to security partners. While in pursuit of criminal, the Ogene is sounded to give situation report to other men on watch and to alert the residents of a criminal on the prowl.
The musical function of ogene
Among the instruments used in making music in Igbo land, the Ogene instrument is arguably the most essential. The Ogene instrument may be used together alongside other instruments or may be used independently. In the view of some people, only two instruments are vital in playing Ogene music; they are the lead Ogene and the Oja (flute). In this age of innovation music has evolved so much that it is normal to find Ogene played alongside an ensemble of all sort of instruments. Yet the most important part of the Ogene music is the message it transmits. In the present day Ogene music is mainly played by the youth, their dance steps reflects war because the tunes are usually adrenaline charged. This dance is mainly as a show of strength and guts. The dance step is usually fast and often involves placing the two hands successively on the chest.
In playing Ogene there is usually the lead singer who often doubles as the bearer of the lead Ogene. Using husky voice, he renders messages which borders from the serious to the mundane.
Most recently, the Ogene music has been incorporated into mainstream Nigerian music, thanks to the creative ingenuity of indigenous music artistes from Eastern Nigeria. Churches make the Ogene a part of their band as well.
What unique instrument do you use in your community? Do share with us in the comment section.