By Maik Ortserga
The jeep quickly carried us along the great tarmac road that connects Makurdi and Gboko, my heart, a thousand singing birds in gratitude to God for being a part of the historic journey to Mbalagh. All around us roared a town alive, yet nearly dead with boredom. I was excited about any opportunity to travel out and unwind.
As the metropolis receded, I saw that the road with umbrella trees standing guard on either side, was getting narrower. Orvesen Tahav Agerzua, who was at the wheel, slotted in Pevikyaa Zege’s song and the quiet atmosphere in the vehicle suddenly caught fire with the legend, Udoo Mbalagh, reclining comfortably in the owner’s seat while I sat beside Tahav as we began to analyze the songs being played. It was Saturday, the twentieth day of March, 2021.
When Chief Tahav Agerzua requested the previous day that I accompany him to Tombo Mbalagh as he was taking the “Swange” composer and initiator of the “Ngighnghigh” dance to the home of his fathers, I knew I was in for a jolly good time. Agerzua’s passion for Tiv folk music never ceases to amaze me and I have consistently said on this platform that I will soon write a book about this aspect of his life.
Before the final relocation of Neeryum Kaor Chila, the Benue State Arts Council had, at the instance of the Principal Special Assistant to the Governor of Benue State on Culture and Tourism, Orvesen Tahav Agerzua, staged the Ngighnghigh Dance, which the artist invented decades ago, while performing in Kaduna, to the delight of the old composer whose feet could not resist the temptation to dig some steps to the admiration of his numerous fans myself inclusive.
If the performance was exciting, the journey of the 85- year old Udoo Mbalagh to Mbalagh was even more fascinating. We crossed River Katsina-Ala at Buruku with funfare as camera’s clicked repeatedly in the direction of the great entertainment legend.
Once on the other side of the Buruku River, the jeep sped along the road to Jingir and after swallowing a few kilometres, we turned left, driving through a network of bush paths within the fertile plains that roll hynoptically as far as the eyes could see. We finally brought Udoo Mbalagh to the middle of his compound of four thatched huts surrounded by a forest.
It was a calm and quiet afternoon with the sun unleashing its tropical violence. On spotting their father, the legend’s children rushed in from a nearby farm to welcome him. They chanted “Da-ddy Da-ddy” spiritedly. Their chants mingled with the barking of the little dog which also wagged its tail in joy, the clucking of hens and the chirping of birds so sweet to the ear.
Udoo Mbalagh’s pretty young wife, who he married years after “Wan Amoior,” of blessed memory, was visibly excited to have her husband back. It was actually the pressure from her coupled with the demands on him to arbitrate in matters of his people as one of the eldest men of the district that made Neeryum’s relocation imperative. His wife thanked Orvesen Tahav profusely, saying that he had planned to go back to her people with her four children if her husband had not returned before the end of March, 2021.
She provided chairs for us to sit under the cooling shade of a large mango tree and insisted on cocking for us. She asked her eldest daughter to make available the chicken belonging to her to be prepared for the visitors, and the twelve year old girl darted out swiftly across the yard like an arrow with her mother and her siblings joining her in the chase for the chicken.
I have never seen the kind of generosity I witness in that family. Udoo Mbalagh is indeed a legend that needs to be buried while he is alive.
Let those who have enjoyed his songs, over the years, bury him now and not wait until he dies. This is what the late poet Ayila Igbyue of Tombo Mbaya, on the other side of the river, lamented when he sang “ Ankwagh za va ainge / Ka we a kpe cii / Izua man I nau nyaregh” – meaning, “a certain trend has come up these days, when you have died already, they gather and give you money.”Let us stop this ugly trend and start burying our artistes while they are still alive like Tahav Agerzua is doing.