By Joshua Kerekaa
The legendary Neeryum Kaor Chila was fondly called Udoo Mbalagh in the entertainment industry. His performance was a delight and a fascination to his numerous fans throughout the contours of Benue State and beyond.
Neeryum was born on 2nd February, 1936 on a Sunday to the family of Kaor and Mbazan Chila at Tombo, Mbalagh, Mbaiwan, Buruku Local Government Area of Benue State. His mother, Mbazan, was a daughter of Ijôv from Ipav district of Gboko local Government Area. Neeryum’s father Kaor Chila was an ex-service man and so could keep all his children’s dates of birth. They were altogether nine children from the same mother.
Unfortunately Neeryum lost all his siblings during his childhood. These serial deaths infuriated his maternal grandfather so much especially when the one following Neeryum became deadly ill. His grandfather swiftly brought him and his mother to Ipav under his custody, as a measure to prevent further mishap.
When his younger brother eventually died, his grandfather was said to be so enraged that he vowed that Tombo would not even have the grave of the deceased, so he was buried at Ipav, his mother’s place.
In that breath of respite, one epoch of Neeryum’s life was closed and another opened. His asylum in his mother’s place at Ipav did not just secure his life from the ruthless claws of death that killed his siblings, but also opened him up to something profoundly exciting. It turned out to be what would later print his name on the shores of time longer than he could have imagined.
Udoo Mbalagh is Neeryum’s nickname and it actually stemmed from his mother’s place. This name which became his brand in the entertainment industry means “the handsome of Mbalagh”. His mother’s people loved him so much that they called him “Andoon” which means the good one.
There are two possibilities to what might have informed the nickname. The first might be because of the love his mother’s people had for him and secondly, it might be because of he was a man who was good for the eyes.
When he started performing as a poet and a dancer, his friend and assistant or oryese-imo, Michael Wacihi, went for the second possibility and decided to change “Andoon” to “Udoo Mbalagh” – handsome man of Mbalagh. The name immediately received overwhelming acceptance within the circle of Neeryum’s friends and his ever increasing fans. In the breath of time, Udoo Mbalagh silently eclipsed the poet’s real name.
The excitement of bonfire evenings issuing from the centre of his maternal grandfather’s compound at Ipav helped forge within him the strength and vibes for entertainment. Safe in his mother’s place his gifts as a poet-dancer which recoiled inside of him suddenly broke loose. It found the opportunity and the right emotional atmosphere for expression.
Neeryum was always in a high state of happiness among children every evening. He started composing and entertaining his maternal grandfather’s large compound every evening with songs and different dance steps. Both children and adults within the immediate surroundings started joining such that it became an evening most people eagerly waited for with Neeryum at the centre of it all.
The poet, in an interview with Tahav Agerzua, stated that when it became clear to everyone at his mother’s place that he had a gift for composing songs and inspiring dance steps they put him through the Jiagba induction ceremony into the profession of composing. Therefore, composing of songs and initiation of dance steps became major strands of entertainment and character which were the most arresting and compelling qualities throughout Neeryum’s life.
With his feet firmly planted in the entertainment industry, Neeryum’s fame spread wide especially for composing and performing famous Swange songs and dance as well as the initiator of Ngighgnigh dance in Tivland. Although he did not have a band group at first, his dexterity made different dance groups to welcome him readily with open arms. Together with the different groups at different times and occasions they lit the clime of evenings of major towns and cities within Benue and beyond with assorted Tiv traditional music and dance.
His appealing performances kept cities and towns including Gboko, Makurdi, Lagos, Kano, Maiduguri and Kaduna awake as they were tastes of delight at different occasions and designated entertainment centers. His fame began to soar during the Nigerian Civil War. Soon Udoo Mbalagh became a famous name in the entertainment industry.
His contemporaries included Akile Bende, Hemen man Dondo, Abughdyer Yazum, Agugu Igbaakombo, Kuje Yum,Yamuel Yashi, Orshio Adakever, Atule Hom and Ajo Ugor.
Many oral poets in Tivland are known for particular voice styles. But this is the not the case with the legendary Udoo Mbalagh. It was difficult to place him permanently in a particular voice style. He would always spring a surprise at his audience with different voice styles at almost every performance. It was very easy for him to initiate a voice style for new songs and dance steps. He was a good composer, a great singer and a skilful dancer so his performances always attracted and compelled attention. Udoo Mbalagh could deftly sing any song and this made it easy for his assistants to sing along.
Throughout the span of his career as an oral poet and a dancer, he had different assistants at different times. Many of his assistants were either friends or his relations from his mother’s place and some at his father’s place. For instance, his first assistant was his friend Michael Wachihi from Tongov. When Wachihi left to his place, his relation from Ipav, Adura Aondo became his assistant. Then Orngu Kile from Tombo, Tsekohol Akura, Mbaabum Baver, Dagba Ger Adam, Akaangee Pemkaa Adagba and Tyotule Ger among many others served as his singing assistants at different times. The poet explained during his interview with Agerzua that some of his assistants relocated, others changed professions while some died.
Neeryum Kaor was hosted many times at imo mirin or song parties by different patrons within and outside Benue State. Prominent people like Dennis Dzeka, Mbakperan Aganyi, Ityotule Zege, Michael Anjembe, Mbaiorga Usaka and Julius Angera among others.
He was one of the first Tiv oral poets that exported Tiv oral performances out of Benue State to other cities like Lagos and Kaduna.
Although Neeryum Kaor Chila had no opportunity to access formal education beyond one or two years in primary school he exhibited profound philosophy in songs and spellbinding dance performance. Through this he could also fend for himself apart from the support from his subsistence and livestock farming. However, most times entertainment occupied his life completely and he kept moving from one place to another with his performances.
Due to his deft performance as a traditional artiste, Kaor got formal employment with the Benue State Art Council on 10th April, 2008 through the encouragement of his relation, Diana Ngungwa. The council afforded him the rare opportunity of mentoring upcoming artistes and performing at different festivals and events both within the state and outside.
Before his retirement in 2019, Udoo Mbalagh offered sustained professional services as composer and dance instructor with the Benue State Art Council.
In the interview mentioned above,, the legendary Udoo Mbalagh confessed that there were accrued benefits from his performances as a poet and dancer. According to him, he got married with money from his performance. The oral poet married many wives and is survived by two and many children and grand children. Apart from making numerous friends, he said that his performance also gave him the employment with the Arts Council.
Udoo Mbalagh transited to eternity on October 28, 2022.
His remains will be laid to rest today, 28th November, 2022, at his compound, Mbaiwan, Mbalagh, Tombo, in Buruku local government area of Benue State.