Maurice gives us an insight into the musical and cultural importance of his Keepsake, a soprano Ekwe.
The instrument is called an Ekwe which translates as Herald and is both a musical instrument and a communication tool. While most people associate Africans with the drums it is not widely known that some tribes like the Igbo actually play woods.
An Ekwe is made from a tree trunk and this one is the soprano.There are other sizes going up to the one that is about eight feet tall, and sits in the chief’s house and is used to summon the kingdom to his palace for his address. That particular one is so loud that the vibrations travel along the ground and can be felt up to five miles away. It is also used to herald the coming of the dead when we celebrate our ancestors. Our name for the devil is Ekwe nsu meaning the herald of evil. It is intrinsic to the Igbo identity and has been overlooked by most outsiders because they don’t know the significance.
The sounds of the Ekwe has the ability to take me back to Igbo land in Nigeria as it remains our most important musical and cultural instrument. Nowadays it can be mostly found in churches where they will use lots of them of different sizes and form a beautiful percussion section.
This instrument cannot be found even in the other tribes of Nigeria. It is part of what it is to be Igbo, it is my heritage but it will become very popular as soon as western musicians discover the potential of this wonderful instrument.