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Theresa Onuorah – ‘Ijele Elubego’ Egedege music teaches about rights, freedom and tolerance

Queen Theresa Onuorah performing Ijele Elubego at an event in Aguata local government area, Anambra State.

Today, I went searching on YouTube for an old song by the legendary Queen Theresa Onuorah, who popularised the Egedege music and dance, one might even call her the pioneer of the music, which seems to have originated from her hometown Unubi in Anambra State, Nigeria. Theresa refers to her dance troupe formally as Egedege of Unubi but colloquially as Egedege of Africa. Ironically, Egedege is not widely known outside South-East Nigeria, much less Africa. But I guess, Queen Theresa Onuorah was making it explicit that her music is rooted in African ideology and tradition.

Egedege music and dance

The Egedege music is distinctly cultural, one might even say folklore-like. But it is also exuberant, high-tempo and very danceable. Theresa Onuorah, their queen, leads the Egedede of Africa dance troupe. The Egedege music is a combination of dance, songs, instrumentation acrobatics and colourful traditional dancing costumes. The music is usually introduced by an elaborate and expertly rendered fluting, which is a treat on its own. The fluting serves as a cue for the dance group, led by the queen, to come onto the stage.

Egedege songs are rendered in the Igbo language, which may have contributed to the music’s limited spread beyond the South-East shores. The music was popular during the 1980s and 90s, with its popularity declining thereafter, in part perhaps, because the music is associated with Queen Theresa Onuorah and it has been difficult for others to actually replicate her magical voice and her group’s expertly choreographed dances. Others, to varying degrees, achieved some measure of success with their brand of Egedege. I think Egedege Umuoji group has the most success among these. However, for many lovers of Egedege, if it is not Queen Theresa Onuorah and her Egedege Unubi dance troupe, it is not an original Egedege. Unfortunately, this kind of mindset has done more harm than good, stumping the development of the subgenre. One might, in fact, say that such an attitude effectively led to the slow and almost demise of Egedege.

Recommended: Traditional marriage in Igboland: The original cultural way

As of today, if you were to call Egedege relics from the past, you would not be entirely wrong. That is because you will be hard-pressed to find anyone younger than 20 years old who knows about the music. I am not even sure if Theresa sometimes still performs when called upon but she definitely has not been making any new music for a long time. Her old ones, for those who knew about them or stumbled upon them, remain true gems. For people not of Igbo extraction, understanding the lyrics will be challenging but the sound is pure and that they can enjoy. It is also worthy to note that some contemporary musicians seem to sample the music in their own music.

Theresa Onuorah: Ijele Elubego Egedege song

So today, I find myself thinking about one of Theresa Onuorah’s Egedege songs titled “Ijele Elubego”. Ijele is a type of dance. So the title of the song simply means that it is about time for this dance called Ijele. In the song, Theresa asks: “Ijele Elubego, mu na onye ga-agba egwu?” Which means, “it is about time for Ijele, who will dance with me?” So, in the song, Theresa invites friends and well-wishers to join her in the dance.

In the later part of the song, Theresa Onuorah sings about peace and unity because “Ife di nma na o na a di anyi nma. (What is good is desirable for us.)

Theresa Onuorah’s songs are full of these kinds of wise words and reminders to her listeners of what is good and what is not. One of the lyrics of Ijele Elubego that have stuck in my mind over the years is where she sings about freedom and the right to choose. She sings, “Omenala ndi diri ndi, ka  nke anyi were diri, omenala anyi diri anyi. (Let other people’s culture be for them, that ours may be for us, let our culture be for us.)” Here, Queen Theresa Onuorah is asking us to accept cultural differences in order to preserve our various cultures. But Theresa’s meaning goes beyond cultural acceptance. There is also a subtle precept, which urges us to recognise the value in other cultures. No one culture is superior or inferior to another, even if the cultures are different. In other words, acceptance is not enough hence “let our culture be for us,” because there is value in it.

Theresa was appealing to our conscience and her reasoning makes common sense, any right-thinking person can see that. The logic is elegant in its simplicity. It is also one most people can easily relate to and one that provides an anchor in the manner that we relate with and to each other. Her appeal is encapsulated by one word – tolerance. But within that tolerance, is the implicit recognition of the value of other cultures! And if we see and accept that, we will see that tolerance is a good foundation for peace, co-existing and the preservation of rights and justice. I will discuss these in greater detail in the next section.

Tolerance is fundamental to preserving rights, freedom, justice

Queen Theresa Onuorah’s words provide a perfect argument for advancing tolerance, a perfect argument for the preservation of rights, freedom and justice. These lyrics tell me that if I want the right to be, I must accept that other people must have the same right because to deny them threatens my own right to be.

If I desire the freedom to choose, then others must have the same right, otherwise, my own freedom will be in jeopardy.

If I demand the right to be treated fairly, then I must accord the same right to other people, otherwise, my own right to be treated fairly will be taken away from me.

Queen Theresa Onuorah Performs Ijele Elubego Mu na Onye Ga-agba Egwu in Aguata LGA, Anambra State (November, 2022)

Theresa’s words tell me that if for no other reason but for selfish ones, I must be prepared to cede to others as much right, freedom, justice that I want. I must tolerate other people’s differences because being different does not equate to being bad. Anything contrary is to invite trouble, discord, divisiveness and ultimately perhaps a total breakdown of our systemic social structures and civil order. This is because human beings are very sensitive to a sense of fairness (or lack of). A perceived injustice or unfairness would eventually trigger revolt. History is replete with ample examples. Ask the czars of Russia or the aristocrats of France. Actually, you cannot because they paid with their blood. So, in simple words, Theresa Onuorah reminds listeners of “Ijele Elubego” that tolerance and treating others with fairness is central for a harmonious society.


So, I was thinking about those words. And I totally get the philosophy they advance. It is one that I buy into. It is also one that most decent people will buy into. The only way to true freedom, rights and justice is to give the same to others. To do otherwise is to invite anarchy. To do otherwise may work, but only temporarily, after which the system will right itself – perhaps in ways that are untenable but necessary. It is an existential dynamic and common sense dictates it. It is encoded in the golden rule, “Do unto others as you want them to do unto you.” We Igbos also have an idiom for it, as I am sure other people and cultures do. “E mee nwata ka e mere ibe ya, obi a di ya nma (When you treat a child as you treat others, their heart is happy)“. That, dear reader, is the ultimate guide for interacting with everyone.

So, I have mulled and probably rambled my way over the subject of rights and freedom, of acceptance and justice, of tolerance and seeing values in other people, as reminded us by Queen Theresa Onuorah of the famous Egedege Unubi, Africa. I hope I made some sense. I would like to read your thoughts as well.

Thank you for reading and I hope you will visit the blog again. You may bookmark it for easier access. You can also share the article with your friends. Also, check out my older articles for something that might be of interest to you.

1 Comment

  • Chidi
    16 November 2022 at 9:05 am

    Great Article. Love Queen Theresa.


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