Nelly Uchendu: Last encounter with a lady of songs

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For the few minutes that the reporter surveilled her living room, it was discovered that many of the appliances and furniture belonged to the 80s and probably early 90s.

Hanging on the walls were a couple of old black and white photographs, some of which recorded Nelly Uchendu's past activities and achievements. A remarkable one was the bold photograph in which she received a warm handshake from the then head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo, during FESTAC 1977.

Uchendu actually performed during the historic festival and her song; Love Nwantintin earned her the best musician award.
Although the living room was not untidy, it depicted a somehow deserted home that had long received visitors. Clothes were scattered all over the place while the baby's bed was on one corner of the living room.

And for over two hours that the reporter spent with the musician, her television set was hooked on a single channel - a cartoon channel which her daughter of ten years loves to watch.
After the initial greetings, she later got up from her reclining position to adjust her wrapper which she wore quite casually. By now the baby she was carrying seemed to have fallen asleep so she placed him on his bed and paid her attention to her visitor. Strange enough, she was doing more of the asking while the reporter supplied relevant answers.

Uchendu's first concern was the corruption scam in the National Assembly. She demanded to know the key players and what fate awaited them, then she asked, "Do you think they will impeach Wabara?" Who are the contenders for the senate president should Wabara fall? Is Nnamani among those tipped for the job? Ah if he is, I pray he should emerge the new senate president because if he does, it will surely favour me, he is my man any day."

From the issue of corruption, the discussion moved on to politicians who are already jostling for 2007. Then she went on with a plethora of questions: "Is Babangida really interested in contesting for the presidency? What of the Ibos? Are there people among them who are gunning for the presidency? Do you think they stand any chance? What is happening to Jim Nwobodo? Where is he now?
Although the reporter kept supplying answers to these questions, it soon dawned on him that Uchendu had for long shut her doors to the world, such that meeting a journalist from Lagos became a great opportunity to find out what has been happening in the outside world.
One thing however struck the reporter about this golden voice of Africa: There was probably nothing special about her appearance. She looked pale, gradually aging and looking quite exhausted. Besides, the lady of songs seemed unhappy with the general state of things.

Meanwhile, the reporter wondered about the baby in Uchedu's hands. Could the baby be hers? Has she just given birth or she adopted him? There was no hint on this and the reporter did not probe further. "Have you seen Onyeka Onwenu, my friend? Uchendu flashed another question to which the reporter responded that Onyeka was in Enugu around the same period to shoot a movie.
Then Uchendu paused for a while as if trying to digest the information. Then she went on "It seems she (Onyeka) is taking this acting business very serious…so Onyeka was in Enugu and she did not bother to look for me? Do you know that Onyeka and myself are very close, tell me is this movie business really that lucrative?"
At this point, the reporter commenced the interview in ernest for fear of losing the vital information he needed from Uchendu:

Exit from active music
I cannot say that I quit music, I only took things easy, I am still musically active here in Enugu only that I pick the events I play for. I don't jump into playing just for anybody, I make my choices. I intend to re-launch my musical career very soon. I hope to use my friend's birthday party on May 17 to re-launch my band as well as my music. It is going to be a big event because many serving politicians will come and I pray that Senator Nnamani becomes the new senate president because I am sure he will surely be there.

New musical instruments
I have just acquired musical instruments from abroad. They are all neatly sealed and packaged in various sizes. This is to show how serious I am about my return to the industry. All these are brand new instruments that just arrived from overseas, so on May 17, they shall all be played. In fact, earlier today, I used some of them during my rehearsals with some of my band members.

The Globacom deal
You know I have just recorded a commercial for Globacom. I don't know why they have not started using it, maybe they want to launch it in a big way, in short, the Globacom people did a great work on me during the shooting. I was really impressed, they treated me like a queen and some of the pictures we took were just fantastic. How I wish I have got my own copies now I would have given them to you. I guess you may need to wait until I get the pictures because I don't have any new photographs in this house presently and I would not like people to be given the wrong impression if they see old photographs.

Please don't publish yet
Let us take what we have discussed so far as mind rubbing, I want you to come back to Enugu on May 17. By then I will be fully ready for a more detailed interview if possible when you get to Lagos draw up a kind of questionnaire for me to answer and send it through the mail before May 17 so that I can provide some of the answers before you come.
Let me assure you that I will be playing for a big woman here in Enugu and all the movers and shakers of society are likely to be there.
My husband too will also be in town that period, I believe you would like to speak to him as well. Just tell your editor that you met me and I have assured you of an exclusive interview by May 17, at least you have seen the newly acquired instruments. A new Nelly is going to be unveiled on May 17.

When you get back to Lagos please help me look for Benson Idonije (A veteran broadcaster and journalist) and thank him very well for me. He has been very supportive you know. I came to Lagos to perform at the Goethe Institut sometime in 2000. He was instrumental to that deal and he has written one or two stories on me.
I hope you are not here to search for sensation, because that is one thing I don't like about the current generation of journalists. I remember some years ago, one journalist from one of those soft sell magazines came here and I just got too informal talking and talking with the understanding that he was not recording me but to my shock he went back and left the serious issues we discussed and published the ones meant to be off record. I hope you are not one of such kind of journalists, anyway I think I have been reading the entertainment pages in Daily Sun and I have not seen such, that is why I want to pay you back for the troubles of coming here with an exclusive that your newspaper will not regret publishing..

Long search for Nelly Uchendu
There was another photograph on the wall in which Nelly Uchendu was receiving a national award (MON) from former civilian president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari,. The honour was in recognition of many of her scintillating songs such as Love Nwantinti, Late Night Husband, Mama Hausa and Nigeria Amaka. Uchendu has equally played alongside such veterans like Bobby Benson, Bala Miller, Sam Akpabot, Sonny Oti, the Oriental Brothers and a host of others.
On March 27, I left Lagos for Abakaliki in search of Pete Edochie, the popular actor whose in-law Lt-Commander Martins Aligwe was wedding, I resolved that after meeting Edochie, I would move to Enugu to hunt for Nelly Uchendu. On arrival at Enugu, my hands got filled up with people to interview among whom was the former Governor of old Anambra State; Chief C.C. Onoh.