The Oja is a traditional Igbo land musical instrument that’s been around for generations. The two main types of wood used are light softwoods like maple and bamboo.
It is important to note that the flute on the wooden Oja is carved at the bottom, whereas the flute on the bamboo Oja is engraved on the side. Of the two types, only the wooden one has survived the changing times. The Igbo culture and social life had a role in its survival.
The characteristic of Oja is the high-pitched sound that the different types produce. This is because this family of instruments is small in size. The size of an Oja determines its pitch and the quality of the sound determines the instrument’s function:
· The flutes with the highest pitch are either called O??-M????? (flutes used for masquerade music) or Oj?-O??????? (flutes used for ceremonies of men who have attained manhood). Because of their powerful sounds, both flutes have bright tones and are used more for chanting than singing. They are also the smallest type of flutes. The difference between the two styles is that chanting is an extended form of speaking, while singing is purely musical.
· Oja-Igede is the name of the lowest-pitched flutes. It’s a piece of drum music used in funeral rites, and it’s called Oja-Igede because when the male Oja calls the female Oja responds to it.
· The Oja whose sound is midway between the highest and lowest pitches is known as Oja-Ukwe (the singing flute). This sound is utilized for all sorts of female dances.
Uses of Oja in Igbo land: As an instrument, it is fundamentally employed for performance-composition of melodies, as well as simulation of texts in music and dance performance situations. It provides lyrical melodies that contribute immensely to the overall timbre and aesthetics of Igbo music.
In some musical performances, the instrument is used in communicating non-verbally with the band members and to communicate with the audience. This could be in the form of cues, musical signals or mere encouragement of dancers and players to more creative performance.
As a master instrument, it is sometimes used to direct an event or define its shape. In certain masquerade performances, such as Ojionu, this is usually the case.
However, it performs both musical and non-musical roles in Igbo land. Its uses extend beyond the musical. It is used in non-musical events and is often used as a talking instrument. As such it encodes significant messages within non-musical contexts. In such instances, it conveys relevant messages to cognitive members or initiates in a ceremony.
It is, particularly, used for salutations and praise on these occasions. The musical instrument is of Igbo origin and has a wide range of uses and varieties among the Igbos. Due to pre-colonial cultural appropriation, a variant of it is also found among neighboring communities.