October 2023 | Interview with Onye Onyemaechi, Master Drummer, Healer, and Community Builder – Part I
We open our eighth year of Earth-Love Newsletter with an Interview with Onye Onyemaechi, Master Drummer, Healer, and Community Builder
People haven’t realized what are the causes and effects of our situation. I can’t be in a place of judgment because I don’t know people’s convictions. Therefore, I respond where they are and deliver what I see as important in a positive way that can influence their life majestically.
I first met Onye Onyemaechi a year and a half ago at a healing community event in response to the Buffalo and Uvalde shooting tragedies. Onye’s spirit struck me as he encouraged people to dance on the grass during this poetry & music event. The following April, Onye led his 7-piece band, Onye and the Messengers, in a poetry & music event at our local community center. The band’s music filled the space with incredible, danceable energy. A musician friend who participated in one of Onye’s Village Rhythms workshops spoke highly of it. At our interview, I discovered that Onye had written a book, The Drum: Voice of the Village, and that he takes his drums and workshops into schools, libraries, and corporations to build community. Onye brings the joy and soul of African culture, music, and Village life to venues worldwide!
This interview focuses on Onye’s healing gifts and work. Until Onye shared these stories, I had seen him only as a very fine musician. You can hear him and his band playing “One Tribe” outside the town of Bodega at this link: onyeandthemessengers.com/music-video
I came to Oakland, California, in 1989 and lived in Bolinas for two years before arriving in Sonoma County.
I was born in Lagos, Nigeria, the eldest child. My grandmother wanted me to learn southern Nigeria’s Igbo language and culture. I moved to her village when I was around three years old and lived there until I was a young teenager. I was sent to boarding school for high school to receive a British education. Most Igbos who moved abroad went to England. My father worked as a manager for the Nigerian Tobacco Company and was highly educated. He had three brothers and nine children.
Back in the village, drumming, music, and dance always existed. It’s integral to our spiritual traditions where we coexist as village people! It was more fun to gather as families and communities to celebrate life cycles such as birth, naming, rites of passage, marriage, dying, and funeral ceremonies, including seasonal changes. We were engaged in traditional customs and daily rituals of activities and events integral to village life. We honor and appreciate our elders because they impart knowledge to the next generation. The elders provided invaluable life lessons, sparked pearls of wisdom, and uplifted young people’s spirits, strengthening the desire and inspiration to overcome challenges and succeed in a new world.
Some core values are respect, tolerance, kindness, acceptance, truth-telling, loving one another, embracing forgiveness, and seeking peace and joy. I aim to enact the elders’ wisdom and design an Interactive school assembly program to share in schools, libraries, organizations, and businesses worldwide.
My grandfather had nine wives. He kept both Christian and ancestry practices. Igbos are considered the Jews of Nigeria, descended from the tribe of Jesse. Education, family, and religious beliefs are vital to them.
In 1970, after the Biafran War ended, I finished boarding school and had the opportunity to go to London or the USA. I chose America. A generation was tremendously affected by the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70), and it gave me a different perspective on how to look at life. Five of us left for Boston. My qualifications had not been sorted out, so I had to go through four years of high school again. I accumulated knowledge. I then went to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts to study Fine Arts.
I was interested in Pre-Med because I loved science. I was surprised when I switched to art. I wanted to understand how Native African art could be integrated with the European understanding of both cultures.
I graduated in 1979 and went to the Boston College School of Management for an MBA. My father died, and I had to take a leave of absence before graduating so I could return to Nigeria. Companies had already hired me.
Before I arrived in Nigeria, my father’s spirit appeared to me and told me everything that had happened to him. The night I arrived at 2 a.m., my passport was taken from me at the airport, and the village was two hours away. A man asked me, “Son, where are you going?” I answered, “It’s dark now, but I’m going to this village.” “Come,” he said, “I have a car. I’ll take you there.” I got to the village, and the man and the car disappeared. That could only have been an angel.
Of the five of us who came to the States, my late brother Chichi was killed in LA at age 26. He intervened in a 7-Eleven store robbery to break up a fight, and was beaten to death with baseball bats and knives. He was an adorable man. His body was sent back to Nigeria.
My father’s brothers tried to block my path, but there was too much light. I wouldn’t wish them evil or harm in any way. The inner light I was given was stronger than revenge. Love comes with light. The divine light is precious and conducive to bringing peace and love to humanity. If you have a positive attitude why would evil people affect you?
I’m a child of God, so the Holy Spirit protects us and guides us against evil forces—even those who killed my father and brother. My mother taught us to love them more. Why seek revenge?
As early as the Biafran war, as a young teenager, I was helping to look after my family. How much more can we do today except do what we love to bring societal peace and healing?
The world isn’t awakened yet. We are still lost on Original Sin, live imperfectly, and have chosen a path of destruction instead of building healthy, positive, transformative societies. We’re crying for change. People haven’t realized the causes and effects of our contemporary issues. I can’t be in a place of judgment because I don’t know people’s convictions. Therefore, I respond where they are and deliver what I see as important a positive way that can influence their life majestically.
I use music as a healing that energizes the body, mind, and spirit. I respond when someone asks for physical, emotional, or spiritual healing. For example, I have a friend, a very talented young man, who wasn’t getting results in his life. I made some suggestions for him to be successful in life. Yesterday, he sent me a message, “I got an important job.” When you trust in God, you will be successful because your work is to help humanity. I wish that for anybody who comes my way.
I will do my best to advance them in their path. I give glory to God for their successes and accomplishments in life. It’s between them and their God. It has nothing to do with me.
According to my mother, I had this ability before entering this world. Since I was a child, I have experienced phenomena in different forms and witnessed the miracles of Jesus Christ’s healing in people’s lives. I give Almighty God the Glory!
Throughout my life, I have counseled and administered healing through supernatural means to help individuals with some problems that Western medicine couldn’t solve. One woman had an intense boil. I just put my hand on it, and the boil dissolved. I met people with different conditions, migraines, etc. I didn’t know how it was working, but I trusted the power of the Holy Spirit.
There’s much I see that I don’t talk about. When I’m playing with the band, I see a lot. It’s a divine magnetic field that you enter where things work instantly without knowing how. Through the grace of God, things can manifest, multiply, and get results. People must choose good against evil and seek goodwill for humanity.
A long time ago, I played the drum in a North Carolina conference to many different denominations who had come together for prayers. While playing, I noticed a woman with a spinal curvature. I came close to her, and her spine straightened.
Even while playing in the band, the collective sound of the musician ignites joy, and the power of the rhythms can give the audience a sense of relief and a stress-free environment. I may be a conduit. I can’t take praise for something I don’t understand. I have no idea. But I know the power of God is immaculate and present in prayer in action, rhythms in action, and healing in action.
When autumn came along, I used to feel a certain sadness.
Perhaps because I’m a child of summer, Earth’s forces
of slow withdrawal were painful.
Now each day I pick some fruits from the garden:
beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini. Such abundance.
More apples than I can handle–I put out a box “for free.”
And the pink lilies that so dazzled and chained me
with their scent—pregnant with seed. The African lilies, too.
One last sunset-petaled flower remains on the dahlia bush.
All the other heads and bodies have imploded, bearing their secrets.
Tiny, pale yellow flowers shaped like birds each hold a seed
in their wings. Let me fly, too, with my cargo, to find fertile ground.
I welcome the darkening days as I’ve loved the long, springing evenings.
What appears to be dead, like the bare buckeye in early October, lives—
the shiny nut’s outer skin loosely wrapping all four seasons.
A bright orange-winged tarantula wasp and a tarantula spider grapple
by the roadside. The wasp flips the spider over and injects its poison,
then drags this huge spider, legs still kicking, before setting off
to find a home for its prey. Life and death—nourishing each other.
With less drama, the oaks shed their acorns—elaborate sculpted cups
of emptiness, their fruit already freed to feed the animals and us
without distinction. Ah, autumn, come at your own pace.
I am bound gladly by your rhythms.
From The Dreams We Share