Christy Essien-Igbokwe was born on 11th November 1960 in Akwa Ibom state, Nigeria. She lost her mother at the age of 12 and lived with her mother’s friend who encouraged her singing capabilities by buying her a cassette player to record her songs.
She began her musical career in Secondary School, singing at various clubs in Aba, Abia State such as Uka Onu’s Club and Unikoko.
She played the role of Apeno, the wife of the cantankerous character Jegede Shokoya in the sensational Nigerian TV comedy ‘‘The New Masquerade’’. The role shot the young Christy to stardom as an actress. She later featured in two Nollywood movies “Flesh and Blood” and “Sacred of Womanhood’’ in the early days of Nollywood.
Nevertheless, it was in music that Christy Essien made her mark internationally. She began her music career in NTA Aba on a programme called ‘‘Now Sound’’. She released her debut album (Freedom) in 1976 at the age of 16.
She worked very hard and followed up with other albums; ‘‘Patience’’ and ‘‘Time Waits for No One’’ were both released in 1978. She released ‘‘One Understanding’’ in 1979 and ‘‘Give Me A Chance’’ followed in 1980.
By and large, her 1981 hit album, ‘‘Ever Liked My Person’’ remains her best LP till date. This album was released under London-based label, EMI International Records, which was more inclined towards promoting Nigerian pop music in Europe and America, ‘‘Ever Liked My Person’’ featured production from one of Nigeria’s top producers, Lemmy Jackson, who was touted as Nigeria’s Quincy Jones. This album sold above platinum till date and so popular was one of its hit tracks ‘‘Omo Mi Seun Rere’’ that a number of African countries have sang their own version.
Christy was reputed for composing and performing what would later be known as Akwa-Ibom state’s anthem of sorts, “Akwa-Ibom Mmi (My Akwa-Ibom)” in 1987, its year of creation.
During her music career that spanned four decades, she won several awards including International Special Achievement Award Mexico (1983), Africa Music Mother Award (1984), World Song Festival Award, Association of Theatre Arts Practitioners Lagos (1996), and National Honours Award (MFR) in 2002.
In the home front she was never found wanting. She got married to Edwin Igbokwe from Awka (Anambra State) in 1979 at age 19, a marriage blessed with four sons.
Politically, Christy Essien was very active; she was the first female president of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN), an organisation she helped found in 1982.
Christy Essien-Igbokwe died on Thursday 30th June 2011 at a Lagos hospital after a brief illness. Though she is dead her spirit will continue to live in the hearts of music lovers and her fans.
Emeka E. Okeke