January 19, 2022

Professor Laz Ekwueme – Pioneer Professor of Music and Traditional Ruler in Nigeria

Igwe professor Lazarus Nnanyelu Ekwueme, also known as Laz Ekwueme, is a Nigerian scholar as well as well-known musicologist, composer, and actor, born on January 28th, 1936 in Oko, a small village in Anambra state in the south eastern part of Nigeria where he is also traditional ruler of Oko town kingdom in the same state.


He completed his primary education in his locality, Oko. He attended Government College Umuahia and obtained his first school leaving certificate and his West African senior school certificate respectively.

He moved to London where he furthered his education at the Royal College of Music where he majored in composition and was under the direction of Gordon Jacob. He earned a total of 10 diplomas in music, speech and drama, and he also obtained a bachelor’s degree from the University of Durham in London.

In 1962, he obtained the professional teaching diploma, licensure of the Guildhall School of Music.

Laz is a highly prolific choral composer:

  • Miss Africana
  • A Night in Bethlehem (1963)
  • Piano Concerts in Re (1962)
  • Hombe (Kenya folk song) (1968)
  • Beware (Negro spiritual)
  • Elimeli (1979)
  • Obi Dimkpa (1980).

He also authored three books and several articles.


He embraced the theatre while in Britain, between 1960-1964, participating as an actor in African films which were produced by the African service of the British Broadcasting Corporation. He left Britain and returned to Nigeria in 1964. His return was accompanied by employment as a lecturer in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in Enugu state.

He organized the University of Nigeria Choral Society, a group of local and foreign students who performed regularly in Nsukka. As a lecturer of musicology at Nsukka, he was an important member in the creation of Nigerian’s pioneer music department which was the first to award a music degree in the country.


In 1966, Prof. Laz Ekwueme later went to the University of Yale to get a post graduate degree in Music Theory. While in the United States, he also taught in some colleges prior to returning to his fatherland.

He joined Nollywood in the early 1900s and rose to stardom after featuring in a Nollywood blockbuster movie ‘Igodo’. Lazarus Nnanyelu Ekwueme has acted in over 100 Nollywood movies. He has bagged numerous movie awards which include Prominent Actor in Nigeria at Africa Movie Academy Awards while also earning Best Actor in Nigeria at the African Magic Viewer’s Choice Awards.

However, he is retired from acting and now the traditional ruler of his town. He is blessed with children from his marriage.

This article was written by BEH contributor Emmanuel Chike Nnama of Lagos, Nigeria.