Joseph Chijindu Agu, known to neighbors as Joe, walks around his Santa Clara neighborhood on crisp mornings, sometimes sunny afternoons, getting in his steps. Seeing him, you would never imagine his harrowing history. You would never imagine him as a 12-year-old Bantu boy using his wits and wiles to help his family survive the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War from 1967 – 1970.
Now, decades after that war, Agu—a musician and instrument maker—has written and, in 2023, published two nonfiction books. One is a true story about surviving civil war and the other about African music. He recorded these stories for posterity. And in the hope of influencing the future.
“Surviving Biafra War 1967 – 1970, 2 Million Died and I Survived” recounts the tragic consequences of British colonialism in Nigeria and how Agu and his family survived civil war. It is a coming-of-age story of a boy who experiences the atrocities of civil war, comes alone to America, thrives through hard work, and, with gratitude, contributes to his new homeland.
“The book is about social issues and the effects of colonialism, the effects of foreign powers imposing themselves on countries to exploit resources,” said Agu. “I experienced it, and it’s ongoing today in the world.
“I feel relieved that the book is done,” he said.
He has been writing “bits and pieces” about his life for more than 20 years. About four years ago, he finally had time to start collating the pieces.
Driven by a passion for African music, Agu also wrote “Stolen Music, The Expropriation of African Music.” He wrote of the theft of African music by an American music industry powered by and enriching those of European ancestry.
Africans on slave ships to the Americas brought their music with them. Yet, even over time, they did not have the position or power to benefit financially from their music, which is the root of popular music.
“When people see the title of the book,” said Agu, “Boom! They get defensive. But it’s the truth. I write the truth. Don’t you want to know the truth?
“I wrote ‘Stolen Music’ for people who are seeking knowledge,” continued Agu. “For young people to know and understand where pop music came from—and not just Taylor Swift.”
Agu hopes that the ancient African musicians and their descendants will be recognized and respected for their contributions to popular music. And that today’s musicians of African descent will have a seat at the table going forward.
“Even today, nobody gives the ancient Africans credit for the music culture they gave to the world. That is why I dedicate ‘Stolen Music’ to them,” he said.
“Writing takes hard work and commitment. I’ve written about things that haven’t been documented,” said Agu, a self-taught musicologist and the founder of Rhythms-Exotic Afro Percussion LLC, which makes and sells ceramic drums called Udu.
“I succeed today because I am prepared by my past experiences, prepared to survive, prepared to continue to make the world better,” said Agu.