Choral band performing
By Vanessa Obioha
Nigerian music has fallen from grace to grass. Its rich traditional flavours have been eroded by the invasion of western-oriented music and the ravages of digital technology.
Gabriel Oyeniyi, who heads the Music Department at Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education in Ijanikin Lagos, shared his deep thoughts on the sad story of the contemporary Nigerian music scene.
“Music is not all about the sound,” he argued. “It must be agreeable to the ears and the heart as well. We have different genres of music which appeals to different kinds of people. But our country is known for its traditional lore such as the use of ‘Apala’ (native drum) in making music. The artistes of today are trying but they are not really portraying the Africa tradition.”
He harped on the importance of the content. According to him, music should always have a message for its audience. He recalled how artistes in the 60s used their music to inculcate moral values in the society. “Back in those days, we had different musicians like Haruna Ishola who taught us morals through their music. Some would teach you how to behave in public while some would teach you the virtues you needed to have in your matrimonial home. Some would tell you to shun immorality and corruption. Music is meant for the emancipation of the people, to free the people from oppression, to teach morals, to help the society grow.”
Today’s music, according to Oyeniyi, really offers no message to its audience. “The type of music we listen to today shows the kind of things we do. When all people sing about is corruption, then it shows the level of corruption we have in our society. Like DJ Zeez’s ‘Fokasibe’, what’s the message in that music? And this is the kind of song our kids are listening to. What message are our artistes passing to the society? They need to work on their lyrics. They need to have a focus, what kind of message do they pass to the society? Some of them preach intimacy and it’s getting too embarrassing. We have other issues that need to be attended to. There is joblessness, corruption, poor infrastructure, among others. But you see, some of them have dined with these politicians, thus they can’t express themselves the way they ought to.
“That was why Fela was so unique. He never asked for money and would never play for any politician. Fela was one radical musician who really had the interest of the society at heart. But these ones have dined with these political kings so they can’t criticise the government. Only few still have that courage to express their mind, like Femi Kuti and his younger brother, Seun who who have cotinued their father’s legacy of crticism through music, Lagbaja, and Idris Abdulkareem, when he came out with his hit single ‘Nigeria Jaga Jaga’, people criticised him. But he knew what he was saying. What he meant was that the nation was not led properly.”
Artistes, in his opinion, should play advocacy roles by drawing government’s attention to the poor state of the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, for instance. He urged them to emulate Fela by addressing some of the issues currently faced by the nation.
Oyeniyi frowned at the western input into Nigerian music. Music, according to him, should always express the culture of the society. “What we have as music here may not be music in other societies,” he argued. “As a diverse ethnic country, we are gradually losing our traditional appeal in our music. Each ethnic group in Nigeria has a peculiar music but we don’t see them on TV or hear them on the airwaves. What is happening to these traditional music artistes? Why are we not promoting them?”
Most of his music students, he asserted stumbled upon music but the interest and desire later awakened. He however identified the true music lovers among them who have distinguished themselves. One of them, Paul Ogunboye, is currently a lecturer in music in one of the universities in the US.
Musicians, he continued, must familiarise themselves with the music-making process.
“There are different facets of music but the best thing for a musician is to learn how to play one instrument or the other so that he can demonstrate.”
To bring traditional music genres back into reckoning, Oyeniyi suggested the introduction of music into the national curriculum from primary level to the tertiary level. “Our children should be taught music in the schools. Not just Western music but also the real traditional Nigerian music. If you go to some of our institutions, they are combining music with fine arts or another subject. This ought not to be so. Music should be a sole subject on its own because there is no culture without music. If you want to empower the youth, it is through music. Music like sports will help to occupy our kids.”
To achieve this, traditional instrumentalists should be employed in schools to teach the children how to play musical instruments. However, he said, a project like that could entail some financial constraints.
Oyeniyi, who plays the piano, guitar and African drums, graduated from the University of Ife where he studied music and has taught in prestigious institutions in the country. The HOD also leads the choral band of the institution where music students learn to sing in choral forms and also learn to sing pre-arranged music. The band has participated in various competitions and emerged winner at a choral presentation in the National Arts Competition in 1995. It has also recently been invited to perform at such events as the Lagos State Government Scholarship Awards and performs at Whispering Palms Resort in Badagry every Easter.