Behold, Nigeria’s First Drums Festival

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With the Nigeria Drums Festival, Ogun State has initiated a landmark in the annals of Nigerian tourism and culture calendar. From the world’s tallest drum to the 80 year old agile drummer, Nigeria cultural heritage was more trending worldwide.  The 4-day African Drums Festival, as it would be known henceforth, is expected to be the destination for African drummers displaying their talent in drumming.  Omolola Itayemi  writes

The opening ceremony witnessed electrifying performances with some of the best examples of drum bands in Nigeria. It also saw the unveiling of what was declared the world’s tallest drum which stands 16m from the ground. Apart from the colour and the fanfare that characterised the opening ceremony, our rich cultural heritage was the cynosure of all eyes from far and wide.

Ogun State came to standstill as all roads led to June 12 Cultural Centre, with the convoy of dignitaries to the throng of both indigenes and visitors, showing the importance of Yoruba heritage and culture in Nigeria.

This well-packaged event had dignitaries like The Ooni of Ife, His Imperial Majesty, Oba Adeyeye Eniitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, who came with many African Ambassadors to this event. Most of the African Ambassadors were there today because of tourism. Also in attendance were the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo and  Oba Dapo Tejuosho.

The event held at June 12 Cultural Centre, Abeokuta was organised by the state government as a way of promoting the country’s culture through its rich drumming heritage. No fewer than Drummers from 10 African countries and 19 states of the federation participated.

If there was one thing this festival achieved, it’s the unifying factor of the Monarchs in Yoruba land. Also the fact that there were as much female drummers as male, all the performances at the opening ceremony featured female performers whose dexterity on the drums equaled that of any male drummer. The state troupe, described as Amosu singers opened with the performance of the national anthem, an ensembly of talking drums. The troupe also performed the state’s anthem Ise ya featuring ladies on the drums.

The first performance after the opening prayer was by Aanu, a female Ekwe player, who led a band of male and female drummers to get the audience singing to the rhythms of her ekwe, a wooden percussion with origins from eastern Nigeria.

Unique Fingers band featuring about 10 females out of the total 40 drummers on stage, showed that women can play any drums just like men.

Even the NYSC drama group that performed last featured female drummers. One of the highpoints of the opening ceremony on Tuesday was when Aralola played the cover of Olamide’s Eleda mi o on the talking drum, accompanied with a xylophone. The audience became ecstatic, singing along. From the response of the audience, it was obvious that if the late, thespian, Hubert Ogunde was alive, his records may still get to the music chart. When the band of the late thespian, led by one of his protégé came to the stage at the opening ceremony, the reception was surprisingly warm. People, including the state governors and the monarchs sang along.

On the second day of the Drums Festival, an 84-year-old woman dazzled the audience with her sleek moves. The woman, identified as an Iyalaje, was on her feet throughout the period when a cultural group, Oluweri dancing group, were on stage for their performance, and could not help but move to the nice rhythms from the drummers and the singers.

Her dexterity and rhythmic movements were applauded by the teeming fans who thronged the June 12 Cultural Centre, The compere of the event would later bring her on stage and introduced her as an 84-year-old woman whose strength, many youths cannot match, especially with her moves.

The next day after the opening, performances continued and even heightened, with many drummers arriving. Those who performed included, Kegites, a famous campus entertainment group, which entertained the audience.

They carried the audience along in their sonorous songs and drumbeats.

Also, Ogun State Dance Troupe, Ogodo Egba, Zealous Singers also performed to the admiration of the audience. The centre of attraction was the performance of a seven-year-old Yoruba rapper, T-rapper. He received a loud applause from the audience. Another attraction was the performance of the local drummers known as ‘Bata Drummers’ led by a 84-year-old, Iya Osa, whose dancing steps were delight to watch even at her advanced age.

The climax of the festival was when the very excited governor Ibikunle Amosun unveiled the highest African drum, 16 feet tall with dignitaries on the stage, at the well-attended occasion. According to him, the world tallest drum which was made by an indigene of the state with 16 feet high was in correlation with Yoruba history. Amosun assured that the name of the festival, which he said would now be held yearly, would be known as ‘African Drums Festival.’

According to Ooni of Ife, “There is a wind of change blowing around the country. Nigeria came into being in 1914 and governance has been in existence through the kingship system of government for centuries. Our culture and heritage are strong, binding forces for our unity. We should not forget our source and heritage and I strongly believe that what we are doing here today will dovetail into other states and even other African countries.

“Drums are very important and very common musical instruments in Africa and we should not joke with them; we should continue to work for the unity of Yoruba nation, Nigeria and the continent of Africa. Today, we are very proud that we are rejuvenating our dead culture, heritage and tradition; it is a very good starting point and we should continue to capitalise on festivals like this and continue to feature them.”

Also in his remark, Alake of Egba, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo said it was regrettable that “since FESTAC ‘77, we have never gone back to our roots; we must never abrogate our culture as we can use culture to generate a lot of income because oil is gone and gone for good.”

Everyone was in agreement that the time had come for Nigeria to use its culture to generate income by promoting it through tourism.

Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Mrs Sally Mbanefo in her speech described the Nigerian Drums Festival as a good boost for tourism in Ogun State and Nigeria as a whole adding that Yoruba has a lot to showcase in terms of cultural heritage and tourist destination, both natural and man-made.

She said: “The success of the Drums Festival 2016 is a clear indication that if cultural tourism is well-developed and promoted in Nigeria, we will have labyrinth of tourists’ footfalls, which will greatly boost the nation’s economy and create huge employment and empowerment in the communities where the tourist sites and cultural festivals are located. It will interest you that the crowd-pulling carnivals in Nigeria are so much that you can’t finish writing about them.”

The NTDC boss decried the adverse effects of  civilisation on the culture and heritage of the Nigeria people, saying “civilisation has made us forget our culture and heritage. We must know that a country that forgets its culture and heritage has lost its essence. Thus, we need to appreciate and be proud of our culture and heritage, and give a good attention to the promotion of our cultural heritage. I made the traditional rulers my first point of call wherever I go because they are the rightful custodian of our culture and heritage. To practically promote our cultural heritage, we must work together with the traditional rulers.”

Describing the importance of drums, Mrs Mbanefo said “drumming is a good form of communication and a fantastic means of entertainment. We are happy to be here today. We are here to celebrate the unity of the Nigerian people.”