CROSS-CULTURAL CURRENTS

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Yinka Olatunbosun

Those African batik backdrops provided a clue to the cultural perspective of this amazing concert in Lagos. All thanks to the Director, Music Society of Nigeria, Tunde Jegede; the Agip Hall was lit once again last weekend with not just stage lanterns but exciting vocals accompanied by a wide range of musical instruments of classical and African dynamics as the audience surfed through cultures across Latin-America, returning back to motherland through music.

Diana Baroni, one of the leading artists of the night tagged “New Horizons-New Worlds” had performed the previous night at Bogobiri in Ikoyi to warm up the Lagos music fans ahead of the massive concert where her Afro-peruvian music was well-received. A soulful singer and flautist, Baroni was not just a charismatic performer but a story teller. Through her folkloric songs, she recounted stories of womanhood, a culture parallel and joined the MUSON ensemble that opened the show for the night.

Her voice was stunning in the duet that featured another guest, a multi-instrumental artist from South America, Rafael Guel. It was like listening to a “Telemundo soundtrack’’ when the South American baroque music serenaded the audience, many of whom watched the stage closely as it was set for each performance. Guel was a master of his guitar and other instruments such as the bullroarer, clapsticks and other types that looked strange but sounded familiar to the African audience.

The typical concert audience would sit with regal elegance, legs crossed, with occasional economical smiles that often accompany a very appreciative applause when they are thoroughly impressed. That was going to be the MUSON story last week except for the fact that Jegede had it all planned with the Olaiwola Sakara Ensemble. It was traditional Yoruba dance music made from the combination of Sakara drum, shaped like a tambourine and Goje, an African Violin.

If you must know, Sakara music was popular in the 30s and it was nothing short of a renaissance spirit that could restore that music genre on the stage for this generation of music audience. Sakara is believed to have influenced other music genres such as juju, fuji and afro-pop and had died naturally with the passing of most of its exponents one of whom is Yusuf Olatunji known as Baba L’Egba.
Nigeria’s unparalled neo-classical soprano, Ranti Ihimoyan breezed in on the stage in her sweeping sequenced sleeveless Ankara dress.

Her alluring smile was a total betrayal of the intensity of her cadence on each note conducted by Jegede, whose waving baton dictated the pace as documented in the full score before him. First, she performed the classic, George Handel’s The Messiah, with subtle sing-alongs in the audience but with those staccato notes from the orchestra, some amateurs were caught short in the act, paving way for only Ihimoyan’s voice to envelope the hall. Aided by the power of natural water in a plastic bottle at her feet, she finished off her bit with Wolfgang Mozart’s Exsultate, Jubilate, K165 and Alleluia.

What Jegede had succeeded in doing that night was to spring up the taste in traditional cultures, fused them and re-invent them for fresh audiences. The Agip hall was filled predominantly with a large number of expatriates who have long appreciated music as an expression of culture. With technological advancement, electronic music and other new genres have eclipsed traditional music across the globe.

For MUSON, the essence of bringing all these traditional music forms back is to show the world that before popular music, there was Sakara which had echoed outside Nigeria in places such as Gambia, Mali and Niger. Still, in the heart of afro-peruvian music lies the African beat which makes it so convenient to have Nigeria’s Wura Samba on stage with Baroni in most of her tracks.

Even Baroni acknowledged that it took a few hours of rehearsals to blend the core African beat with her South American style which was well-savoured by the audience whom she invited to dance freely. One of her songs was an anthem after the show, indicating her profound and immediate influence on her Lagos audience. Her call and response technique was very similar to the folkloric songs of the tortoise narratives except for the fact that there was no translation for every line that she sang.

One translation the audience cherished the most came in form of solo performance from each artist perhaps outside the dictates of the score. The performance was so organised to allow a few minutes on the samba, saxophone, flute and guitar.

Just when we thought that Simon Drappier was intimidating with his towering contrabass came Imole Balogun on saxophone. That man really knows how to make an entrance: bowing in his bowler hat that shielded his face from piercing eyes and rays while blowing his way into the audience’s heart. A product of the MUSON School of Music, Balogun is a regular performer at MUSON concerts.

If you have missed this second show in the concert series, May 28 is another date to keep. An extraordinary African Ballet to wrap up the series features one of Nigeria’s finest dance exports, Qudus Onikeku sharing the stage with Tunde Jegede, Renu Hossain, Devon Carpenter and MUSON ensemble.