This year’s conference by the Association of Nigerian Musicologists (ANIM), which seeks to draw attention to the relevance of indigenous music in Nigeria at this time that I believe the word “change” has become something of a mantra, a sing-song buzzword or something in-between is a remarkable opportunity to discuss a refreshing subject and to show how this fits in well at the “Centre of Excellence”.
In its 12th edition this year, I have a feeling that the organisers are being magnanimous in their bid to draw attention to pertinent issues around what we consider as indigenous music in Nigeria and how, if we suspect or are convinced that there are issues affecting its fortunes, we can collectively attempt to navigate it back on the road to recovery or redemption depending on how we see the challenges confronting indigenous music.
This will be considered with the sole aim of hoping not to sing a dirge for any type of music that we consider being indigenous to any part on Nigeria at a time that “change” is on a creative rampage in our country.
First, let me attempt a description of what indigenous music is: Wikipedia describes indigenous music as a term for the traditional music of the indigenous peoples of the world. In other words, it can be described as the music of an “original” ethnic group that inhabits any geographic region alongside more recent immigrants who may be greater in number.
Like the languages of Nigeria that are a legion, various music types are indigenous to various tribes, peoples and states almost to the extent that it will be inappropriate to label any particular genre of music as the indigenous Nigerian music. However, as concerns for the survival of indigenous languages grow, the worry over the survival or relevance of various indigenous music forms has also grown, almost to the point of trepidation that certain music forms, like some dialects and languages, may soon become extinct if care is not taken.
There is basis for this fear. If we take the Yoruba nation, or for political correctness, the indigenous music of the Southwest, as an example, the seeming disappearance or transmutation of a number of such music styles – from Epe to Ekiti or from Odogbolu to Osogbo – gives the impression that musical forms like Apala, Awurebe and Waka not to talk of Iremoje or the Ewi chants, when we assess them from the musical cum performance art form, may as well qualify as endangered indigenous musical art forms simply because they are at risk of either falling out of performance use or transmute into other forms that derive their relevance from not just other languages but foreign, and in most cases, technology-driven instrumentation.
This fear is real when we consider that the proponents of certain types of musical art forms tend to either die with their brand of indigenous music or their music does not last beyond their prime. This assertion is reinforced when we consider the exit of once legendary musicians like Haruna Ishola, Ayinla Omowura, Ligali Mukaiba, or even Comfort Omoge who really have not had a continuation of their types of music blossom except for limited airplays on radio.
I hesitate to directly relate the suspected dwindling fortunes of a number of our indigenous music to the feared extinction that may befall some of our indigenous languages that are being drowned by western education and cultural dominance. I say this because I am aware that unlike languages, music can indeed be appreciated without necessarily understanding the language in which it is performed.
But then we must worry when a genre of music like waka, even while Salawa Abeni is still alive, has almost already become extinct or even when juju, with its two leading proponents – Chief Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade – appears to be gasping for breath in the midst of stiff opposition posed by Fuji, dance-hall indigenous gospel music and of course hip-hop/popular music.
And so I recognise that there is a cause for worry. But I think I have an idea of where to politely point accusing fingers. I shall identify only two. Firstly, the media, and in particular the broadcast media which appears to find more fulfilment, and, perhaps understandably so, more listenership in the contemporary hip music that now dominates the airwaves.
But I must not generalise hastily. I should recognise the courageous efforts of radio and television stations that are wholly or in part devoted to the promotion of indigenous culture and preservation of heritage by broadcasting in local languages and thereby giving constant and copious airplay to indigenous music.
Secondly, I find the Music Intelligentsia deserving of blame. And by this term I mean the music scholars, or shall we simply say the musicologists, who I suspect to be guilty of creative discrimination if not snobbery when it comes to the time and resources devoted to either studying, teaching or encouraging the performance and sustenance of traditional musical forms and instruments.
How many music graduates do we encourage to major in algaita instead or guitar; in xylophone instead of the piano; or in bata or gangan drums instead of drum set or the drumlator? How much of encouragement do we give to a fresher in the Music department whose dream is simply to sing Fuji rather than assume that no successful Fuji music artiste requires formal education to be the next rave of the moment?
If we had welcomed with open arms those who trade only in their raw musical talent to seek formal education, forgive me, maybe we probably wouldn’t have had a preponderance of choir masters and music tutors as the flag-bearers of this association (ANIM).
At what point would we have the music intelligentsia stock Ogundare Foyanmu or Ligali Mukaiba’s music in the library of Creative Arts Department of the University of Lagos or the Ibadan Polytechnic and seek a comparison between that style of music and those of Sefiu Alao or Muri Thunder and then cause both to be scored and performed as Mr Steve Rhodes of blessed memory once gloriously did with his Steve Rhodes Orchestra? That initiative of his was what gave a different feel and meaning to many of the popular hip hop songs of the 1990s when Mr Rhodes had them scored and performed by a wind orchestra.
Or are we to assume that there is a class of music that is irredeemably noisy, lowly or just plain crass as to be considered unworthy of scholarship and sol-fa notation?
Shouldn’t it be appropriate to even ask the music intelligentsia if anyone has considered completing the journey that the late Steve Rhodes started when he embarked on a tortuous nation-wide research to collect and document, in print and sound, every known indigenous musical instrument with a view to preserving for generations yet unborn the sounds of yesteryears?
My argument is that history may suffer, musical heritage can get injured and scholarship will be deemed incomplete if we consider certain types of music “not for us” or beneath our class just on account of the language or the colloquial nature in which they are rendered or the social and educational status of their chief proponents and connoisseurs.
The term indigenous should, therefore, suggest strong affinity to the people, no matter how modest and it ought to be the role of the media and the music intelligentsia not to snub such music but to raise it within the possibilities that its surroundings allow.
This is why it should be worthy of rigorous analysis why Fuji, which traces its roots to apala, woro and the Islamic were chants now appear to have won more followership and produced arguably far more advocate-stakeholders than Juju, which shared association with highlife and Christian gospel music and was quicker to embrace western instrumentation while still maintaining its indigenous signposts.
Therefore, for me, the relative success of the Fuji music genre reminds us of the phenomenal success of the Southwest component of Nollywood, in maintaining an appreciable degree of fidelity to indigenous Yoruba language in its movies and television dramas. These two successes in my opinion offer a telling reassurance that I alluded to earlier that indigenous music, like the language where it derives its essence, may not be as threatened as we assume.
With Africa Magic Yoruba, Fuji music and media establishments like Radio Lagos (Tiwa n tiwa) and Bond FM, the likelihood of singing Nunc Dimittis for the Yoruba language in our generation is low if not improbable.
It is noteworthy that in the last five to 10 years of media rating in Lagos State, both Bond FM and Radio Lagos have consistently ranked among the Top 4 in terms of listenership, just below Wazobia FM in the No 1 position.
Is there an inherent lesson in having two indigenous language radio stations in the top position for years, ostensibly saying that their language of expression is not threatened and that if there is a challenge at all, in terms of listenership, it would not come from the impeccable English-speaking, foreign-accented stations but from a “new comer” that chose “bastardised” English (pidgin) as its mode of communication.
Do we then accept that this factual analysis speaks to the survival of indigenous languages and by extension our indigenous music or is this mere euphemism for the parlous state of our education that exposes those who champion a new form of indigenisation in the lingual and music industries as merely propagating cultural renaissance just to mask their inadequacies in Western education?
If your sympathy is for the former submission, that “the indigenous” has enough merit and sufficient followership to guarantee its survival in the foreseeable future, shall we then request for music scores and reading of indigenous music of the traditional types of music like Fuji and Juju for documentation, preservation and scholarship the same manner in which we should demand of writers to produce screenplays and scripts from already shot hurriedly-directed Nollywood language films that are produced essentially from storylines and improvisational dialogue?
If the purity that the musical intelligentsia seeks in terms of sight reading etc. cannot be gotten before the music is performed, can it at least be produced after the music must have been made and become a hit? I assume of course that the music intelligentsia will not seek an escape route out of this tedious route to preserve some indigenous music by accusing me of putting the cart before the horse.
I make this submission in the hope that a state like Lagos can then be moved to throw a challenge at music scholars to assist the state in achieving that which it seeks eagerly, which is to produce a befitting anthem that will be rooted in history, culture and core language of the people; one that will soothe and inspire and will still be subjected to the notation and sight reading requirements of what the music intelligentsia considers to be “proper music”.
A blessed state that works should be able to look ahead to the grand celebration of its 50th anniversary in May 2017 and desire to have its own anthem as a summation of its can-do spirit and a celebration of its excellence and aquatic splendour. I want to believe that this state should be able to look up to the music intelligentsia in this regard without expecting to resurrect a Fela Sowande or an Ayo Bankole Snr.
This is a challenge and I happen to know that a music-loving, art and culture-promoting Governor Akinwunmi Ambode will not likely forget in a hurry any one or group that honours Lagos with a deserving state anthem.
After decentralising in December last year the concept of Lagos Countdown that limited the arrival of the New Year to just one venue in just one day, Governor Ambode decided to spread the joy by expanding the scope to a five-venue, five-day event through the One Lagos Fiesta, thereby giving the residents of Epe, Ikorodu, Badagry and Lagos Mainland the same type of Countdown funfair that Lagos Island had enjoyed consistently for years.
After opening the gates of the government house to jazz and afro-jazz artistes on April 30th to celebrate the International Jazz Day, the same manner in which President Barack Obama celebrated the same day at the White House; and after announcing its partnership to work with the African Union Commission as the host city of the All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA) in Lagos this November, it cannot be in doubt that Lagos indeed grooves and has gotten its musical bearing right.
But it recognises that it needs support from this sort of gathering in its quest for a befitting anthem.
In concluding, therefore, I may have recognised enormous challenges ahead of the indigenous Nigerian music forms, especially at this time of change when globalisation, education, digital technology and apathy to one’s cultural identity seem to have formed a conspiratorial quartet.
But I see no gloom.
I see the need for a new positive quartet to emerge and speak out – the media, a reformed music intelligentsia, the government and general public – to collectively demand that for our society to hit the right note, our indigenous music, like our mother tongue, must begin to consciously move away from the state of damning diminuendo and soar towards the height of a creative and rewarding crescendo.
––Ayorinde, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, first delivered this piece at the annual Conference of Nigerian Musicologists in Lagos on August 16 .