By Anote Ajeluorou
The occasion of 2012 World Music Day organised by the National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN) at the National Theatre, Lagos, opened the eyes of guests to the immense ability inherent in disability, as physically challenged persons showed uncommon artistic skills, a signal that there is need to properly harness such talents to integrate them into society
National Troupe scored a bull’s eye when it invited children from Parcelli School for the Blind to perform at the World Music Day it organised to commemorate the event in Lagos last week. Indeed, their choice of performers could not have been better given that it was a day to foster the promotion of music talent. Although the troupe also performed, it was clear the handicapped children had stolen the moment, as they gave both vocal and instrumental fillip to their performance.
They were assisted to the stage, and behind the musical instruments and microphones. It took an awkward moment as the audience nervously looked on, probably wondering why they had to bother them so much. But when they were finally settled, the show as they say, began. It became a marvel watching the band of blind children on the keyboard, conga and drum set. Anybody walking into Cinema Hall 11, who didn’t see the moment leading up to the start of their performance, would never believe the performers were in anyway physically challenged.
They sang in English, Yoruba and Igbo familiar gospel songs and some in the audience swayed to the rhythm of their performance. It was one telling moment of sheer talent and purpose to be relevant in spite of odds. Their performance put to shame beggars on streets who would rather parade their disabilities. More to cherish are their teachers, mostly Catholic Mission people and those who established the school, to give meaning to the lives of fellow Nigerians who would have remained forgotten.
It was Artistic Director/CEO, National Troupe of Nigeria, Mr. Martin Adaji, who lent credence to having the children as performers, and affirmed the need to encourage those with challenges to express whatever talents they had. He stated, “There’s ability in disability. We emphasise that the dependency syndrome is not part of our culture; we should not encourage it. We stress the encouragement of all segments of the country”.
Chairing the event was music maestro, Orits Williki, who trod a familiar path in lamenting the huge losses the nation was recording in its inability to establish a proper collective management organisation. Such losses, he stressed, ran into several millions of naira and noted that Nigeria’s copyright system would have been better served if multiple collective organisations rather than a just one body were established as currently was the case.
DELIVERING the lead paper was a lecturer at the Department of Theatre Arts and Music, Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos, and jazz performer, Mr. ‘Biodun Adebiyi (Biodun Batik). His band Biodun Batik gave insight on how a progressive music essemble is arranged and how its lack in the country’s contemporary music scene is producing music that appears a flash in the pan, and not deep-rooted to produce lasting impression and enjoyment.
Adebiyi traced the origin of World Music Day to France in 1982 and how it has since become a global trend. Speaking on the theme, ‘Music as Social Calendar’, Adebiyi traced the progression of indigenous music sounds, their functions and uses. He drew on the symbiotic relationship between music and communication, and stressed, “As a culture indicator, an African musical instrument probably presents the most diversified source of information on the artistic values, religious beliefs, family life and the general social structure of a society.
“Music has been used in modern settings to aid the liberation struggle. Musicians such as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Sonny Okosuns Lucky Dube, and Orlando Owoh addressed inequalities in the society, talked about the virtue of love, relationship and a myriad of other uses”.
Adebiyi also reflected on the prophetic and values of music, saying the ancient griots or storytellers employed music to perpetuate the empires through a retelling of historical evolution of such empires. He noted, “Professional musicians played a crucial role as historians in the kingdoms that developed from the 10th to the 20th century in various parts of Africa. Among the Mande people of Wes Africa, professional bards, or griots, still recount the histories of powerful lineages and offer counsel to contemporary rulers.
“Among the Yoruba of Nigeria, an incompetent or evil king often first hears the public’s command to abdicate from his ‘talking drummers’. When Ugandan government troops invaded the palace of the Kabaka (king) of Buganda in the 1960s, they made sure that the royal musical instruments were destroyed first. In his memoirs, the Kabaka described the royal drums as the ‘heart’ of his kingdom.
“Nigeria music, most especially the old tunes and lyrics, predict values. Most musicians acted as moral agents by preaching against social vices like stealing, mis-governance, adultery, bribery and several other forms of corruption. For example, Dr. Orlando Owoh in his song, ‘lo’gba lo’gba’ warns against the excessive love for material things and socialisation; Chief Ebenezer Obey in ‘Ketekete’ (ko so’gbon t’ele da, ko si’wa t’ele hu, ko s’ona t’ele mo t’ele fi t’aye lorun o), talks about the futility in trying to please everybody; Fela Anikulapo-Kuti incessantly criticised the unpopular policies of the government of the day, and corrupt politicians and military dictators were thoroughly tongue-lashed in songs like ‘V.I.P’, ‘Zombie’, ‘B.O.N.N’, ‘U.S’, ‘Suffering and Smiling’, ‘I.T.T’ etc...”
While concluding, Adebiyi noted the dissatisfaction with the current trend in Nigerian music and how lame it was in social orientation either towards any prophetic roles like predicting the future or documenting history for future use.
He said, “This historical analysis of the part the lyrical contents of songs by several musicians in Nigeria have played in the society is really important and timely too, because, well-informed Nigerians, especially those that have enjoyed the music of the ‘good old days’, are bothered greatly about the kind of messages our ‘rave-of the-moment’ musicians are passing across.
“Are the current songs we hear on the radio and television predicting the future or documenting any event? Is anyone talking about any global issue in his/her song? I see this as a great challenge for our musicians in Nigeria”.
Taking up this strain in Adebiyi’s conclusion was performer, Dejumo Lewis, who blamed the non-committal in musical orientation towards any particular direction on Nigeria’s poor music scholarship in universities. He accused teachers of music of parroting Western music idioms and not doing enough research on indigenous music to enrich modern scholarship in the country. Responding, Adebiyi said there was too little emphasis placed on professionalism in universities, and that performance culture was lacking.
He noted, “Professionalism is what is lacking; in universities, you are taught to theorise; emphasis is not on performance as they do in a place like MUSON Centre, which like a Monotechnic. Our academic programmes should be relevant to our reality. Students should be attached to people like Obenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade, and other great artistes to ground them in the area of performance stylistics that universities lack”.
On the whole, only Profs. Laz Ekwueme and Sam Akpabot are the known academics that also showed a keen interest in performing music, he said.
Present at the event were Frank Aig Imoukhuede, Sola Onanuga and several primary and secondary school students that actively participated during the programme.