By Anote Ajeluorou
THE on-going MUSON Festival 2014, as always, brings out the best in the performance arts, especially music for which MUSON Centre has become renowned in the last 17 years. The festival throws up a variety of cultural expressions for those with a taste for the lofty ideals that culture espouses. This year’s opening event, as the centre celebrates its 18th year of musical excellence, was My Kind of Music, in which it had some four eminent Nigerians explaining their music preferences. Such music is performed accordingly.
Uniquely, these four personages — Prof. Emeritus Ayo Banjo, a two-time Vice Chancellor; Chief Emeka Anyaoku, a former Commonwealth Secretary-General and a man steeped in classical tradition; Chief Bolaji Osomo and Chief Tokunbo Dosunmu-Awolowo — embody a tradition of excellence in their chosen fields
Moreover, they have traversed the world and at home in the classical that MUSON offers as well as their own traditional. Anchoring the programme was Chairman, Festival Organising Committee, Mr. Kitoyi Ibare-Akinsan and at the end the foursome were given plaques of appreciation by Vice Chairman of MUSON, Chief Louis Mbanefo and a cocktail that wrapped up an amazing evening.
My first choice is Louis Armstrong. I happen to be very fond of his rather croaky voice in singing What A Wonderful World’. It’s a piece that I always enjoy listening to. He’s my favourite trumpeter; he was a great trumpeter, but he combined it with his singing in his rather unusual voice.
My next piece, it’s quite common. It’s from a musical, Sound of Music. This is a musical that I saw many years ago, about 50 years ago, and I was fascinated by the story of the Von Trapp family. This musical was based on the true story of a very distinguished Austrian Naval Officer, who had nine children; his wife died unfortunately and he went to the convent to ask for a nun to be the governess of his children. From that musical, there is one piece, Edelweiss sung by Christopher Plummer, and it’s a piece my wife will tell you she is bored with listening to me humming it and singing it all the time.
My next selection is from another musical, Evita. A musical written by someone I met many times, Andrew Lloyd Webber, who is now Lord Webber. He wrote Evita and I saw the film version of Evita and in that film, the piece I’m going to tell you about was sung by Madonna. I didn’t like it as much as I liked the live performance of the musical and the rendition of the piece by Elain Page. This was in England and it ran for quite a long time and the piece is Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina. The story of course, Eva Peron, who inspired the musical, was a young lady born to a very poor family, but she struggled and became the first lady of Argentina. And, not only that, she made her name by being a strong writer for the rights of women, and also the alleviation of poverty in Argentina.
My next piece is calypso music. I’ve been to the Caribbean many times; I played Mas twice in Trinidad and Tobago. Mas is the carnival and I was there and the man whose calypso, not the best of calypso, but because he’s a personal friend, and when I say a personal friend, I would like to tell you I’m not just dropping names. He was at three luncheons that I hosted in London, one of them for Nelson Mandela and he and I were honoured at the same occasion by the government of South Africa, who gave me their highest national civilian honour for a foreigner and gave Harry Belafonte the second highest civilian honour. And this piece I teased him when he sang it. It is called Mama Look A Boo Boo. Harry Belafonte is an extremely handsome individual and yet ‘Mama Look A Boo Boo’ is a song of children, saying to their mother, ‘Mama look a boo boo’ and their mother says, ‘that’s your daddy.’ And they say to the mother, ‘how come our father is so ugly’. Harry Belafonte is a handsome man and I used to tease him how he came to sing about an ugly man.
There are several renditions of Amazing Grace. It was written by an Englishman, John Newton, a slave trader, became a pastor. The rendition that I have chosen is by the Soweto Gospel Choir in South Africa, not only because I had the privilege of going to Soweto and listening to them, but because the story of John Newton and the story of Apartheid in South Africa seem to have some commonality.
I should probably have asked her to come here to sing it. It’s a piece by Onyeka Onwenu. Onyeka Onwenu’s mother is a second cousin of mine and this piece endeared itself to me because it’s an unusual tribute to a mother. When Onyeka sang this piece some years ago, I remember saying to the mother, ‘with this type of daughter, what more would you want’ because Onyeka in this piece was praising her mother, acknowledging the tender care that her mother had lavished on her and her siblings. The title is ‘Ochie Dike’.
A favourite tenor of mine; I heard him perform it indoors at The Royal Festival Hall in London, and I thought he was marvellous and then when I heard him perform outdoor at Hyde Park, the power of his voice was indescribable to me — Luciano Pavarotti singing ‘Nessun dorma’.
The difference between the piece that I have chosen and the one chosen by Mrs. Osomo is that the earlier piece is faster in movement. The one I have chosen is slower, but on the whole I believe that Sunny Ade produces the most danceable music. I have always found it impossible not to move when I hear him; I either move or nod the head to Gboro Mi Ro from Classic Volume 4.
Ise Oluwa by Edwards. Ise Oluwa is very popular in Nigeria and I had course to render the song in the 60s in England and I was the only Black student in Scarborough and I was taught how to sing it. Ise Oluwa was written by Dayo Dedeke as performed tonight by Mr. Edwards. He has a very wonderful bass voice and the bass voice reminds me of Paul Robeson.
My next song is Wherever You Walk’ by G. F. Handel. I always like listening to I love you by Ella Fitzgerald. I do it in memory of my husband, who died exactly 22 years ago. He was a perfect gentleman, a wonderful husband, a wonderful father, a man who every woman would have loved to be married to. I met my husband in England in 1960 at Trafalgar Square. It was love at first sight, I had never heard about him before neither did he hear about me. But when we both walked into each other, we knew we were husband and wife (murmurs and applause from audience). We were married for 30 years and at that time, I was a government scholar. I was being trained to be a teacher. Later I decided I was going to read law. Most of his friends told him ‘you want to marry a lawyer? You are going to be in trouble!’ And he said, ‘but I love this girl; I want to marry her.’ I told him, ‘they didn’t ask me to go to England to look for a husband, but if you must marry me I must be a lawyer.’
And of course, he stood by my side. It’s a shame that 22 years ago exactly he passed away in England and I thought it’s a shame that all good things do really come to an end. But I do love him, very much and I will continue to respect him (applause from audience). The only thing I have to say was that he allowed me to go into politics, as bad as it was and I was made a Commissioner by Baba Ajasin. I was away in Akure for four years and I never had any problem of any woman coming to the house to tell me stories about my husband or writing me stupid stories about my husband. I respected him and I washed all his clothes till he died (another applause). I wasn’t good in ironing, but the washing was always done by me. I hope many women, and I really mean that as a grandmother, that you must make your husband comfortable. Most of my friends refer to me as Iyale Ile (first wife of the house). When his friends were being worried by their wives, they asked me, ‘what do you think about your husband?’ I told them ‘I’m not worried; I’m the Iyale Ile of this house.
My next song is by Afroman; it’s a satire Because I Got High. My next one is our one and only Fela (applause). I love his music; I kept asking myself, ‘would I have liked Fela as a man?’ I wasn’t too sure, but I think some people should take time and really analyse the man. Was it the effect of society on him or he on society? But I love his Palava’ (applause). (Kitoyi Ibare-Akinsan, in response to Osomo’s choice of Palava said, I think the political aspect of Fela is probably the part that appeals to you and that he was quite frank in what we should do, if we really want to help the country). King Sunny Ade’s The Merciful God comes next in my choice.
I have one from my area, the riverine area of Ondo State and this song is by a lady, a queen for that matter, Comfort Omoge, ‘Olorun mi.’
Also, The Blue Danube by J. Strauss is my favourite. The river is so beautiful and it reminds me of the River Niger. Colour of the blue Danube has a lot in common with the River Niger. The Blue Danube traverses many countries, so also the River Niger. The peace of mind that I get from this music is colossal.
My first song is Mozart — Piano concerto No9 (first movement), and my second song is My ain Folk. It’s a Scottish song made very popular by the celebrated Scottish tenor, Kenneth Mackeller. But this recording is by John McDermot. I came across this piece when I was studying in Scotland and Kenneth Mackeller used to perform it very often and I found the words very fascinating because he says, ‘I’m far across the sea, but my heart will always be at home in good old Scotland, with my ain folk.’ Now, each time, I hear that, I said to myself I’m far across the sea, but my heart will always be in good old Nigeria with my own folk. Nigeria, of course, in those days was a country where the sky was the limit. It’s a song of nostalgia and if there are any Scots people in this audience, I’m sure there will not be a dry eye at the end of this performance (laughter from audience).
My next choice is the composition by Saint-Saens, The Swan taken from Carnival of Animals. What fascinates me about this piece of music is not just the cello, but the way in which the piano accompanies the cello. It keeps a respectful distance from the cello. Beethoven’s piano sonata comes next. I love Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and I think basically because I am myself a failed pianist (laughter from hall) and the number that I am proposing is his Sonata No 21 in C Major, the Rondo. Ever since I first listened to a live performance of this sonata, I fell in love with it.
My next song is by Edith Piaf, the French singer. And the interesting thing about this for me is that this was a woman who had a most unfortunate time as a young girl and went through all the horrors of growing up and then became one of the most famous singers in France. The number reflects the biography of Edith Piaf that I’ve just narrated and the title is Rien de rien (No regrets). The defiance in the voice says it all and it also has some lessons to teach.
Ayo Bankole’s Iya would come next for me. (Ayo Bankole Jr. played the piano and was accompanied by Nelson Cole in a live performance). My next piece is by the Italian baroque composer, Albinoni. He is very famous for his adagios and I have chosen this one Sinfonia in G for 2 oboes, Second Movement (Adagio).
The Anglican hymn, The Day Thou Gavest, Lord’, is ended by John Ellerton. There is a story behind my liking of this hymn. It takes me right back to my first encounter with art music, and I think the transition from church music to opera, it was a smooth one. I first sang this song in the choir as a treble. Later on, I sang the same song in the choir as an alto. Then later still, I sang it as a tenor. And, now, I sing it as a bass. That’s one of the fascinations. The music, I think, just chimes with the time; I sang it at Igbobi College. Later in life, it struck me that the hymn can also be interpreted metaphorically. The day can represent a lifetime.
Kitoyi Ibare-Akinsan read out her choice of song, I Will Always Love You, originally done by country singer, Dolly Paton but popularised by the late Whitney Houston. Dolly Paton did the original version in 1974 and it went to number one on the country’s chart. She wrote it following the breakup of the musical partnership she had with country singer, but they were never romantically involved. The lyrics are sad yet they know they are not right for each other and must let him go. It is often misinterpreted as a song for people who will be together forever and even gets played at weddings. It is featured in the movie The Bodyguard.’ Houston’s recording had more lavish production and became a pop, soul and adult contemporary hit.
MY Kind of Music session at MUSON Festival 2014 simply was an enjoyable evening in the eclectic renditions and the wide range of music that these four personages spoke candidly about the music that have continued to shape their lives. And as the festival comes to an end of Sunday, Lagosians are urged to go out and see great music. Tomorrow, Saturday, MUSON alumni, those who have graduated from MUSON music school, will perform and on Sunday, the festival will be brought to a close with performances and a cocktail.