FROM SOUND TO SELF-ASSERTION: EMERGENT ALTER-NATIVE MUSIC FORMS IN AFRICA

Bello M. Abiodun

MA, African Studies (in view)

Institute of African Studies

University of Ibadan

Ibadan, Nigeria

Email:biobell2000@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abstract

This study is concerned with the continuous relevance of African music amidst the many historic changes characterising a postcolonial and postmodernist era, with emphasis on the development of an ‘alter-native music’ landscape in Nigeria and elsewhere on the African continent within the three decades covering 1981-2011. The work focuses attention on how the folkloric and the popular on the one hand, and the ideological on the other, have furthersharpened the theoretical relevance of the performance of African music, consequently foregrounding its praxis in the pursuit of a pan-African agenda in the Twenty-first Century. In arguing for the sounds of meaning and meaning of sounds in African Music, the paper affirms that the overarching cognitive aesthetics of the Yorùbá world is replete with musical or linguistic expressions, with sounds which are made to waft on the wings of deliberateness. This therefore makes a case for the development of alter-native African music which, like some precursors before it, has taken the mode of movement from the rusticity of the folkloric to the sophistication of urbanism. Also implicated in here is the vital fact of the drum’s centrality in most of Africa’s orchestra. This aesthetic-religious function makes clear the prevalence, amongst the Yorùbá, of tension drums with their wide range of tonal configuration and cultural addiction to “talking” with musical instruments. The work concludes with the contention that African art is never void of the ludic and the util– elements constituting the touchstone against which the arguments of this disquisition are rested.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Word Count: 250

Keywords: Alter-native, sound, self-assertion, music

From time primordial, the art of Africa has never assumed an ontological existence void of functionality.  In essence, African art has never existed for its own sake. African art – verbal, performing or plastic – intrinsically combines elements of the ludic and the utile(Wole Ogundele, 2008). In fact, the minimal unit of human language – sound – does not, in actual usage within the African (Yorùbá) context, go unburdened, whether as deployed for language or as part of the melodic aesthetics of African music. Therefore we speak of sounds of meaning and meaning of sounds. A note of caution then will be for an ògbèrì(a non-initiate)not to think of a ‘humming’ sound in the syntax of an African language or song as a mere product of impulsive fancy as the overarching cognitive aesthetics of the Yorùbá world, for instance, is replete with expressions, musical or linguistic, the sounds of which are made to waft on the wings of deliberateness and purpose. Thus, in the proverbòré kítíkítí, iyèkan kàtàkàtà; níjó òré kítíkítí bá kú, iyèkan kàtàkàtà níí kù, – a rough translation of which can be realised as, ‘‘a bosom friend indeed, but an ‘unworthy’ kinsman; on the day that a bosom friend dies, the ‘unworthy’ kinsman yet remains as one’s recourse,’’ (my translation) – a combination of linguistic beauty and profound communal philosophy has been achieved. Although the morphological configurations kítíkítí and kàtàkàtàmay not readily pass as entries in a Yorùbá lexicographical compilation, they are more or less lexicalised in this proverbium and each being not without its own semantic implication.

By extension, this phenomenon has a similar bearing on both the making and the sound of African music. (A phenomenon or mannerism so resplendent in Asa’s vinyl, that even a humming sound – as in the opening of Àwé for instance – does not go meaningless or pass for mere sonic redundancy.) At the level of tone and tonality, the idea, and thus the existence in Africa, of ‘Talking Drums’ is suggestive of a collective conscious that the drum possesses the capability to speak to the people. Thisphenomenon, by implication, gives rise to a collective, interpretive community of the technology and art of the talking drum. The talking drum of Yorùbáland, of which the people of the Republic of Benin (among other Yoruba people of the Diasporas) are an extension, is an archetypal reference. Thus, in Benin Republic, as elsewhere in the entire Yorùbá nationand certain other parts of Africa, skin drums are used to – among other things – sound, or “talk,” the praise-names by reproducing the inflection of the language. In addition,percussion sessionsare found to be played in honour of the vodun deity, Dan(the serpent deity), on a sacred drum called dan hun, which means “Dan’s drum.” Africa is noted to be replete with examples of this kind, and this reality continues to gain much currency among scholars of African folklore.

It must however be noted that in the case of the Yorùbá language and Yorùbá ‘talking’ drums, the drums are only able to ‘talk’ because they only mimetically (but artistically) re-produce the tonal inflection of the language in question, which itself is, like many other African languages, a tone language, the only connecting possibility between the drums and the language in question being tone. In essence, while these ‘talking’ drums are able to re-produce the possible and intelligible tones of the Yorùbá language, they cannot do the same with English which is a stress language, or any other European language for that matter. Where any such attempt is made with English (or any European language), the fundamental phonological principles of that language are likely to be compromised. And because the intrinsic nature and constitution of languages are necessarily different, blunders of this kind will be akin to such as were earlier committed by such scholars as the German Africanist Ulli Beier who had, on his earlier encounter with Yorùbá poetry, found it ‘difficult to describe the form of Yorùbá poetry in the absence of European categories of metre and rhyme’ (Olatunji 1984:3). Olatunji has rightly argued that

… the question need not arise whether or not to transfer to the discussion of Yorùbá poetry, categories derived from the poetry of other nations, especially European. Since a poem employs the patterns of its language of composition for its literary effects, any meaningful discussion of the poem must take the structural patterns of that language into consideration. Categories ought, therefore, to be derived from the material in question and are only true for that material. p. 3-4

In the opinion of Vansina (1965), as noted by Olademo (2009), the removal of a tradition from its context is a form of amputation. Thus, to understand a tradition, it is necessary to know the culture which has produced it. Therefore, whether in the tonal inflection of the linguistic idioms of the Yorùbá people through the talking drums, or in the sonic sonority of the human voice employed for language or music, the essence of meaning – the exchange of it – is never lost or traded for nothingness. In fact, in many cases, even the barest meaning might hold some connection(s) with, and thus be traceable to, the mythology of the people, and the truths of these facts are often only mythologically founded.Whatever the validity of this claim, states Olorunyomi (2005), the ancient Yoruba dictum, Àyànàgàlúasòrò igi(Àyàn of Àgàlú, who speaks through the medium of wood) is suggestive of the kinship of music and the reconstitution of speech pattern.

Africa’s oral tradition is a vast repository of knowledge and spirituality which has not only functioned to serve the need of the people in religion, social dealings, culture etc (Olademo, 2009), but more significantly instrumental to the crucial process of preserving both the people(s) and their history(ies) until the defining moment of colonial encounter with Europe and its multifarious dimensions of durable influences, the impact of which predictably resulted in various processes of acculturation. This reality in turn has led to the creation of ‘cultural crossbreeds’ that now have evident indices in African cultural productions. As Caleb Dube (n.d.) has documented, urbanisation and industrialisation as consequences of European colonisation produce new urban lifestyles, social networks and gender relations, which were in many respects different from those in indigenous rural societies.However, while colonialism lasted on the native soil of Africa, much experimentation by Africans had begun in the creation of musical art forms novel to their own local context, as shall be seen later in the course of this work in the case of Highlife, the ‘Afroclassical’ forms, and the various ‘Africa-sounding’ musical experimentations of the 1960s and ‘70s.

As has been found in the course of this research, the development of alter-native African music, like some precursors before it, has taken the mode of movement from the rusticity of the folkloric to the sophistication of urbanism, however through the vehicles of migration and transformation, the former essentially making possible the latter. The veracity of this statement can thus been negotiated further from here. One central reality is to be indentified in the fact that the etymological relevance and commonality to the terms ‘folk’ (Old English, folc) and populus (Latin, ‘people’; popularis, ‘of the people’) goes further in foregrounding the integral significance and implication of ‘the people’ to the development of this genre-ic (that is, ‘alter-native’) reality. As such therefore, the meeting of the folk and the populi technically implies the meeting of traditionalism and urbanism, respectively.

Earlier in his career as a novelist, Achebe (1964) did hold up a number of arguments in a favourable defense of Africans and their past, amongst which also is the fact that:

African peoples did not hear of culture for the first time from Europeans; that their societies were not mindless but frequently had a philosophy of great depth and value and beauty, that they had poetry and, above all, they had dignity.

The term ‘folklore’ perse has been variously explored by scholars from time to time, and still poses itself as one category that is yet to be fully and satisfactorily realised and justified. It is nonetheless navigated and appreciated as a general term for the verbal, spiritual, and material aspects of any culture that are transmitted orally, by observation, or by imitation. It is commonly agreed that people sharing a culture may have in common an occupation, language, ethnicity, age, or geographical location. This body of traditional material is preserved and passed on from generation to generation, with constant variations shaped by memory, immediate need or purpose, and degree of individual talent(Irele, 1975; Encarta, 2008). Folklore has therefore come to be regarded as part of the human learning process and an important source of information about the history of human life. Amongst a number of attempts to find the commonality amongst human societies, their cultures and their lore and mores, the structuralist attempt of Claude Lévi-Strauss (1970) in this regard readily comes to the fore, albeit his propositions tend to be fraught with counter-perspectives from certain other scholars.

In his examination of myth as a subcategory of folklore, Lévi-Strauss offers that universal lawsmust govern mythical thought and resolve this seeming paradox, thereby producing similar myths in different cultures. Each myth may seem unique, but he proposes it is just one particular instance of a universal law of human thought. In studying myth, Lévi-Strauss tries “to reduce apparently arbitrary data to some kind of order, and to attain a level at which a kind of necessity becomes apparent, underlying the illusions of liberty”(Lévi-Strauss, 1970:10). A comparative assessment of his theory of “the trickster” better foregrounds these underlying universal laws of human thought as demonstrated in myths, particularly in the case whereby the character of the Yorùbá mythological trickster, Èsù, is placed side-by-side that of the few Native American mythologies that formed the primary subjects of Lévi-Strauss’ work. This anthropological experiment implicitly or explicitly establishes the place, relevance and dynamics of African (and in this case, Yorùbá) folklore insomuch that African myths, like other myths from across the world, also consist of elements thatoppose or contradict each other and other elements that “mediate”, or resolve, those oppositions. Hence, like the archetypal raven and coyote in the Native American mythologies analysed by Lévi-Strauss, the Yorùbá Èsù is equally to be found to have a contradictory and unpredictable personality.

By extension, therefore, the foregoing further deepens the ethnographic truth as asserted by Yai (1999) that African oral literature, like any other literature, is protean; and by this stressing the significance, relevance and veritable nature of other subcategories of the oral African backcloth, African folk music and its art of composition inclusive. To this extent, the veracity of the fact that Africa had/has her defining pristine, autochthonous folk culture and its operational psychodynamics is proven. Olademo (2009) gives sufficient attention to discussing the classification and composition of Yorùbá poetic-cum-musical performances. In her discussion, she has posited that the composition of any oral genre for that matter proffers serious implication for its socio-cultural relevance across ages. However, amongst the Yorùbá, the mode of composition for oral genres differs albeit the several modes are interconnected. She indentifies two modes of composition, namely the rehearsal mode and the spontaneous mode. These two modes are to be found as constituting the underlying guideline(s) by which the creation of African music, as cultural productions, is governed; whether this is done by the traditional griots/bards/minstrels of West Africa, the izimbongi in the case of Nguni societies of Southern Africa or, as urbanity will always bring about, by the urbanised, more sophisticated African musician.

Highlighting the critical role of African (Yorùbá) women in cultural productions within the autochthonous context ofYorùbá oral tradition and folklore, Ilesanmi (1989:81-82) underscores these roles by women as evident in the preponderance of their yet extant oral compositions. Such materials have come to evidence themselves in the Isare and OrinÒsun, the obitun in Ondo, OrinOlori in Ìgèdè, the EkúnÌyàwó in areas around Òyó; all forms of lullaby (orin ìremolékún), the ago in Oka-Akoko Ondo State, and the Gèlèdé song in Egbadoland. These examples quite foreground the centrality of music and musicality to African (Yorùbá) oral compositions. In his discourse on the literary art and literary creativity in contemporary Africa, Oyin Ogunba (1978) identifies three types of performance patterns for Yorùbá oral genres, namely recitation, chanting and singing, while in a similar vein, Olukoju (1978) classifies Yorùbá oral genres into the speech mode, the chant mode and the song mode. Yet in these two taxonomic paradigms, the place of lyricism or musicality is central. A much later but comprehensive classificatory attempt by Fanilola (1991) is identified by Olademo (2009)and here Yorùbá oral genres are identified and classified (i) by the groups to which the poets belong and the technique of recitation; (ii) by the style of vocalisation employed by the artist; (iii) by the function of the oral genre; and (iv) by musical accompaniment.

In all of these developments, the intrinsic malleability and protean character of the originary oral, folkloric material is put to test. And as time has shown, the texts of African oral tradition have perennially proven their inherent capacity to adapt to the many vagaries of historio-cultural changes. As with African music, however, musical accompaniments – these accompaniments or instruments themselves being also materials or products of the oral tradition – have equally ‘demonstrated’ their ruggedness, adjustability and aesthetic value to trends and change even in the postmodernist world of musicultural productions. As Bísádé Ológundé (aka Lágbájá, ©2005-10) has observed, African music is autochthonously and typically ‘heavy on rhythm’, and this particular fact has served to underscore the centrality of the (traditional) drums in generating percussive and groovy rhythms which typically define African dance music. He states further that

Scholars have deduced that while melody and harmony are preeminent in traditional European music (and the West generally speaking) in African music (more so in West Africa) rhythm is king. The drum is the greatest purveyor of rhythm. And rhythm is arguably the most definitive of musical style in popular contemporary music. Although we use the drums in our music, mostly to create grooves and stimulate dance, in traditional Yorùbá music the drum plays more diverse roles. They do much more than stimulate dance, especially in the sacred worship of Yorùbá deities.

Regarding the significance of drums in Yorùbá deity worship – further showing the protean character of African material culture – Olorunyomi also reflects on the fact about African drums, that

… drums – in particular – and other musical instruments are deemed to be repositories of language, with the different Òrìsà (deities) expressing marked preferences of drum decoder for invocatory purposes. Hence, Obatala’s quartet includes Iyánlá, Ìyá Àgàn, Keke and Afeere which form the Igbin ensemble used by its devotees, while Sango’s preference is the Bàtá ensemble of Ìyá Ìlù, Omele abo, Kùdi and Omele Ako. With these are the Ìpèsè, Orunmila’s special drum, and Àgéré; Besides [sic] Agogo (metalophone) and sèkèrè (traditional rattle) of Ògún. (p. 5)

He explains further that beyond the fact of the drum’s centrality in most of Africa’s orchestra, this aesthetic-religious function most likely makes clear the prevalence, amongst the Yorùbá, of tension drums with their wide range of tonal configuration and cultural addiction to “talking with musical instruments since Yorùbá is a tone language, musicians have been able to develop a highly sophisticated use of musical instruments as speech surrogate”.  It is therefore not surprising how religion (in this case non-native religions such as Islam and Christianity) plays some influential role in the development of such neo-traditional forms such as sakara, apala, waka, and juju. Uzoigwe (1992) also records how Akin Eubadescribes waka as a socio-religious song of Islamic origin, and how it later became entertainment music, accompanied on dundun drums. In waka, female singers are usually supported by male instrumentalists, and although yet unsophisticated in its early stage (like other neo-traditional forms), it is usually employed in marriage, child-naming, and funeral ceremonies. Apala, which is performed only by men, also has some links with Islam and, like waka, it is very much influenced by dundun drumming. Thus, drums and drum types, and the skillful combinations of the various ensembles, play crucial roles in shaping the distinctiveness of these neo-traditional forms. In all of these, the artiste, in blending both indigenous and foreign influences, is able also to achieve an overall aesthetic balance in developing and refurbishing his or her art.

Furthermore, as a necessary psychodynamic criterion for great, creative oral (musical) composition, an artiste is required – or, at least expected – to possess a reliable knowledge and understanding of the nature, constitution and workings of the folkloric resources available to him or her within the ambit of the culture within which his or her compositions are being done. According to Olademo (2009:33-34), the artist requires skill and the taking of initiative for accurate handling of available cultural materials. It behooves, for instance, the (Yorùbá) artist to be conversant with available materials for the various genres of Yorùbá oral literature and to know how to integrate these materials towards producing a rich and compelling work of art. The artist must be acquainted with the correct sequence of the information available to him or her, in addition to the imperative of taking initiatives in the handling of the cultural material, particularly in terms of re-arrangements and artistic expressions. To this effect, Fanilola asserts that for a good composition of oral genre, the Yorùbá artist’s expertise of Yoruba language and stylistic devices is uncompromising.

Hitherto, it has been sufficiently established how artistic (including musical) creation is achieved in the native, rustic environment of the African artist, in an ambience completely devoid of urban influences. However, at certain stage in the history of any society, urbanisation as a crucial part of the process of social evolution does influence the movement and therefore transmutation and alteration of the oral material. In this process, the traditional oral text which is usually informed by the rustic experiences and observations of life lived by successive generations (Olukoju, 1978), comes in contact with the influence of urban life, and in this novel state becomes a kind of hybrid material for a kind of hybrid art (musical) form. As mentioned earlier, urbanisation and industrialisation as results of European colonisation do create new urban lifestyles and social networks which were in many respects different from those in indigenous rural settings.

To demonstrate how music performance forms part of people’s life in the city, Dube points out how that urban musical performance figures in Africa people’s struggles and strategies to maintain or alter their ways of life during times of dramatic social upheaval, a phenomenon that, according to him, has been noted in other parts of the world by such scholars as Turino (1993, 5). Citing Gilbert and Gugler (1992, 2, 62), Dube further shows that ‘these changes, notably in colonial societies, were a consequence of a historic process of the incorporation of Africans into the world capitalist system’ (a system that firmly found its footing at the collapse of the Berlin wall and Marxism.) In the view of Coplan (1980), one of the strategies used by migrants to survive in the urban environment is to adapt to new circumstances, usually drawing upon various resources including cultural forms like performance.  These migrants, in particular popular music performers, have been characterised and studied with focus on musicians as cultural brokers, mobile individuals skilled at manipulating multiple expressive codes in heterogeneous environments.

Again, it becomes important to the pursuit of this disquisition to establish the fact that Africa, before the advent of European colonisation, had a significant degree of homegrown, continental urbanisation and a form of global interaction with the rest of the world during the Middle Ages (Keita, 2008). During this epoch, rural villages that originally served to support only their immediate inhabitants grew into centers of trade, religion, and government serving a larger region. Keita goes on to document that

While cities and states differed across the African continent, most were characterized by an urban culture; that is, a culture characterized by population and structural density from which arise various social and political organizations unique to the setting. This culture in many ways transcended linguistic, religious, and ethnic devices. Urbanization and the resulting formation of states created specific local language and culture. The cities, then, also represented the cultural traits and symbols that were exchanged between different societies throughout the centuries.

 

During this process, the ancient and sophisticated processes of urbanisation and state formation are seen in Egyptian civilisation. In this reality, Egypt is identified and famous for characterising the urban culture, state formation, and broad cultural interaction of the ancient civilisations; and contemporary to ancient Egypt was the region of Nubia (Kush), which was known by its urban complexes. The celebrated cities of Meroë and Napata had served as administrative centres, capitals of their regions, and homes to large populations. On the Swahili coast in East Africa, the cities and the states had begun a process of the fusion of pre-Islamic culture that marked one of many manifestations of Afro-Arabic culture. The distinction of this culture that has persisted through the modern age is called Swahili culture. According to Keita, Swahili commercial and urban structures were sophisticated and generated so much wealth that they continued to astound European visitors even about 1,500 years later. Amongst other things, this civilisation also gave birth to the grand capital city of Great Zimbabwe, and while Great Zimbabwe was said to have been symbolic of grandeur, it also represented smaller urban communities that dotted the southern African landscape and that may have predated Great Zimbabwe itself.

Buttressing the foregoing reality further, Dube, alluding to Barber, points out that changes within African societies, for instance the processes of performanceproduction leading to professionalisation, have a long history in Africa(Barber, 1987,13). In a similar vein, Waterman (1990:3,157) also asserts that in some societies urbanisation was a feature of Africanlife before the coming of colonialism. In his study of the social and economicorganisation of juju music performance in Nigerian urban settings, Waterman found that specialisation in economic productionwas even evident in pre-European lineage-based craft associations of the Yorùbá.Although by contrast, the most important difference between a city or urban centre in that civilisation and that of a modern city may be said to reside in the level of sophistication and the urbane, a commonality will be that both are socio-economically influential enough to bring about urban migration, during which the oral material becomes susceptible to miscellaneous transformations, thereby passing from a state of rusticity or traditionalism to urbanism.

An early history of the process of transformation and transmutation of African (Yorùbá) folkloric material can be traceable to some of the experimental and groundbreaking efforts of some African art-music scholars, composers and ethnomusicologists. Prominent amongst these are Fela Sowande, Akin Euba, Mojola Agbebi, Samuel Ekpe Akpabot, and J. H. Kwabena Nketia. As shown by Olorunyomi, by the early and middle 20th century, the cultural atmosphere, musically, was already shifting from a sheer endeavour at imitating European forms towards an authentication of what was considered indigenous, hence the conscious quest for alternative musical forms. And because this was a major revolutionary, cultural-change sprouting response motivated by its own exigency, nothing became too much or too less to lend to the cause, as in fact the majority of this group had had to devote a significant aspect of their scholastic life to achieving this cause, having themselves already been grounded in the knowledge of Western musical forms, particularly classical music (Omojola, 1995; Sadoh, 2007). This knowledge was made possible through colonial (Victorian) exposures, although the imperative of breaking away from the imperial hold of this temporal ambience (to creating a new cultural identity) was accelerated by the vanguards of this cultural trend, much more so “having learnt that the colonial explanation of Christianity was one in which only Victorian hymns could be sung”. To produce this revolution, nothing else but the oral, traditional site could be returned to as recourse. Citing Collins and Richards, Olorunyomi points out how Sowande, who had already established a reputation for himself as Nigeria’s leading ‘symphonic’ composer, subsequently argued the case for this aesthetic departure and for grounding Nigerian musicology in the study of African religion.

As revealed by Bode Omojola, Sowande had accordingly begun the work of collecting African melodies for use in his activities. These were later to be developed into original compositions, in particular the Six Sketches for Full Orchestra and the African Suite. Some liner notes actually outline some of these early efforts by Sowande as some form of hybridity achieved with a great stylistic conflation of the folk and the Western. According to Omojola,

The African Suite, written in 1944, combines well-known West African musics with European forces and methods. For the opening movement, Joyful Day, Sowande uses a melody written by Ghanaian composer Ephrain Amu, as he does in the fourth movement, Onipe.  In Nostalgia, Sowande composes a traditional slow movement to express his nostalgia for the homeland (in itself a rather European idea).  At the centre of the work is a restive Lullabybased on a folk original. (Emphasis mine)

Sadoh also explains how some the pieces performed by Sowande were based on borrowed themes from his Yorùbá culture. Sadoh further establishes the fact that indigenous songs are employed in Sowande’s music for three reasons, a foremost reason beingas “a symbol and mark of national identity”, and the second basis “to classify the works under the umbrella of modern Nigerian art music”, and, thirdly,“to arouse the interest of Nigerian/African audiences in performing, studying and analysing the music”. Apart from rhythm, Sadoh explicates, the indigenous songs are the most audible elements of Nigerian culture vivid to the audiences and performers. Hearing those songs enabled them to compartmentalise the works as Nigerian musical heritage. And this moment well signalled the beginning of Nigerian art music.

With these advancements, the issue of authenticity and identity were already being concretised, and further progress – more or less simultaneously – in this regard was to be found in similar efforts by Akin Euba, who, according to Collins and Richards, had moved in the direction of works, more accessible to mass audiences in which ‘Western’ influenced ‘intellectuallist’ procedures of composition were rejected. A major pursuit, for Euba, was the development of an African idiom. This proved quite a challenging but not impossible task as, in the early stage of this effort, he could “not find the key to this idiom”.  But, as recorded by Uzoigwe, he felt all along that the key was being gradually revealed by his continued study of the theoretical basis of African traditional music and exposure to the traditional music of other peoples(Uzoigwe,1992). These attempts were later to culminate in Euba’s idea of ‘African pianism’.

This experimentation – which saw Euba exploring the ‘African’/percussive aspects of the piano – was such a prolific and artistic effort that, by the mid 1960s such works as reflect(ed) their pure African roots and aesthetic essence had been produced. Amongst these creations were Four Pictures from Oyo Calabashes,Impressions from an Akwete Cloth, and Saturday Night at Caban Bamboo.  Other works of this same time in which piano is combined with other instruments are Tortoise and the Speaking Cloth for narrator and piano, and Four Pieces for flute, bassoon, piano and percussion. Earlier efforts had been arrangements of folk songs which made use of African materials and works such as included Igi Nla So for piano and four Yorùbá drums, and Three Yoruba Songs for baritone, piano and Ìyáàlù (Yorùbá ‘talking drum’ of the dundun tension drum family) had been composed.Original compositions had been composed in European terms.  The Wanderer was said to be the first composition in which attempts to explore elements of African musicwere made.

By this time, the traditional, oral langue has been richly and significantly explored that even the African ethnopoetic relevance of the performances has somewhat become signature to the productions. This reality is quite evinced in Euba’s Abiku I. In the case of Abiku I, the psycho-spiritual principle of the ‘abiku’ (a child ‘born to die’) – in Yorùbá mythological belief – becomes a leitmotif, having implications not only for literary creation but also for other forms of performative artistic creations. As a folkloric and literary antecedent to Euba’s Abiku I, this folk content was earlier to be found in Soyinka and Clark-Bekederemo’s separate poems of the same title, and later in Euba’s composition.

At this historic moment, that is the 1960s, a group of young African (Nigerian) artistes had begun to emerge, building, like Euba, on their neo-traditional music antecedences of dundun drumming, sakara, etc, from which Highlife, their immediate antecedent, had developed. The origin and development of Highlife itself predate the ‘Afroclassical’ art music of Sowande and Euba, although these two had grown side-by-side at some point. And although Highlife – which itself is a consequential product of colonialism in (West) Africa – is reputed to have emanated from Ghana, it had taken a peculiar tinge in the hands of such Nigerians as Ambrose Campbell, Bobby Benson, Victor Olaiya, Chris Ajilo, Roy Chicago, Herbert Ogunde and Adeolu Akinsanya amongst others (Bisade Ologunde, ©2005-10). Highlife, which was later to influence the evolution of the “Afro sound” generation of the 1960s onwards, had, according to Tam Fiofori (cited by Olorunyomi),

…taken off as “palm-wine”, guitar music – so called because of the social occasion of palm-wine refreshment during performance – was soon transformed into an orchestra which, apart from guitar, included in its typical ensemble brass instruments such as trumpet, trombone and tuba, as well as reed instruments. Other Western-style instruments of this form are the trap drum and cymbals, accordion, xylophone and keyboard, with brass and reed instruments now carrying “the tones, in harmony led by the trumpet.” p.9

However, the latter half of the 1960s witnessed the emergence of new musical groups (bands) – the “Afro sound” generation – who, conscious of the activities of their African American contemporaries in the United States, also began some forms of musical experimentations. By now the Koola Lobitos Band of Fela Ransome-Kuti, who would later emerge a hugely celebrated figure of this generation, had already taken good shape; but being yet experimental, it had metamorphosed into the Highlife Jazz Band. As a matter of fact, this reality was a pervading syndrome of that generation as other contemporary bands were also found to be going through the process of change. Amongst these, Orlando Julius, whose musical band had progressed from being the “Afro Sounders” to the “Modern Aces”, equally proves significant in this generation. By the 1970s, other “Africa sounding” bands had emerged, also witnessing the rite of name-changing. There was the band The Cluster who also later metamorphosed into BLO (“B” for Berkely “Ike” Jones (guitar); “L” for Laolu “Akins” Akintobu (drums); and “O” for Mike “Gbenga” Odumosu (bass)) This group, like Fela-Kuti, Orlando Julius and certain others of that generation, had first played Highlife, trying also to be like TheBeatles, RollingStones, and the James Brown. (Of course, Fela’s persistent search for an appropriate style and ideology led to his further crisscrossing, and therefore the continuous change of his Band’s name(s), now from Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Nigeria 70, to The Africa ’70 and then to the Egypt ’80, respectively.) There was also the group Osibisa, remarkable for its experimentation with a musical form which combined an African style with a Caribbean blend.

From this point on, there began to be a tendency towards the acceptance of influences from rock music as was to be seen in BLO and such other bands as Ofege, and The Lijadu Sisters. For Ofege, rhythm is defined in terms of post-60s harmony vocals, in which the melodic fuzz “breaks out/breaks free, wild and uncompromising, while the rhythm in an African way are repeated and carry the song”. And, although the rhythm of Ofege is complex and groovy, bits of the funky elements are completely dissolved in the psychedelic effect of all.

The much fascinating appearances of Tunji Oyelana (and The Benders) and Jimi Solanke in this Zeitgeist cannot be undermined. Indeed, the conscious, deliberate deployment of rich cultural, and in fact folk, elements was to distinguish The Lijadu Sisters, Jimi Solanke and Tunji Oyelana, who at this time helped create a dimension of cultural rejuvenation through their creative art music styles. The contributions of this very crop of folk-conscious artistes was later to have some influence and implications for what was to partly constitute the orientation, temperament and tenor of what would emerge as Alter-native Contemporary African Music. In effect, the impact of this movement was to last into the 1980s, when the hitherto youngest of the alter-native contemporary African music artistes in this consideration were born, namely Nneka Egbuna (Nneka) and Bukola Elemide (Àsá), albeit such older artistes of this avant-garde musical movement such as Siji Awoyinka (Siji), Ayinke Martins and Femi Sanyaolu (aka Keziah Jones) amongst others in the genre also continually have reasons for an inextricable recourse to the artistic potpourri and whirlpool of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

In closing and consolidation of this disquisition, it cannot be highlighted sufficiently that even up until this point, the “Afro” (that is, the indigenous African element) has been a fundamental leitmotif in the evolution(s) of various ‘alter-native’ forms hitherto engaged. In essence, a sense of the authentic has become, of necessity, the very mooring to which all African arts of successive times have been tied. The socialist (Marxian) ideology has equally proved to be central and significant to shaping what subsequently defines the alter-native form that has evolved in the three decades that span 1981 to 2011(especially considering the fact that up until now more new releases are continually found to be made of alter-native contemporary African musical production as recently witnessed in the case of Àsá’s latest vinyl, Beautiful Imperfection, and in fact the emergence also of the South African alter-native Band, Uju). A central fact then remains that, in the midst of all of the historio-cultural and indeed kaleidoscopic changes as illustrated, the autochthonous oral backcloth continues to subsist through the times and trends. This reality –that the African art is never void of the ludic (beautiful) and the util (functional) – therefore constitutes the touchstone against which the arguments of this disquisition are rested and tested. This premise then being true, it followsthat its inherent strength is worthy of continuous and serious scholarly attention and of being brought to the mainstream of such contemporary world issues as (African) art and society, and such other issues as are being posed by the ever-changing, ever-evolving universe of postmodernism and African Diaspora studies.

 

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