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Nigerian Art Music

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Bode Omojola

1. Introduction

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  • 1 Studies which have been carried out on modern African musical practices include those by T.K.E. Ph (...)

1Although a considerable amount of research has been carried out on traditional African music, contemporary musical idioms in Africa have received limited attention by scholars. It is only in recent times that scholars1 began to accept the fact that, while the preservation and documentation of traditional forms are laudable research projects, new, modern musical practices are also worthy of attention.

2The emergence of new musical idioms in Nigeria should not be seen as a novel phenomenon as change has either through internal processes or the influence of a foreign culture always affected Nigerian music. Music is an important aspect of a people’s culture and since culture is dynamic, it can be assumed that Nigerian traditional music as we know it today is different from what it was several hundred years ago.

3One of the most important external influences on Nigerian traditional music came as a result of the contact between Islamic and Nigerian culture. As Nketia observed:

  • 2 K. Nketia, The Music of Africa, London, 1979, pp. 9-10.

the impact of Islamic and Arabic cultures had a far reaching influence on the Savannah belt of West Africa. (This has led to) the rise of an Islamic ruling caste and the formation of Islamic states... Such states were formed (as in Northern Nigeria) by leaders... who had embraced Islam and who felt committed to wage holy wars in order to subjugate the indigenous populations under the political rule of Islam. The potentates of such states adopted (among other things) some Arabic musical instruments, particularly aerophones and drums, and features of vocal technique, identified with Islamic cantillation, such as ornamentation.2

4More recent musical changes which have taken place in Africa, through European contact should, therefore, not be dismissed as unauthentic. Rather, they should be seen as part of the evidence of the age-long propensity for African musicians to adapt their musicianship to conform to socio-cultural changes within the society. In this regard, the introduction of Christian missionary activities and the British colonial administration to Africa in the middle of the nineteenth century have led to some of the most significant musical changes in the continent.

5Perhaps the most far reaching of such changes is the introduction of European classical music which is characterised by musical performances by a group of professional musicians playing from written scores, to a listening, non-participating audience. Performances of such works often take place in the church, university and polytechnic campuses, school and college halls and public halls in towns and big cities such as Enugu, Calabar, Legon, Kumasi, Accra, Ibadan, Akure and Lagos. Audiences for such works are drawn mainly from Christians, the university and college communities, middle and upper class people such as civil servants, businessmen and politicians.

Nigerian Traditional Music

  • 3 These deities are lesser gods who, as messengers to Olodumare (the Almighty God), have delegated p (...)

6Among the Yoruba — one of the three largest ethnic groups in Nigeria (the other two being the Igbo and the Hausa) — traditional music can be categorised into two distinct forms, religious and secular. In religious worship, music is usually performed to appease and to invoke the spirits of such deities as Sango (the god of thunder) and Ogun (the god of iron).3 Apart from the ritualistic use of music, musical performances in Yorubaland are often part of religious festivals. Such festivals usually follow sacred rites which take place at the shrine of the deity being worshipped. Religious festivals provide opportunity for communal music-making during which everybody in the community shares a satisfying musical experience. Communal music-making also takes place during purely social events, such as naming ceremonies, funerals and the coronation of a new oba (king).

  • 4 For a study of Yoruba instrumental ensemble, see D. Thieme, A descriptive catalogue of Yoruba musi (...)

7Yoruba traditional music consists of both instrumental and vocal music. Instrumental music types are varied and are usually named after the instruments employed in them. For example, we have ere kiriboto (kiriboto music), an ensemble of five drums of the membranophone family made of a calabash resonator (kiriboto), covered with the skin of an animal; and ere dundun (dundun music), an ensemble of double-headed hourglass tension drums (dundun).4

8Although musical performances are predominantly communally based, specialisation exists in Yoruba music. Musicians who grow up to become specialists are usually born into a family which has a long history of specialist musicians. Such families are called the Ayan families. Although musicians are often rewarded for their performances, they generally make their living through other occupations such as farming and hunting.

9As among the Yoruba, the musical performances of the Hausa are closely tied to political, religious and social events. As a result of the introduction of Arabic and Islamic culture as far back as the thirteenth century, the area is predominantly Islamic. Musical practices therefore reflect the political and social features of an Islamic state. For example, musical performances are frequently held in the palace to entertain the paramount chief (the Emir) and his visitors. Likewise, ceremonial music, rok on fada, is performed regularly in front of the Emir’s palace. During such performances, the Emir reasserts his political authority, while his subjects re-affirm their confidence in, and the acceptance of, his leadership. The advent of Islam has, however, not completely eroded traditional, pre-Islamic religious practices. One musical type, strongly associated with such religious practices and which still survives today, is the Bori possession music. This music is believed to have enormous spiritual power which can help worshippers to reach a state of ecstasy through which they can communicate directly with their ancestral spirits.

10As in Yorubaland, some form of professionalism exists among Hausa musicians. As King has observed:

  • 5 A. King, Nigerian music. In: the New Grove Dictionary of Music. Vol. 13, 1980, p. 239.

Hausa professional musicians belong to a distinct social class which has the character of an enclave within the society because of its low social status, hereditary membership and dependence on patronage. Such patronage is usually provided by the Emir, palace officials and chiefs who till today constitute the aristocrats — feudal lords in traditional Hausa society.5

11Prominent Hausa musical instruments are the alghaita (a wooden, oboe-like instrument which has a bamboo reed), kakaki (trumpet), goje (a 2-string fiddle) and gangan, an hourglass shaped, double headed drum similar to the Yoruba dundun.

12Igbo traditional music, like that of the Yoruba and Hausa, is strongly tied to extra-musical events which provide a means of expressing group solidarity and transmitting traditional norms and beliefs from one generation to another. According to Nzewi:

  • 6 M. Nzewi, Some social perspectives of Igbo traditional theatre. In: The Black Perspective in Music (...)

The Igbo systems and ideological formulations were established on and buttressed by communally binding and viable mythological concepts and covenants. These were periodically validated or regenerated or commemorated in order to ensure a continuing binding compact. Such periodic communions required highly stylised media that would give super-ordinary atmosphere, impact and candour to the event... These media (which constituted traditional theatre in ail its scope and ramifications) incorporate the performing arts areas of music, dance, drama and mime.6

13Examples of social and religious uses of music in Igbo land include those that accompany initiation rites into the masquerade cult (egwu mgba). Prominent musical instruments in Igbo land include ngedegwu, (a xylophone made of wooden planks laid on a banana tree resonator), ekwe (a wooden, slit drum), ogene (a metal gong) and oja (a wooden five-hole flute). One of the most popular forms of instrumental music which makes use of all these instruments is the egwu mgba. Although there are specialist musicians, especially instrumentalists, Igbo traditional musicians, like most of the Yoruba musicians, make their living from other occupations such as farming.

Focus of Study

  • 7 For a list of some of these composers see M. Omibiyi, Nigerian musicians and composers. Nigeria Ma (...)

14In Africa today there are a significant number of composers, trained in universities and conservatories, both at home and abroad, writing works which are conceived along the lines of European music but which often employ a considerable degree of African musical elements.7 As will be seen later, the most important objective of these composers is to help create a tradition of Nigerian Art Music through a fusion of European and African elements.

  • 8 In Yorubaland, for example, palace musicians often entertain the oba (the ruler) and his ijoye (ch (...)

15Prior to the arrival of European missionaries in the middle of the nineteenth century, Nigerian music was predominantly a religious or a social event. The concept of music as a purely contemplative tradition was not general. Although there were examples of traditional musical performances which took place outside specific social or religious contexts,8 music was regarded as an integral part of social or ritual events. In addition, a musical performance was often conceived as part of a multi-media experience. As Euba observed:

  • 9 A. Euba, Criteria for the evaluation of new African Art Music. Transition 49, 1975, pp. 46-47.

Much of the pre-colonial traditional music is practised in the context of one or more of the other performing arts. There are, for example, the use of music as an integral part of dance, of poetry and of dramatic expression ail fused together in the same performance context. In addition, music and all these other performing arts are often presented in combination with the visual arts such as sculpture, design, painting and costuming... Music is viewed in terms of its relationship to the total art complex and not as an isolated phenomenon .9

16An example, of this is the Igbo Ofala (yam eating festival) music which can only be understood by relating the music to the extra-musical context of the Ofala festival. It is against this background that the emergence of a purely contemplative, European derived, Art Music in Nigeria represents a significant musical innovation. The predominant emphasis of this new tradition is aesthetic, and as Euba, one of Nigeria’s modern composers whose works are examined in this volume, has noted:

  • 10 ibid., p. 48.

the composers (often) intend their works for performance by experts before an audience which is not encouraged to participate in the performance. This in a way constitutes a radical change in the African approach to music...10

17Since musical practices in traditional Nigerian Society are strongly tied to religious, social and political activities, the introduction of Christianity and European culture to Nigeria was bound to have a significant impact on Nigerian musical culture. As a result of European intervention, the pre- colonial, independent ethnic groups were transformed into a single political entity — Nigeria. With a population of about 100 million and about 250 different ethnic groups, it is the most populous sub-Saharan African country. This major political change was accompanied by the emergence of cosmopolitan towns, the introduction of modern means of communication — the cinema, radio and television and the emergence of European-trained Nigerians. These factors provided the socio-economic and cultural basis for the growth of modern musical idioms in Nigeria.

18The most important source for the growth of European-derived modern musical idioms in Nigeria, as in many African countries, is, the Christian church. The church through its mission schools, also provided opportunities for the training of students in the theory and practice of European music — a feature which still exists.

  • 11 Misonu Amu, Stylistic and textual sources of a contemporary Ghanaian Art Music composer: A case st (...)

19The discussion in this book focuses on written compositions by Nigerian and Ghanaian composers who have been influenced by European classical music. This category of music is referred to as Art Music, which has been described as music in which ‘a great deal of attention is given to the musical, technical or artistic interest of the piece as a focus of aesthetic enjoyment’.11 Although the history of modern Nigerian Art Music is relatively recent, dating back only to the 1940s (most significantly in the writings of Sowande), it is necessary to provide both the historical and the musical processes which anticipated its emergence. Thus, Chapter 2 focuses on the events which took place in the nineteenth century which provided the basis for the growth of modern Nigerian music. Chapter 3 provides a detailed study of the lives and works of major Nigerian composers with a view to establishing the main compositional objectives which dictated their creative experiments. The material in this chapter is based on interviews conducted with the composers combined with the results of a study of their published and unpublished research work. In the case of Fela Sowande and Ayo Bankole, now deceased, I have relied mainly on their works as well as information provided by their colleagues and friends, e.g., Akin Euba, Samuel Akpabot and Moloye Bateye.

20The analyses provided in chapters 4, 5 and 6 focus on some selected works. The objective of these chapters is to illustrate, in some detail, some of the stylistic issues discussed in chapters 2 and 3. The chapters on analysis are also intended to project a relevant analytical approach which can be employed in studying works by African composers.

21Chapter 7 presents a list of many of the works by the Nigerian composers discussed in this book, while chapter 8 is an introductory survey of Art Music in Ghana. The chapter on Ghanaian Art Music is designed to enable readers compare the Ghanaian tradition with that of Nigeria. The chapter discusses how similar socio-musical situations in the two countries have laid the foundation for the emergence of art works which have similar stylistic tendencies. In conclusion, it is necessary to note that this book is written for all those who are interested or engaged in a serious study of African music and introduces the new but growing tradition of Art Music in Africa to composers and performers who may be interested in studying or performing any of the works discussed.

Notes

1 Studies which have been carried out on modern African musical practices include those by T.K.E. Phillips, Yoruba Music (Johannesburg, 1953); J. Collins, Chanaian Highlife, African Arts 10, pt. 1, 1976 and D. Coplan, Go to my Town Cape Coast: The social history of Chanaian Highlife. In: Eight Urban Musical Cultures, University of Illinois Press, 1978.

2 K. Nketia, The Music of Africa, London, 1979, pp. 9-10.

3 These deities are lesser gods who, as messengers to Olodumare (the Almighty God), have delegated powers.

4 For a study of Yoruba instrumental ensemble, see D. Thieme, A descriptive catalogue of Yoruba musical instruments, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Catholic University of America, 1969.

5 A. King, Nigerian music. In: the New Grove Dictionary of Music. Vol. 13, 1980, p. 239.

6 M. Nzewi, Some social perspectives of Igbo traditional theatre. In: The Black Perspective in Music. 1978, p. 114.

7 For a list of some of these composers see M. Omibiyi, Nigerian musicians and composers. Nigeria Magazine, Nos. 128-129, 1978.

8 In Yorubaland, for example, palace musicians often entertain the oba (the ruler) and his ijoye (chiefs) in the evenings in the moonlight.

9 A. Euba, Criteria for the evaluation of new African Art Music. Transition 49, 1975, pp. 46-47.

10 ibid., p. 48.

11 Misonu Amu, Stylistic and textual sources of a contemporary Ghanaian Art Music composer: A case study of Dr. Ephraim Amu. M. Phil. thesis. University of Legon, 1988. p. 67.

© IFRA-Nigeria, 1995

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