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Nigerian Art Music

Bode Omojola

6. Vocal Works

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Linguistic Demands and Musical Considerations

1The writing of part songs which make use of a text in a traditional language poses a considerable challenge to Nigerian composers, especially when the pre-compositional demand of text (that is, the need to maintain the linguistic contour of text) is an important consideration. The prevalence of harmonic parallelisms in African music has been wrongly interpreted by some writers to be strong evidence that traditional African music often lacks vertically conceived harmonies. Parallelism implies that there is really only one voice, which other voices duplicate at higher or lower intervals. As many examples have revealed, the prevalence of harmonic parallelisms is an essential feature of the musical setting in a tonal language. Modern Nigerian composers of vocal music are constantly aware of what may be referred to as the tyranny of tonal language which they have tried to overcome through the use of certain compositional techniques.

2As the works to be discussed below will illustrate, the pre-compositional demand of traditional Nigerian tonal languages is often a vital factor in the conception of part songs by Nigerian composers. This is underlined by Ayo Bankole who, in a preface to his Three Part Songs for Female Choir, states that:

  • 1 Introduction to Three Part Songs, Ile-Ife, 1976.

... the words (used in them) largely determine their own melodies although these melodies have been manipulated by the composer who believes that the speech tonality of Yoruba music has not the stricture and rigidity which the Western scale-system imposes on Western songs. Hence the chromatic notes are those which would ordinarily occur if such songs were taught to indigenous singers.1

3We shall now examine Bankole’s Three Part Songs.

First Song: Orisba Bi Ofun Kosi

4The first of the songs, Orisha Bi Ofun Kosi (the throat is the greatest of the gods), illustrates the importance of food for the body. The work is characterised by familiar features of Bankole’s style: the prevalent use of the whole tone scale, tritones and parallel harmonies. Two chordal elements, F major and E b major (I and VIIb), occupy a central role in the overall harmonic-tonal vocabulary of the piece. As reflected in the opening bars (4, 6, 8 and 20), it is these two chords that function as cadential resting points. Other important features of the piece include:

  1. the alternations between homophonic passages characterised by parallel harmonies and relatively contrapuntal passages
  2. a frequent use of chromaticism which often overshadows the F tonality of the work
  3. the use of antiphonal vocal divisions

5The use of some of these harmonic and textural procedures is generally determined by the need to reflect both the inflectional and rhythmic features of the text. For example, the establishment of and escape from the background tonality of the work is directly linked to the alternation of homophonic and contrapuntal passages. Thus, in the relatively homophonic passages (as in bars 1-4, Ex 1), the background key of F is periodically reaffirmed, while it is overshadowed in antiphonal passages such as bars 9-21.

6However, in addition to their harmonic-tonal functions, the use of each of these two main types of texture is also conditioned by the need to reflect the inflectional patterns of the text. Thus, in the homophonic passage the use of parallel harmonies between each part is an unavoidable feature of the monorhythmic setting of a tonal language. The harmonic interest of bars 9-12 derives from the independent conception of phrases between the two divisions of the choir. In each of the two groups, melodic patterns directly reflect linguistic contour. The most important feature of this paragraph (i.e., bars 9-20) is that the retention of linguistic nuances takes place within the germinal structural element of the opening bars, that is, the cadential importance of the two chords F and E b. This is because the whole of bars 9- 21 can be viewed as a structural expansion of the F - E b sequence which is a feature of the opening bars. This expansion relies on the use of embellishing chromatic chords which link the F major chord of bar 9 and the E b of bar 20. The total outline of the piece is, therefore, defined by alternations between homophonic and contrapuntal passages and framed by progressions between F and E b chords; because of the interval between these chords, the importance of the whole tone scale in the work is emphasised. It is within the musical framework discussed above that the linguistic demands of the text are met.

Second Song: Ile-Iwe Nikan L’ori Yungba Yungba

7The most important feature of Ile-Iwe Nikan L’ori Yungba Yungba (school life is very enjoyable), is the use of polytonality, a feature well suited when setting a tonal language. Polytonality serves this particular purpose, as well as constituting the main means of providing harmonic as well as tonal interest in the piece. Another striking feature is the use of ostinato rhythmic phrases which are derived from the speech-rhythm of the word Yungba Yungba as a background feature rhythmic accompaniment in bars 5-15, provided by the four lower voices. The opening bars establish the harmonic-tonal premise of the work. As Ex. 2 shows, the two antiphonal divisions of the choir move from the dissonant chord of bar 1 to a bitonal cadence in bar 3. These opening bars initiate the general tendency of the piece to continue with a progressive increase in the number of juxtaposed simultaneous tonal areas. Thus while the bitonal cadence of bar 3 becomes highlighted in bars 8-15, the parts become more polarised in bars 16-19 where four different tonal areas are simultaneously presented. The most effective use of polytonality occurs in the last paragraph of the work, bars 20-30, where the parts enter fugally. The constituent tonal areas include the two previous ones (C and E b) as well as two new ones, G and Bb. The harmonic dissonance resulting from these polytonal lines remains unresolved, ending on a chord which approaches a chord cluster (bar 30). The overall form of the piece is framed by a progressively complex and increasingly stratified tonal texture which relies-mainly on the use of bi and polytonality. These in turn guarantee a continuous reflection of the contours of text as well as providing harmonic interest.

Third Song: Enikeni to Ba Gbe Ara Re Ga

8Enikeni to Ba Gbe Ara re Ga (pride comes before humiliation) which is the third of the Three Part Songs presents a different approach to reconciling linguistic demands and musical considerations. Unlike the two previous songs, the work has a piano accompaniment. Apart from supplying a very rhythmic accompaniment and emphasising certain phrases of the vocal part, the piano articulates harmonic tonal goals which may not be achieved through the vocal parts as a result of the constraints imposed by linguistic demands.

9Though the overall harmonic-tonal language of the piece consists of the same features as the two previous songs (the whole tone scale, tritones etc.), it has a different plan. In the opening section, bars 1-21, the D tonality is established. Part writing in this section is particularly conditioned by the contour demands of the text. Thus, while the two lower voices move in parallel motion (See Ex. 3), the upper part provides an independent, ostinato line. The unison of bars 24-35 is a more convenient way of continuing the musical reflection of the textual contours.






  • 2 Infiect the “ŏ” in l’a ŏ gbê ga if possible


11Unison is, however, also susceptible to tonal manipulation. The lack of an overall harmonic-tonal goal in the piano part reflects this manipulation. The change to a quasi-hocket technique in bars 35-38 can also be seen against the background of the need to continue the correspondence between the inflections of text and the melodic contour. The tonal vagueness of bars 24-34 is continued here (Ex.4) and lasts until bar 42. It is not until the postlude of bars 45-51 that the D tonality of the piece is restored. Thus, musical and linguistic demands are effectively reconciled. The change to unison and imitative procedures (including the quasi-hocket technique) in bars 25-44 are textural features well suited to a continuous musical reflection of the contours of text. These textural procedures are also exploited for harmonic and tonal interest.

  • 3 A scale which does not consist of semitones.

12As these pieces show, Bankole is able to maintain the relationship between text and melody as it is found in traditional models. These pieces also help to provide an insight into an important cultural root of Bankole’s style. Features such as the whole tone scale, tritone, bitonality and parallel harmonies, reflect the influence of the romantic-impressionistic language of European music on him; but the use of these features is also linked to the influence of Yoruba traditional vocal music. For example, the use of the whole-tone scale is common to the musical setting of the Yoruba language and this is one reason for the common use of the anhemitonic pentatonic scale3 in Yoruba music. In addition, the use of linearly conceived melodies, of bi and polytonality are, as seen in his vocal works, suitable for the musical setting of a tonal language. From this it can be ascertained that Yoruba vocal music and its strong ties with the demands of the pre-compositional element of language are crucial to the derivation of those familiar elements of Bankole’s style.


Okechukwu Ndubuisi: The Vengeance of the Lizards

13Ndubuisi’s The Vengeance of the Lizards is defined stylistically by the incorporation of the features of Igbo-organised theatre within the framework of the operatic tradition to achieve a modest but unique musico-dramatic style.

  • 4 Personal interview with the composer.

14The Vengeance of the Lizards belongs to the same category of Nigerian operatic works as Opu Jaja by Adam Fiberesima and the Lost Honey by Meki Nzewi. The episodic structure of The Vengeance of the Lizards reflects typical examples of the tragic and the comic aspects of life in an Igbo community, focusing on traditional beliefs of reincarnation, divination, rites of passage initiation ceremonies and witchcraft. Its libretto, written by the composer himself, is based on a fictitious story set in the Bende division of the old Mid- Western Nigeria of 1919. According to the composer ‘then as now, the image of secret societies and witchery were supreme and unchallenged... Society’s climate was nurtured by them in reasoning and experimentation’.4 The work is scored for soloists and chorus:

15The Vengeance of the Lizards

List of principal characters:

16Otumokpor (Superwitch) — Soprano

17Biakama (Otumokpor’s envoy) — Tenor

18Nnanna (The offender) — Tenor

19Ada (Nnanna’s wife) — Soprano

20Village girls — Chorus

21Village boys — Chorus

22Masquerades — Chorus

23Village elders — Chorus

24Witches — Chorus

25It makes use of the piano and percussion instruments — the rattle and the tam-tam. The plot of the opera goes thus. In a village called Komolu lived-a leopard in the nearby Komolu forest. Villagers feared this animal because it was ‘a spiritual leopard’, the ‘symbol of power and might’ of witches, especially of the superwitch, Otumokpor. One day, acting on the orders of Otumokpor, the leopard killed a villager as a punitive measure for an act of disobedience. The villagers were angered by this act and therefore killed the leopard. The killing of the leopard in turn provoked the anger of Otumokpor and other witches who later asked Biakama (Otumokpor’s envoy and a witch himself) to find the person who had killed the leopard so that he could also be killed. Biakama eventually identified Nnanna as the one who killed the leopard. As the witches prepared to take their vengeance, however, the superwitch, Otumokpor, stopped them, saying that Nnanna should no longer be killed ! This decision angered the witches, and the opera ends without a resolution of the disagreement between Otumokpor and the other witches.

26The discussion below is not intended to be a detailed examination of the opera. The general outline and the main methods by which the composer integrates the musical and dramatic language of the work are examined.

27The opera is in two acts, with four scenes in the first and two in the second. A diagrammatic summary of the dramatic and the musical structure of the work is provided in Table 1. As the diagram shows, the opening scene functions as an introduction to the opera. In it, the background conflict of the opera — the killing of the leopard and the consequent annoyance of the witches — is presented.

Table 1. General Outline of The Vengeance of the Lizards

Table 1. General Outline of The Vengeance of the Lizards

28In scenes 2, 3 and 4 the spectacle shifts to familiar scenes of Igbo traditional life; the moonlight plays (which include a wrestling dance for boys), masquerade dances, marriage bargaining and ceremonies. Moonlight plays generally provide an opportunity for boys and girls who have reached the age of puberty to meet and socialise. Thus, by the end of Scene 3, Nnanna (the boy who will later be identified as the person who killed the leopard) and Ada agree to marry each other. In the last scene of Act One, their marriage is finalised through bargaining and ceremonies. The opening scene of Act Two takes place in the matrimonial home of Ada and Nnanna, where both are getting very worried about the impending tragedy, that is, the tragedy expected to befall Nnanna for killing the leopard. It is not until the last scene, the finale, that the spectacle shifts to the supernatural world of the witches as they prepare to take their vengeance on Nnanna.

29As this outline shows, the main dramatic thrust of the opera takes place in the opening and closing scenes while those intervening deviate from the tragic element of the work to focus on the more comical aspects of traditional village life. But, even in the central scene, a host of musico-dramatic features make references to the theme of the story.

30The introduction consists of a short overture, two arias and the first chorus, all of which introduce some of the principal characters: Biakama, Otumokpor and the witches. In addition, it also presents the following important musical features of the work.

  1. the announcement of important melodic ideas which will continue to have associated dramatic functions
  2. the evocation of the musico-ritual features of traditional Igbo religious format and their dramatic significance
  3. the presentation of the main harmonic styles of the work, the juxtaposition of which often help to articulate sequences of dramatic action.

31The introduction is conceived as a single entity (Table 2) within which the various numbers (the overture, the arias and the chorus) take their place. The overture, bars 1-57 (whose texture and rhythm are conceived to evoke the sonority of ngedegwu — the Igbo xylophone), opens with an arpeggio motif which is characterised by a compound chord structure (see Ex. 5a). This motif, because of its syncopated rhythm and its dissonant quality, foreshadows and adumbrates the tragic theme of the opera. A notable feature of the whole introduction is that it is divided into paragraphs of different melo-rhythmic ideas and textures (Table 2 and Ex. 5 a-g). The motivic sequence of the introduction — that is the succesive appearances of new melo-rhythmic paragraphs — is constantly activated by: (a) changing textures; (b) different rates of articulation; (c) changes in key; and (d) fluctuations in dynamic level.

Table 2. The Introduction: Paragraphs and use of theme/melodies

Table 2. The Introduction: Paragraphs and use of theme/melodies

Ex. 5 c, d, e, f & g

Ex. 5 c, d, e, f & g

32The use of varied thematic ideas, abrupt key changes, chromaticism, fluctuations in dynamics and tempo in the introduction helps to generate a cumulative tension. This provides an appropriate musical milieu for the presentation of the background conflict of the opera in the introduction. Biakama’s entry in bar 58 is marked by a change from the preceding tonal vagueness (that of bars 46-57) to a rather serene B flat minor tonality. His rendition is intoned with an impassioned and emotional quality, reflected in the angularity, the assymetric and irregular rhythmic character of his melodic line (Ex. 6). The momentary change of timbre and texture from the piano chords of bars 58-63 to the punctuating melodic fragments of bars 66-72 also enhances the declamation in Biakama’s part. Biakama’s function, however, also includes invoking the spirit of Otumokpor. As has been pointed out earlier, the appearance of supernatural forces in the traditional Nigerian context is usually an occasion of high drama. Musical features exist here which seek to evoke such drama. For example, prior to the appearance of Otumokpor, the witches (in bars 90-95) sing a chorus which is chanted to ritualistc syllables rendered in the call and response manner (Ex. 5e) and in bars 96-110 the instrumental interlude deviates into a predominantly chromatic texture in which the ‘theme of tragedy’ (Ex. 5b) is recalled. This passage moves into a rallentando, in bars 109 ff, ending dramatically on a soft 7/5/3 chord which marks the appearance of Otumokpor.

33Like that of Biakama, Otumokpor’s part (see Ex. 7) has an emotive character, reflecting furious anger and a forceful promise of vengeance. Apart from the use of angular lines and irregular phrase lengths, this emotive quality is parallelled in the unstable tonal motion of bars 111-143. Thus, the passage is characterised by fleeting and vaguely defined tonal areas, none of which dominates. It is the entry of Biakama in bars 143 ff that resolves this tonal tension through a cadence in G major. Here he responds to the instruction of Otumokpor to identify the killer of the leopard in a series of short melodic ejaculations interspersed with spoken text (Ex. 5f). The entry of Biakama in bar 143 also initiates a new harmonic and rhythmic texture in the opera. His appearance recalls the simple diatonic folky character of the composer’s earlier songs. The witches’ part returns (once again) after Biakama’s (bars 166 ff) with Ex. 5a continuing in a modally inflected harmonic style.

34Their reappearance enhances the supernatural nature of Otumokpor as well as reiterating the message that vengeance will be taken on whoever is identified as the killer of the spiritual leopard. Two melodic ideas stand out in the introduction, both of which have an important dramatic function — the chromatic motif (Ex 5b) which has been referred to as the theme of tragedy and the melodic line of the witches’ chorus (Ex 5g). As exemplified in the introduction, Ex 5g is present throughout the opera, periodically recalled to reiterate the annoyance of the witches and their promise of vengeance. Ex 5b functions less directly. Whenever it reappears, it adds significantly to the drama, and at the same time offsets the tonal areas.

35The opening scene also introduces some of the main elements in the work — the use of folk-inspired harmonics and Igbo folk songs. These elements are used later in the work, to evoke specific traditional Igbo religious and social contexts.

36The greatest concentration of folk songs in the opera occurs in the other scenes of the first act (that is, scenes 2, 3 and 4) where the focus shifts to aspects of traditional Igbo village life. Correspondingly, harmonic and rhythmic procedures show greater allegiance to traditional sources: the texture is generally diatonic with very little use of modulation; rhythmic patterns are often syncopated. In addition, musical numbers occur within largely extemporised spoken dialogue. The moonlight scene is divided into two sections. In the first, village girls perform a traditional dance, singing popular ‘maiden’ songs, the first of which (Ex. 8a) is treated in a theme and variation format. In the second section of this scene, village boys perform traditional wrestling dances, set to contrasting powerful rhythms and a host of traditional songs (like Exs. 8 b & c).

37As they dance they invite the girls to join them. The girls finally agree to their request leading to the ‘Embrace’ chorus, which is notable in its use of a quasi-Highlife style. While enacting aspects of traditional life, the moonlight scene focuses on two more important characters of the opera, Nnanna (later identified as the boy who killed the leopard) and Ada, who later marry each other. These two characters take leading musical roles within each of the two groups of boys and girls; either as individual soloists, i.e., rendering arias, most of which revolve round the theme of love, as in the moonlight scene or as leading roles within choruses organised in call and response sequences, as in the ‘Incitation Song’.

38The marriage scene is divided into sections which represent the different stages of the marriage rituals. Folk songs which typify each of the stages are interpolated into the dialogue (see Ex. 9)- There is a correlation between the less dynamic musical character of the moonlight and marriage scenes and the fact that the main background conflict of the opera is temporarily set aside for some of the more comical aspects of traditional life. Thus, generally speaking, the dramatic significance of these scenes relies less on the musical organisation than on the association of events with traditional contexts.

39These are reinforced through the use of folk music materials and scenic effects. Despite this, there are occasional and often effective references to the main conflict of the opera — references which make the initial use of musical symbols in the introduction clear. We shall cite two instances:

  1. After the serenade duet in Act 1, Scene 2, Ada complains of hearing a strange sound saying, ‘something has dropped on me, help me’. Here Ada was beginning to worry over the death punishment which would be meted out to her husband, Nnanna. Accordingly, the music changes from the folk serenade to a highly emotive, tonally unstable passage (bars 25- 42) in which the chromatic idea is recalled once again. Other features of the passage include a slow tempo, a meandering melodic line and a fantasia-like texture (Ex. 10). The appearance of the witches and their melody (Ex. 5g) after this passage helps to dramatically reinforce Ada’s expression of fear, since in the introduction the witches have appeared to symbolise the supernatural and destructive power of Otumokpor.
  2. In Act 1, Scene 3, Nnanna appeals to ‘Kamalu’, the god of peace and love, for protection from the witches who have the ‘wicked plans to take my love away from me’, in a passage typified by a recurring harmonic pattern (Ex. 11). Immediately after this appeal, another supernatural spirit appears, this time the more benevolent masquerade which gives Nnanna and his wife an assurance of protection. Here melodic and rhythmic patterns which are characteristic of the Igbo masquerade dances (Ex. 12) occur.

40The recurrence of such musical ideas — which have dramatic allusions also provide one of the main ways of generating an element of coherence throughout the opera.

41In the chorus, ‘No smoke without fire’ (Act II, Scene 1), the witches, now set for revenge, sing of their anger. Their supernatural power of destruction is compared with the devastating effect of fire on African grass during harmattan:

No smoke without fire
It is harmattan fire and wind
Harmattan married the fire
They’ve chosen the driest
As their honeymoon place
It is the driest place
where something fumes.

42Prominent features of the chorus include the constant use of a pronounced motif — a derivative of the chromatic motif (Ex. 5b) as a constant unifying element and the use of melodic and harmonic features, which in their more tonal character, provide temporary relief from the folklorist elements of the last three scenes. The remaining part of the finale is organised in a sequence of unbroken ritual dances which are to lead to the killing of Nnanna. Here ritual chants and exclamative melodic lines are sung by the witches to enhance the ritual atmosphere. In the first aria of the opera, Otumokpor expresses her change of mind. Nnanna will not be sacrificed — a decision which contradicts the plea of the witches ‘engage Nnanna to serve the pleasures of the witches.’ His decision, which brings about an abrupt end, is expressed in the most emotional aria of the piece. The aria is characterised by: (a) a free, rhapsodic formal outline; (b) alternations of speech and melody (bars 103-105); (c) punctuating yodellings and exclamative syllables set to scalic melodic lines (bars 46-51); and, most effectively, (d) a recitative line in bars 137 ff. The chorus join in the last ten bars enlarging the texture and providing the work with a sudden but dramatic ending.

43As this discussion has shown, the clarification of Ndubuisi’s musico-dramatic language relies on three main procedures. These are, a predominant exploitation of the dramatic effects of abrupt key changes in the introduction, a biting dissonant texture, and the use of musical symbolism. While there are occasional uses of these features in the remaining sections of the opera, the dramatic line is, in addition to the use of dialogue, propelled through the use of referential associative folk rhythmic and melodic elements to evoke traditional scenes. Throughout the opera, there is also a concerted effort to exploit the expressive potential of traditional Igbo vocal nuances to achieve heightened emotive effects, as well illustrated in the last 94 bars of the work.


Sam Akpabot: Verba Christi

44The radical stylistic departure noticeable in Akpabot’s major vocal work, Verba Christi, a cantata for orchestra, soloists and chorus, is striking. This departure exists principally in the abandonment of Highlife-Ibibio derived melodies, the abandonment of traditional Nigerian instruments and the use of atonality. The work is conceived along the lines of a European baroque cantata in which the rhetoric references to traditional Nigerian music noticeable in his orchestral works are lacking.

45An important feature of the work is its use of a variety of organisational procedures consisting of atonal, tonal and modal passages. The varied types of pitch structure in the work are justifiable for one important reason. Considering its length and its dramatic association (as a cantata), the relatively stable tonal character of a work like Ofala (Festival) would be inadequate to sustain long term dialogue. In addition, although atonality occupies an important place in the work, Akpabot realises the fact that Nigerian listeners of classical music have developed their taste through (tonal) church hymns. Thus, tonal sections are introduced. In itself the alternation between atonal and tonal sections in the work (see Table 3) provides one of the principal means of achieving tension and relaxation.

46As Table 3 shows, the cantata falls into four divisions: the introduction and overture, Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, the raising of Lazarus, and the Passover and Transfiguration. The libretto of the work, written by the composer, is based on the Synoptic Gospels. The work lacks the dramatic realism of Bach’s Passions, although it uses many of the devices found in Bach’s works. Akpabot’s work is much shorter and avoids a detailed presentation of events. It is a reinterpretation rather than a re-presentation of the Passion story. In its meditative character, it is similar to Stainer’s Crucifixion, a work which is extremely popular in Nigerian churches and one with which Akpabot is familiar. As in Bach’s Passions, the narrator, a tenor, performs the traditional role of the evangelist, while Jesus is assigned to a bass solo voice. The only other soloist is Martha, a soprano. Arias, including ariosos, do not usually follow the da capo form, while recitatives are generally in the accompagnato style. The chorales in Verba Christi (See Ex. 13) although lacking the expressive chromatic quality of Bach’s Passions seek to perform a similar function — to enable the congregation to participate in the unfolding story.

47The combination of tonal and atonal procedures in the work can be observed in a summary provided in Table 3.

Table 3. Cantata Verba Christi: Outline of Form

Table 3. Cantata Verba Christi: Outline of Form

48It is in the atonal sections that we find the more effective means of using music to enhance the dramatic idea of the libretto. In addition, the use of rhythmic and motivic procedures akin to traditional African patterns in such atonal sections often result in a rather unconventional use of the 12-tone row. Rather than undertaking a detailed analysis of the work, we shall briefly examine some of its sections to illustrate the main features of its atonal language.

49The row on which the atonal sections of the work are based is characterised by distinct motivic and intervallic features (Ex. 14). The recurrence of these motivic elements in different sections of the work constitutes a principal unifying procedure. Prominent motivic features of the row are marked x, x1 and y (Ex. 14) while the most prominent intervals are the semitone and the perfect fifth. The prominence of these motivic and intervallic patterns can be observed in the opening bars of the passacaglia. Here, (Ex. 15) motif x is articulated through its distribution among different instruments — a procedure which evokes the use of the hocket technique in traditional African music. Here too (especially in bars 9-16) the prominence of semi-tonal descents is striking, while the row is presented in its original form by the cello and the double bass, the violins and violas present emotive semitonal fragments which seem to evoke the passion associated with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

50The opening bars of the work (the recitative), where the row is used in its original form, also illustrate Akpabot’s use of music to paint the dramatic nature of text. The symbolic declaration: ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God’: is given a heightened dramatic significance by its musical setting through increasingly loud dynamics with graded climaxes on the words Word (bar 3), God (bar 5) and God (bar 7) (Ex. 16). These two words are set to the highest pitch in the music coinciding with the orchestral punctuations in bars 3 and 5. The rising dynamic level is matched by a corresponding rise in melodic contour with both elements producing a climax in bar 5. The orchestral postlude in bars 7-11 prolongs the dramatic discussion, moving away from its initial, mainly supportive role, to forceful chordal punctuations with agitated reinforcement from the timpani.

51Since atonal passages in the work are often characterised by polyrhythmic textures and ostinati, a deliberate device by the composer to imitate African instrumental procedures, the 12 notes of the row do not often appear intact. This is illustrated in ‘the chorus of the Pharisees’ where the use of a multi- layered rhythmic texture typified by loud dynamic markings gives the hostility of the Pharisees a dramatic exclamation. In addition to their rhythmic character, the limited ambit of the melodic lines given to the instruments underlines Akpabot’s use of a European orchestra to imitate the melorhythmic textures of African music. We only need to compare these lines with the parts given to traditional Ibibio instruments in Nigeria in Conflict to see the similarities in the use of European and African instruments. The use of elements which are reminiscent of traditional Nigerian music in the Verba Christi is, however, peripheral: the overall conception of the work is predominandy European.

52Despite its largely European conception, the Verba Christi has been well received by Nigerian audiences. In 1979 and 1981, when the work was presented at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, there was much acclaim. One major reason for this (in addition to its musical qualities) is that the work, as a cantata, tells a religious story which is part of the Nigerian experience. This is an important point since it touches on the fundamental issue of how a modern Nigerian composer of classical music can continue to maintain strong links with traditional musical practices. The evocation of the multi-media element of traditional Nigerian music could prove to be one adequate means of achieving this, if the warm reception of Verba Christi and other works such as Bankole’s Festac Cantata and Ndubuisi’s opera, The Vengeance of the Lizards is anything to go by.


1 Introduction to Three Part Songs, Ile-Ife, 1976.

3 A scale which does not consist of semitones.

4 Personal interview with the composer.

Notes de fin

2 Infiect the “ŏ” in l’a ŏ gbê ga if possible

Table des illustrations

Titre Ex. 1
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Titre Table 1. General Outline of The Vengeance of the Lizards
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Titre Table 2. The Introduction: Paragraphs and use of theme/melodies
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Titre Ex. 5a & b
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Titre Ex. 5 c, d, e, f & g
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Titre Ex. 6
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Titre Ex. 7
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Titre Ex. 8a
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Titre Ex. 8b
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Titre Ex. 8c
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Titre Ex. 8d
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Titre Exs. 9 a, b & c
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Titre Exs. 9 d & e
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Titre Ex. 10
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Titre Ex. 11
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Titre Ex. 12
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Titre Ex. 13
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Titre Table 3. Cantata Verba Christi: Outline of Form
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Titre Ex. 14
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Titre Ex. 15
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Titre Ex. 15 cont’d
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Titre Ex. 16
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© IFRA-Nigeria, 1995

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