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Nigerian Art Music

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Bode Omojola

9. Summary and Conclusion

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1The discussion running through this book has shown various compositional techniques through which Nigerian and Ghanaian composers have attempted to incorporate elements from traditional African music into their works. On the one hand, we have works such as Kyrie and the Folk Symphony which are conceived from a predominantly European stylistic perspective (within which African elements occur peripherally) while on the other, works like Igi Nla So, Three Yoruba Songs and Ofala maintain very strong links with traditional Nigerian music.

2African elements used in many of these works include:

  1. Polyrhythmic and multi-metre textures
  2. Melo-rhythmic lines which lack a consistent metric motion
  3. Strong percussive textures
  4. Improvisatory-like forms and call and response procedures
  5. The principle of constant variation
  6. Unchanging tonalities
  7. Harmonies which, in their modal and heterophonic qualities are African inspired
  8. Harmonic procedures which take into consideration the linguistic demands of text
  9. The quotation of African melodic and rhythmic ideas
  10. The use of melodic patterns which follow the contour of their texts
  11. The use of traditional African instruments
  12. The evocation of the multi-media concept of traditional African music m.
  13. The evocation of Highlife textures

3These features are fused with European elements: forms such as the suite, the sonata, rondo, fugue, symphony, opera and cantata ; harmonic principles from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as serial (expressionist) and atonal procedures ; instruments ranging from solo instruments to symphony orchestras. The study also shows how the emergence of these works is linked to some of the historical developments in nineteenth century Africa. As a result of Europe’s contact with Nigeria, these developments were to have a significant effect on the political, socio-economic, cultural, religious and, consequently, musical traditions of the country.

4As the study has shown, the use of traditional African elements represents one important way through which these composers have captured the spirit of their traditional culture as they understand it. In addition to incorporating traditional African musical elements, these composers have also made references to extra-musical elements which have relevance to their society. Evidence of this has been noted in such vocal works as Akpabot’s Verba Christi, Bankole’s Festac Cantata, Euba’s Abiku and Ndubuisi’s The Vengeance of the Lizards.

  • 1 The case in Europe of Michael Berkeley’s cantata, Or Shall We Die, is similar ; a pacifist work fi (...)

5If, however, references to social, religious or political issues in musical compositions are too overt, such works are in danger of having their musical significance undermined.1 While traditional African musical performances often derive greater meaning through their association with extra-musical events, the appreciation of such performances by the people, does not preclude a recognition of their musical qualities. In other words, musical consideration constitutes an essential factor in the appreciation of musical performances in the traditional African setting. For example, in a Yoruba dundun performance, the ability of the master drummer to constantly vary his melo-rhythms while maintaining unity through repetition is an essential stylistic factor for a successful performance. It is, therefore, necessary for any composer working within a socio-cultural climate such as Nigeria’s, to be judicious in his integration of both the functional and structural features of traditional Nigerian music.

6Instrumental works also provide an important medium for the re- interpretation of elements of traditional African music. It is true that, unlike their traditional counterparts, modern instrumental works by Nigerian composers are conceived outside a specific social or religious event and may not make any explicit reference to a particular social or religious issue through the use of words. If, however, such modern works are heavily. infused with rhythmic, melodic and formal elements of Nigerian music (as we have in Igi Nla So), they will elicit a positive response from the Nigerian audience. Such a response can derive from the appreciation of the musical (structural) ingredients of the works as well as their relevance to any extra-musical ideas or contexts (religious or secular) and any emotional reactions associated with such contexts. For example, the use of the call and response pattern and the use of polyrhythmic textures in such works as Sketches and The Wanderer are perceptible Nigerian musical features which also carry important extra-musical social meaning. Group-dominated call and response patterns are often used in traditional ceremonies to reinforce the people’s belief in group solidarity. Likewise, the conception of an ensemble (e.g. dundun) in which instrumentalists play different hierarchies of rhythmic patterns is symbolic of the Yoruba concept of the division of labour which prescribes the allocation of duties according to the competence and ability of the individual members of society.

7It must, however, be stated that, despite their extra-musical cultural significance, the traditional elements employed within a modern art composition may be perceived from a purely musical perspective by some listeners. This is because the perception of a musical style presented in a work will ultimately depend on the disposition of the listener who may not be able to ascribe extra-musical meanings to sounds, especially when there are no cues or explicit references (in the form of a programme, for example) to any such extra-musical connotations.

8In the light of this discussion, the attempts already made by African composers represent a step in the right direction. It must, however, be mentioned that the fusion of European and African elements in the works of modern Nigerian composers, who ascribe to retaining a strong African character in their works, should be carried out in such a way that the African elements used will not be overshadowed by European materials as in Sowande’s Oyigiyigi and Bankole’s Passion Sonata. Furthermore, despite the very strong references made to Nigerian elements in such works as Sketches and Scenes from Traditional Life, it must be stressed that Nigerian composers may need to employ more traditional instruments in their bid to create works which are relevant to the aesthetic needs of their society. This is because no matter how bold and unpretentious the references made to Nigerian music are, in a work scored for European instruments, those references are bound to be coloured and even undermined by the nuances of the European instruments employed. The same point applies to similar works by Ghanaian and other African composers.

9But as we have noted, the practice of using traditional instruments in modern Art compositions will have to be consolidated through an educational system which trains people who can handle these instruments from notation. Up until the present time, music curricula at both the federal and state levels in Nigeria tend to focus mainly on the study of European music. Although efforts are now being made in institutions such as the Universities of Nigeria, Ife, Ilorin and The Polytechnic, Ibadan, the teaching of traditional Nigerian music has yet to take its rightful place within the educational system in the country.

  • 2 During this writer’s 3rd and 4th years as an undergraduate at the University of Nigeria.

10The teaching of traditional instruments tends to come and go as yearly budgets allow. For example, although traditional Igbo instrumental instructors were hired on a part-time basis to teach at the University of Nigeria in the 1977-78 session, they were not available in the 1978-79 or 1979-80 sessions.2 Thus, while the university recruited teachers both within and outside the country to teach European music on a regular basis, it did not consider the recruitment of instructors of traditional music as equally important. The same trend continues now.

11This reflects the educational imbalance within Nigerian music curricula. The understanding and the appreciation of traditional Nigerian music should occupy an important place in the music departments and schools in Nigeria. Since one of the most important objectives for which schools and universities are established in Nigeria is to generate the appreciation and the awareness of the Nigerian cultural heritage — against the background of a strong European cultural challenge — the teaching of traditional African music should not occupy a subservient position.

12The propagation and the appreciation of works by modern African composers depend, therefore, on a bi-musical programme designed to embrace traditional African idioms on the one hand and, on the other, European forms and techniques. Such a bi-musical approach is called for in view of the strong impact of European music on Africa, especially south of the Sahara.

13While the fusion of European and African musical idioms represents a culturally valid compositional option by modern African composers, there is, however, no reason why works could not be conceived entirely for traditional African instruments, as in Euba’s Dirges. Since, as a result of the impact of European culture on the Nigerian social climate, the notion of concert music will continue to gain popularity, the idea of deploying traditional African instruments in a work designed for a listening rather than a participating audience remains an option yet to be embraced by many African composers of modern Art Music. The structural realisation of such works (that is, those conceived entirely for African instruments) will no doubt reflect a more relevant artistic creation.

14In addition to the use of African elements by Nigerian composers, some other conditions should also be met for Nigerian Art Music to gain a wider appeal to the Nigerian society. As the discussion in this book has shown, orchestral works by Nigerian composers seldom get performed in Nigeria. This is because there are almost no good orchestras in the country. The few that exist are beset with ail sorts of problems ranging from the lack of good instruments and spare parts to the lack of good teachers. In addition there is no national orchestra to serve as a symbol of national policy directed towards the development of orchestral music in Nigeria. If works like Sam Akpabot’s Scenes from Nigeria, Euba’s Olurombi and Sowande’s Folk Symphony are not to become mere archival materials, a national orchestra should be formed which will be manned by competent conductors and musical directors. The dominant goal of such an orchestra would be to encourage and promote orchestral music in Nigeria with particular emphasis on works by African composers.

15The deplorable standard of music education in our schools, colleges and universities needs to be improved. The standard of music education in Nigeria has continued to deteriorate since the general exodus from Nigeria of expatriate music teachers in the 60s and 70s. In addition, prospective Nigerian Art musicians have not been able to travel abroad to receive professional music education in both the theory and practice of music. These factors have led to the general absence of good practitioners and teachers of music in our schools and colleges. The few existing ones are grossly inadequate to cope with the substantial number of students. It is therefore not Surprising that the standard as well as the quality of music teaching is at the lowest possible level.

16To address this particular problem a National Academy of Music should be established. Such an academy should be conceived as a human resource centre for the training and retraining of competent music teachers who in turn will be posted to the various music departments in tertiary institutions for the training of capable musicians.

17Expatriates as well as Nigerians who possess the required professional skills will have to constitute the core of teachers employed to teach at the National Academy. In addition, the Academy will help in training prospective members of the National Orchestra as well as constituting a clearing house where works by various Nigerian composers can be deposited for the use of scholars and performers who might need them.

18Finally, music teachers and performers should make greater efforts toward promoting Nigerian Art Music by including more works from the idiom in their teaching and performance repertoire. Students should be encouraged to study and perform more works from the idiom as a means of widening and deepening their knowledge of Nigerian and African Music and as a means of promoting the appreciation and performance of works in the idiom. While it is gladdening to note that Nigerian Art Music is beginning to attract wider academic and professional interest in Europe and the United States, it must be noted that, as an essentially Nigerian genre, its survival depends largely on the level of the local patronage it enjoys here in Nigeria.

Notes

1 The case in Europe of Michael Berkeley’s cantata, Or Shall We Die, is similar ; a pacifist work first, a musical work second — although the composer denies this.

2 During this writer’s 3rd and 4th years as an undergraduate at the University of Nigeria.

© IFRA-Nigeria, 1995

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