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Femi Owolabi: Nigeria: What about our indigenous music?

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Femi Owolabi: Nigeria: What about our indigenous music?

By Femi Owolabi

Unarguably, music, till today still holds a central place in the affairs of man. It is among the very first forms of behavior that we learn as children, and later when we learn other skills and acquire more knowledge, much of this reaches us through the medium of music/songs. For instance, most of the things we learn in elementary school are taught in songs we call Nursery Rhymes. We sing the Multiplication Times Table, we sing State and Capital, We sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and even beyond the elementary classes, in the Science College, we memorize the first twenty elements with songs. Music is a very vital component of the human existence. When babies cry, we croon a lullaby to calm their nerves.

The essential function which music plays in all society is largely that of communication. Music, however, is a global language, we should agree.

Music, beyond its cultural and language contents is a thing that connects more to the mind. That’s why the music of Awilo sang in French hit the musical mainstream in Anglophone Nigeria. In a reception organized in honor of President Bill Clinton when he came to Nigeria, he danced perfectly to the live play of King Sunny Ade as though he understood what King Sunny Ade was singing.  We could therefore conveniently say that music is a vehicle through which human culture is shared and transmitted.

Music before the 20th century was different when compared to the music of 21st century. There were distinctive occasions for each type of Nigerian music. Each cultural group had different musical tones and instruments.

Then, music was unique in the manner in which it was played.  Juju, Fuji and Apala, amongst several others are Nigerian’s indigenous genres of music. Especially in the south-west Nigeria, these are the types of songs that were in the musical mainstream in the 19th and 20th centuries. Most of these songs were known for the proverbial richness in their contents that largely influenced the thinking of men, women, young and old in the society. In those years, music was perhaps the most distinctive behavior that made us human.  Every village had its own professional musicians and singers who would perform for the community.  In fact, musicians were idolized in their villages. They normally sat with the king and chiefs because of their relevance and elevated status. These musicians made songs for issues surrounding agriculture, and one of such songs that still lives in one’s memory is:

Ise agbe
N’ise ile wa
Eni ko sise
Y’o ma j’ale
Iwe kiko
Laisi oko ati ada, koi pe o koi pe o.
Agriculture is the major occupation of our land
He who works not is poised to steal
Education without agriculture is not complete.

They also made music for the crowning of a new king or chief, and the reenactment of an important event that happened in the past. Special kinds of music were played during war ceremonies, hunting excursions, and other victory celebrations. Mainly these musicians used percussive instruments. These drums of different sizes and functions were made out of hollowed out logs and gourds with a tight skin over the hollow. They used a variety of bells, castanets, gongs, and local pianos.

This piece is an attempt to draw our attention to indigenous music of Africa- precisely Nigeria- that seems to be crawling into extinction.

Only a very few people in this generation – of south-west Nigerian origin-  would know musicians like Aremu Odolaiye, Ayinla Omowura, Dauda Epoakara, I.K Dairo, Haruna Ishola, Kayode Fashola and the kinds of songs they did during and after the colonial eras. And unfortunately, the lifestyles and works of some of these men haven’t been satisfactorily scholarly chronicled and archived. It is therefore predictable that these kinds of music, in the next fifty years would have gone off the Nigerian musical radar, even though musicians like- in no particular order; Pasuma Alabi, Saidi Osupa, Muri Thunder, Wasiu Ayinde, Musiliu Haruna Ishola, Abass Obesere, Taiye Currency, Sule Malaika Alao still struggle to keep this genre alive .

Today, the major brand of music swaying across Nigeria is Hip-Hop, and even the practitioners of indigenous songs are fine-tuning their songs to appeal to the mainstream. So, these days we hear new genres like Hip-Hop Fuji, Apala Hip-Hop, Juju Hip-Hop, This Hip-Hop, and Hip-Hop that. This synchronization is not absolutely a bad idea; nevertheless, the redefining of these indigenous songs with Hip-Hop tone makes the value of our own songs shrink inferiorly.

It is only Hip-Hop artistes that are springing up in their thousands and talents in Fuji, Apala and the likes are not encouraged. How many Apala/Fuji musicians are invited to perform at concerts alongside with Tu-face Idibia, Dare Art Alade and the likes? (Spare Abolore Akande aka 9ce, a glorified Fuji musician whose Hipopnism is obviously rooted in the indigenous language).

This is also evidenced in almost all the musical reality shows we have today in Nigeria. Most of the judges of these shows are Hip-Hop/R & B persons. So, imagine what happens if a Fuji talent goes for MTN Project Fame audition and starts to mime Pasuma’s lines?

What about Nigeria’s musical TV/Radio stations? Why is Fuji music not included in their top ten every other week?

The sheer ignorance of some people whose thoughts have been westernized is that this kind of music is meant for the uncivilized. But if we take a keen observation at this, we’d see that some of the lyrics in these Nigeria’s Hip-Hop songs are extracted from the indigenous Apala, Fuji, Juju and other indigenous songs. Brymo’s ‘Ara n be’ is traced to one of King Sunny Ade’s Juju.  This Davido’s line ‘kuluso ewe, agbagba ewe l’Osun fin we mo re ki dokita o to de’ is originally Sunny Ade’s. This Dare Art Alade’s line in his Sisi Eko hit ‘baby mi jowo o j’eka jo ma gbadun’ is originally Ebenezer Obey’s.

We may not see the beauty in our indigenous music until we begin to listen to them. And to encourage those talented to make indigenous songs without flavoring it with Hip-Hop, musical reality TV shows should create space for them. TVs and radios should promote their songs, and in fact scholars should devote their time to reviewing the arts of these ones. Our indigenous music is our identity that we should always proudly showcase. And in the chorus of one of Dare Art Alade’s -featuring 9ce- songs, I conclude:
Mo le ko Juju, e no concern you
Mo le ko Fuji, a so mi ji
Mo le ko Apala, amu mi la.
It translates to:
I can sing Juju, it does not concern you
I can sing Fuji, it reawakens me
I can sing Apala, it makes me wealthy.

@fEMIoWOLABI
©Music Matters

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