I will focus on three main ideas in reference to my critical response of Bode Omojola’s The Music of Fela Sowande: Encounters, African Identity and Creative Ethnomusicology: The Yoruba religion, culture and tradition, Fela Sowande’s complicated search for identity and the displacement that he experienced in the U.K, the U.S. and in Nigeria.
According to Dr. Aderibigbe from UGA, “[In Yoruba culture], there is nothing you do that does not tie into religion, there is nothing physical, and Yorubas are in the center”. Religion is the center of Yoruba society and nothing regarding their culture can be understood without first recognizing the importance of religion. The religious syncretism that can be seen through the African diaspora is a testament to the importance of the traditions. The leaders of the Yoruba villages, the Oba (king) and Baale (village head) are very close with the deities. Despite what many think, Yoruba religion is not polytheistic. There are primordial divinities that have been with Olorun for a long time. There are deified spirits which were humans that were so deserving of becoming divinities that they became gods, there are also natural gods (like the goddess of the river, for example). The apex of the deities is Olorun or Olodumare. The divinities give insight into the Supreme Being, human existence, human psychological and spiritual agencies, the origin and final destination of humans. Divinities are intermediaries between supreme beings and humans. Festivals, drumming and singing are very important moral components of society. There is a god in charge of drumming and it is important to please that god in order for the drum to fulfill its purpose. You must get the blessing of the god associated with the drum in order for the drum to sound right.
With regard to Fela Sowande’s complicated sense of identity it is important to consider his situation carefully. Sowande was born in Nigeria to Christian parents and was raised outside of the Yoruba culture. He is displaced from the very beginning in his homeland. When he moves to England, he suddenly belongs to the African diaspora. He does not really have a “group” in a sense. He identifies with Africa, but are all Africans in Africa Africans? And for that matter, are all Africans outside of Africa Africans? Blacks everywhere else are socially marginalized and at this time, Africans in diaspora were defining what was African due to the otherness of themselves in other cultures (e.g. Brazil and Cuba). Our view of what Africa is is a residual view of what existed. When Sowande was displaced, he, like so many others suddenly realized that he was black. He was immediately confronted with the question of how to make himself different and stand out. That is the central question that Sowande was always trying to answer. He tries to determine how to draw on what is African in order to solidify his identity and understand how to present himself to the world.
This paper examines Bode Omojola’s The Music of Fela Sowande: Encounters, African Identity and Creative Ethnomusicology . Bode Omojola’s book is organized into seven chapters and contains an introduction and a conclusion.
Omojola introduces Fela Sowande (1905-1987), explaining that he was a Nigerian composer who was a Highlife musician, jazz pianist and the first musician to introduce the Hammond organ into jazz music. He is also one of the pioneering ethnomusicologists in Nigeria and his works provide an outline for his desire to share the most prominent features of Nigerian and African music with European listeners. Sowande had a strong desire to reflect his African identity in his musical compositions, but did so uniquely by infusing elements of his own personal character, background, history and tradition into his music. The author’s objective is to show how Sowande’s world of music was shaped by the themes of identity, creative ethnomusicology and encounters. Sowande’s actions were a direct response to the nationalism that was prevalent in West Africa before independence. Sowande’s study of his native Yoruba folk music was vital in the formation of a pan-African identity that was unifying for many Africans in Africa as well as in the diaspora.
Chapter One: The Nigerian Years: The Sources of Sowande’s Music
As the title suggests, this section covers the inspiration for Sowande’s music. Fela Sowande was born at the beginning of the twentieth century into a Christian missionary culture. His father was an Anglican priest and Fela learned Western music through him at St Andrew’s College, the mission’s teacher training institute. Sowande was actively involved in music of the Church through choir. The political situation as well as the social and religious situations in colonial Nigeria had a profound effect on Sowande’s career as a composer. Omojola writes about the history of Lagos and its relationship with British colonial rule in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, explaining its importance as a Christian cultural center that contained people from villages all over Western Nigeria. He then goes on to explain the Yoruba church music of the early 20th century. It established the foundation of Sowande’s musical productions. Omojola talks about Ekundayo Phillips, who was described as a pioneer composer, choirmaster and organist who trained many of Nigeria’s composers. Phillips was very influential in the formation of Sowande’s talents. The nationalist focus that Sowande learned from Phillips was a liberal nationalism, according to Omojola and it was defined within the context of British colonialism. By the 1930s, jazz music could be heard easily all over Nigeria thanks to BBC, French and American radio stations and Sowande was very involved in the jazz movement in Nigeria. The music of that time was a mixture of African and Western elements: Nigerian church music, Highlife, “characterized by diatonic, African melodies and cyclic tonal harmonic progressions that revolve continuously around primary triads, syncopated rhythmic patterns within a metric system of four beats per bar” (pg. 28-29). Omojola explains that Sowande’s contact with traditional Yoruba music did not come until later in life when he went back to study it, hence up until that point, his contact was peripheral and not direct. When Sowande revisits Yoruba music later in life, his connection becomes very deep and meaningful. Omojola dedicates a good part of the first chapter to explaining some important characteristics of Yoruba music: the importance of the deities, drums, festivals and performances. He uses the Oshun Festival as an example of the importance that music plays in religious rituals of Nigeria. The chapter then goes on to discuss Sowande’s career as an ethnomusicologist, his travels and moves to England and then the United Sates, his frustration with combining an identity that included so many different cultural, social, political and religious backgrounds and the displacement that resulted from his race and ethnicity in the societies in which he lived.
Spanish shouldn’t be a head turner. Work on it 20-30 minutes a day and you’ll see a huge improvement. Cramming isn’t the way to learn a language. Your brain is not interested in more than one way to communicate. It’s good to go with whatever language you already speak. If you try to bombard your brain with a new language too quickly, it will reject everything. Slow and steady wins the race with language learning. The more breaks you can take, the better you will remember what you have studied. Instead of studying 3o minutes straight, try intervals of 10 minutes each. I try to study my language materials first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Associating language learning with sleep seems to deeply ingrain the new vocabulary and grammar structures in my brain. Try to record yourself saying the vocabulary, reading dialogues from your textbook or new verbs. You can put the .mp3 on your iPod and listen to it all day long! It’s kind of weird to listen to your own voice, but you get used to it quickly. It’s way better than staring at the textbook for hours and not remembering anything. You can also try writing. Many people find that writing the vocabulary or verbs in their notebook a few times can be really helpful. It’s can be tedious and boring, so make sure to take frequent dance breaks. I recommend SALSA!!!! Or merengue if you’re super hyper :-). Remember, flash cards only work for about 10% of students, so if it’s not for you, give it up! It’s better for the environment anyway.
I mean, really. Most of you that were born after 1980 have had some kind of Spanish instruction in your lifetime. You say you remember nothing? Not true. That information is stored in your brain and all it takes is some magic to unlock what you already know. Maybe it’s a song you learned from your 4th grade teacher or the lyrics to “la cucaracha”, but there’s some Spanish up in your brain. Let’s tap into it.
Learning Spanish requires most people to change their attitudes. You have to remember to be patient with yourself and to expect to make mistakes. You also have to get out of the mindset that your language is the only one worth speaking and all languages that do not behave like your own are stupid. Every language that you learn is going to seem strange to you at first. The more open minded you are about learning and structures, the better off you’ll be.
There exists a place in the world, just above the equator, where the wind and the rain and the sun make up a kaleidoscope of climates. A place that pulls you tight and safe, like a mother holds a child. A place where people surrender to nature and to themselves. A place where the hot, humid nights are placated by cool drinks, huge full moons in the sky and palm trees swaying in the breeze. A place made up of more than 7000 islands, in the shape of a great arc, traversable by highways of turquoise and clear blue waters. A place where time stands still. And in this place, where so many different languages are spoken, there exists a common tongue that requires no words at all. It is in this place that we all belong. It is here that we all have a home. It is here. The Caribbean.