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Intercultural Creativity in Joshua Uzoigwe's Music (art music in Nigeria)


Intercultural Creativity in Joshua Uzoigwe's Music.

by Godwin Sadoh


The history of art music in Nigeria is shaped by several related experiences through contact with two domineering forces, the Christian church and colonisation. The establishment of the Christian mission in Nigeria as far back as the 1840s (Omojola 1995: 11) marked the turning point of Western musical influence in the country. Other institutions, such as the Christian mission schools, institutions of higher learning, the modern elite, and the military bands, further contributed to the introduction of Western classical music in Nigeria. In addition, sociopolitical and economic factors played an integral part in establishing Western art music in Nigeria.

According to Sowande, Christian missionaries first settled in Abeokuta in western Nigeria, starting with the Anglicans in 1846, the Wesleyans in 1847, and the Baptists in 1850 (Sowande 1966: 30). By 1966, Christian activities were more pronounced in south-western Nigeria. This could be the main reason for western Nigeria having had about a dozen musicians with academic training abroad, while eastern Nigeria had about three, and northern Nigeria had none (ibid.). Nigerians were first exposed to Western classical music such as hymns, church anthems, and musical instruments like the harmonium, the organ and the piano through the church. However, this exposure was at the expense of indigenous music. Followers of the faith were prohibited from all forms of traditional practices including the playing of traditional musical instruments both in and outside the church. The missionaries feared that traditional music could lead the Christian converts back to 'pagan' (traditional) worship (Sadoh 1998: 12). Unfortunately, Western music was not easily incorporated into church services because the congregation had no knowledge of the English language. They had difficulty in singing the hymns in English, which was very foreign and distant to them. Recognising such problems, the missionaries, with the help of the organists and choirmasters, translated European texts into indigenous languages. This effort represents the first attempt of adapting Christian worship to Nigerian cultural roots. By 1902, Yoruba church musicians began to compose their own indigenous hymns (Alaja-Browne 1981: 4). Consequently, the development of art music is rooted in the early experimental works of the pioneering organists and choirmasters. These composers subsequently created advanced works such as church anthems, sacred cantatas and oratorios (Sadoh 1998: 15). The early church musicians included Thomas Ekundayo Phillips (Organist and Master of the Music, Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos, 1919-1962), Rev. Canon J. J. Ransome-Kuti, Rev. T. A. Olude, Akin George, Emmanuel Sowande (Fela Sowande's father), Nelson Okoli, and Ikoli Harcourt-Whyte (Omojola 1998: 455).

The introduction of mission schools helped to create an atmosphere conducive to the teaching and practice of European music in Nigeria (Omojola 1994: 534). According to Robert Kwami, the development of Western education in Nigeria commenced in 1842. At the Yoruba mission of the Christian Missionary Society, the curriculum was comprised mainly of reading, writing, arithmetic and singing. Later, formal music education started with some teacher training colleges and secondary schools which expanded their curricula to add lessons in theory of music, singing and concert shows (Kwami 1994: 546).

Prior to the mid-1980s, the formal music syllabus in Nigerian schools included mainly European music. Informally, schools had drumming and dancing ensembles that were based on traditional idioms. It was in the late 1980s that indigenous music was first introduced into the Nigerian school syllabus by the Federal Ministry of Education. The new syllabus introduced both the study of traditional music and modern Nigerian art music by its composers (Euba 1988: 108)....

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