Revista eletrônica de musicologia

Volume XIV - Setembro de 2010

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Transformative Musicology: recontextualizing art music composition for societal transformation in Nigeria


Femi Adedeji, PhD*

Department of Music Obafemi Awolowo University


Abstract: It could be argued that art music in Nigeria is yet to fully develop its core subject areas; the pedestal on which its social commitment could be based. Composition is one of the undeveloped areas. There are challenges here and there as regards insufficient literature on Nigeria ‘art’ music. However, the history of Nigerian art music composition records diverse, standard and rich works composed by various art musicians. Many of these compositions have been internationally premiered and acknowledged. But the textual contents of most of them address cultural axioms, religious beliefs and messages, love, and few didactic topics.
This paper based on a new theory ‘transformative musicology’, postulates that music could be used as a vehicle of the transformative processes needed in our society and that composition constitutes its major tool. The paper suggests various ways and models to redirect art music composition in order to meet contemporary social challenges and concludes on the urgent need to compose music that prognosticates into the future by focusing on transformative themes.



The inadequacy of conventional disciplines such as musicology and ethnomusicology has given rise to several theories such as critical musicology, intercultural musicology, creative musicology, current musicology and theological musicology. This paper bothers on transformative musicology, a new theory propounded recently by this writer. Transformative musicology is the musicology that aims at the transformation of our environment and our World at large. It encompasses all musical activities that focus on transformative purposes; a product of intercultural musicology (Adedeji, 2006a).
The ambivalent nature of the power of music was demonstrated in Adedeji (1999), where he enumerated the anabolic and catabolic roles of music. Lawrence (2006) has however argued that it is not in all cases that music performs positive functions. According to her, music has been effectively used in creating alienation and for direct inculcation of hostility also, ‘for example in war music arousing men to slaughter others … or in Hitler’s musically-boosted manipulation of his crowds’ (Lawrence, 2006). According to her, the role to be played by music is not automatic but depends on the people ‘musicking’, their interpersonal relationships and what they agree upon to use their music for. Thus, we can say that the ball is in our court. We can tailor our music toward the directions that we choose. However, Lawrence rightly observed that the use of music for reconciliatory purposes is not common, when she wrote:
The direct pursuit of peace, in terms of effecting reconciliation between groups in conflict and of inculcating peaceful values and non-violent behaviour, is perhaps the rarest of these uses (Lawrence,2001:355)

Bearing the above in mind, this paper sets its task on how to use art music composition to impact positive changes in our society, knowing fully well that there are difficulties and challenges in the process. The paper which makes use of analytical (descriptive) and prescriptive approaches, will first give a brief overview of art music composition in Nigeria vis-à-vis the associated problems and inadequacies, with the purpose of establishing the level at which the music has been used to meet contemporary social challenges. This is followed by a description of the contemporary social situations that call for transformation before discussing the issues involved in the redirecting process.


Art music composition in Nigeria

In his work ‘Compositional Models for Art Music in Nigeria: A reformative process’, Abiodun (2003) examined some salient problems associated with art music in Nigeria and made a bold step to suggest compositional models to make it ‘truly Nigerian and more acceptable to Nigerians’. The models suggested revolved around the issues of melody, form, rhythm, harmony and instrumentation and called for a better inclusion of traditional African elements and idioms as a way of meaningful transformation of Nigerian art music. The present work differs in scope to Abiodun’s work in two dimensions. While Abiodun looked at five compositional elements that excluded the text and focused on the reformation of the compositional models, the present work emphasizes the textual element and focuses on the transformation of our wider environment and world.
Apart from the observation and recommendation of Abiodun, it is observed from internal evidence of compositional practices that although a significant number of musicians have been involved in composing art music in Nigeria and for about a century now, but the facts are that Nigerian art music literature is still relatively few and unfortunately the great composers of yester years are no more. There are very few composers today in the serious business of composing quality art music. Various causes of this trend have been examined under a separate paper (Adedeji, 2006b).
It is also observed that the existing works are not widely circulated. For instance, how many departments of music could boast of having Joshua Uzoigwe’s works apart from where he worked, his students and colleagues who were close to him. Yet the works of experts such as Uzoigwe need to be available for students of composition and performance, for a meaningful progress of the arts. It was recently observed that the music syllabus for West African Examination Council ordinary level is dominated by Ghanaian music literature. One wonders what has happened to the Nigerian music literature. One may consider the fact that music publishing has not thrived in Nigeria as a major cause but another antithetical question is: are there enough compositional works to justify their existence and sustenance? With the anthological list compiled by Omojola (1995) and judging from trend of development afterward, the total number of art music compositions in Nigeria up to date may not be up to three thousand.
The above discussion leads to another crucial issue; lack of a comprehensive anthology of Nigerian art music compositions. The only one known, is that already referred to and which by now ought to have been updated. Lack of anthology of Nigerian art music constitutes a major impediment to the development of theories for Nigerian art music, development of forms and general scholarship in the field.
Another notable issue observed in the compositional enterprise of Nigerian art musicians is that few international composers although make use of traditional Nigerian materials and elements, write to meet international tastes and Western standards. Akin Euba is perhaps the foremost of such composers. It is not out of place to think that we need to accept our music at the home level as Akin Euba also said recently in an oral interview recently: ‘when we are accepted at home, the Western World will be forced to accept us’. As Yoruba will say, Ile ni a ti n ko oso r’ode (Charity begins at home). We might want to think of how to make meaningful impact more with our music at home.
We shall now attempt a thematic analysis of Nigerian art musical compositions so far. Some major and established composers (both past and present) include T.K.E Phillips, Fela Sowande, Ikoli Harcourt-white, William Echezona, Ayo Bankole, T.A. Bankole, Adam Fiberesima, Sam Akpabot, Laz Ekwueme, Akin Euba, Joshua Uzoigwe, Bode Omojola, Okechukwu Ndubusi, Meki Nzewi, Samuel Ojukwu, Tunji Vidal, Yemi Olaniyan, Debo Akinwumi, Femi Adedeji, Godwin Sadoh, Abel Adeleke, Yomi Daramola, Michael Olatunji, Christian Onyeyi, Femi Abiodun, Adesanya Adeyeye (just to mention a few). At least, half of the total aggregate works by these composers and others (as listed by Omojola), fall under church music (both liturgical and non-liturgical).
Traditional cultural beliefs, practices and experiences constitute another major dominating theme. Examples of these from Euba’s works are Six Yoruba folk songs, Igi nla so, Four pictures from Oyo Calabashes, Impressions from Akwete Cloth for Piano, Abiku, Olurombi for Symphony Orchesta, and Two Tortoise Folk Tales. Examples of sensual and entertainment works include I feel good by Adeyeye, Youth Dance by Meki Nzewi and Ofa Ife by Bode Omojola. Some socio-political titles include A n s’eye Igbeyawo by T.A. Olude, Two songs for Africa by Alphonso Okosa, University of Nigeria song by Samuel Ojukwu, Things fall apart by Meki Nzewi, Dirgies for speakers, singers and African Instruments by Akin Euba. There are also compositions that are used to pay tributes or homage to mentors or distinguished personalities. Few examples of these are Iya (Mother) for piano by Adesanya Adeyeye, Death and the Dance of the Spirits by Meki Nzewi, Masquerade for piano and Iya ilu by Joshua Uzoigwe and Moremi by Myke Olatunji. Compositions based on pure aesthetic titles include Toccata and Fugue for Organ, Three Toccatas, Fugal Dance for Piano by Ayo Bankole, Wind Quintet, String Quartet and Four pieces for African Orchestra by Akin Euba. In the area of gospel music which appears the to be the least, Bethlehem: a Gospel Opera by Akin Euba and Send Down the Fire by Femi Adedeji are notable works. Compositions that aim at the transformation of our society are however very scanty. E see’re ko dara by Abel Adeleke, E je ki Ife ko wa by Debo Akinwumi, Three Roads to Tomorrow by Sam AKpabot, The True Religion by Femi Adedeji, Ode for a New Morning by Bode Omojola are among the few ones. The essence of the above classification is to highlight various directions and illuminate us as regards the justification for the call for an additional direction.


Contemporary social challenges

The challenges that necessitate the recontextualization of our musicological activities can be categorized into two. The first category consists of the socio-political and economic problems of Nigeria, while the second category concerns the global problems. For instance, the country for years has been witnessing poor governance (in all ramifications) since its independence. Most of the time, we have people in government who get to power through rigged elections or force and who fail to fulfill what they promised the citizenry. Also, incessant religious crisis that always lead to loss of lives and destruction of properties constitute a serious menace that the government has not been able to stop. Economically, there is so much hardship caused by extreme poverty, as many people could not afford three meals in a day. There is disregard for the rule of law in our politics, while perversion and subversion of justice perpetuated through caged Judiciary and extremely corrupt police are open practices. The less-privileged are oppressed by people of affluence. There is already a gross deterioration in the quality of education; as public Universities are under funded by the government while private Universities which are purely commercial, are being promoted. Our streets are filled with unemployed University and Polytechnic graduates. As a result, crime of diverse nature has increased with an alarming rate. There is also the problem of incongruous nationalism. Our country to date refuses to do a restructuring that will create a lasting peaceful coexistence of the nations within her. Another shameful social malady in our country is the one constituted by cheating and examination malpractices. Unfortunately, parents, teachers, law enforcement agents and examination officers are already part of the mess. Vandalistic juvenile delinquencies as observed through various nefarious cultic activities are still very much present in many of our higher institutions of learning. Other problems include human trafficking, fake drugs, lack of essential and infrastructural amenities and the bleak future lying ahead. The list is inexhaustible.
Globally speaking, our world is plagued with serious problems that have constituted threat to global peace, harmony, stability and continued existence of life Some of the problems include accumulation of deadly weapons of war such as nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, trans-national wars, AIDS and Bird flu pandemics, earthquakes, terrorism, famine, racism and superiority tussles among nations (Adedeji, 2006 ).
At both ends transformative agents such as media, religious bodies, social critics and international bodies such as UNESCO, UNICEF and WHO have and continue to make notable contributions towards amelioration of the problems. One may also be tempted to be pessimistic about seeming solutions to these problems judging from the failures of past and present efforts. But the Yoruba proverb says ‘Bi ina ko ba tan lara, eje kii tan ni eekanna’ (It is not over until it is over). It is in view of the foregoing that the transformative essence of Nigeria art music becomes crucial.


The redirecting process

In order to meet contemporary social challenges there is the need to redefine the direction of art music in terms of functionality. This would imply recontextualizing it to address socio-political problems and serve as a vehicle for transformation while still retaining its artistic qualities. This is totally realistic since in its original aesthetic focus, art music carries textual or philosophical themes and contents which portray cultural norms, values, religious messages, nature, love and tributes as highlighted earlier. The art music composed for transformative purposes would fall under the category of music for life’s sake as against what Nketia (2004) refers to as “music for art‘s sake”
One of the major weapons in our hands to combat social ills in our society, as art musicians, is to compose music that condemn crime, bad governance, oppression and terrorism; music that encourage decent behaviours, love, harmony, justice, respect for human life, truth, hard work; didactic music that teach morals and ethics and music that show the path towards a glorious tomorrow. For instance, themes and textual contents such as Let’s come together, Vision for a new World, Away with Violence, Act right etc are catchy and would be effective in the transformation of our minds, society and the World.
In popular, pop and gospel musical genres, there are examples of musicians who have worked in this ‘transformative’ direction. The works of such artistes remind the society of good ethical and moral values. Let us examine some of them. E se rere (Do good) by Orlando Owoh condemns evils and admonishes everyone to think and do good to their neighbours. In Logbalogba ( people of affluence), Orlando Owoh warns people in power, wealth and bliss not to misuse their positions to oppress others. Although the two songs were written in Yoruba for quite some time ago, the messages still live on. Orlando Owoh composed many other didactic songs which are popular among the Yoruba speaking communities. Eko Dara pupo (Education is important) by Bunmi Olajubu and Omo mi s’ohun rere (My Child, behave well) by Christy Essien Igbokwe are songs that encourage children and teenagers to embrace good behaviours and education as part of war against crimes and illiteracy. I have heard teachers taught pupils and secondary school students those songs in order to motivate them. Daddy Showkky (a reggae artiste) in his song ‘Somebody tu’le se, somebody da’le ru (While some are reorganizing the home others are disorganizing it) shuns vandalism and encourages human and national development. In ‘God dey see you o’ by Stanley Kaosi (a gospel artiste), Nigerians are reminded to check their evil ways because God is watching all acts, whether good or evils.
In Mushin Oloosa by ‘ Broda Martyns’, the artiste depicts the deplorable standard of living in Lagos by first projecting life in the Molue. He later condemns bad governance, economic hardship and finally recommends the wiping away of what he calls ‘iniquity system’ and bringing in ‘Jesus’ system ‘ as solutions to the plights of the masses. Niyi Adedokun and Timi Osukoya are Yoruba gospel artistes who are fond of running social commentaries and criticism in their music. Songs such as Ile-ya (Let’s go home), Baba a de (Father, we have come), Esan ko gboogun (Repercussion is inevitable) and Mr. Awayemalo (the man who thinks he is immortal) criticize the governments of their days, the socio-political situations of the country and give warnings of impending dangers if the culprits refuse to change.
Sunny Okosuns, before he turned gospel artiste, rendered several revolutionary songs that addressed pressing socio-political problems at the global level. Some of his songs in this category include Fire in Soweto, Papa’s land and Holy wars.
The most revolutionary of all the popular artistes however is Fela Anikulapo Kuti. His contribution to socio-political reconstruction in Nigeria is immense. The pressures he mounted through his music on governments and other powers that be, although drew a lot of counter attacks, arrests, imprisonment and losses on him, they were certainly effective to a large extent. The effectiveness was aided by his international coverage. Some of his numerous songs in this category included Zombie, Vagabond in power, Authority Stealing, Original Sufferhead, Big Blind Country (BBC) and Beasts of No Nation.
Another significant work that is reformative in nature is the ‘Unlimited Liability Company’ composed by Wole Soyinka and performed by Tunji Oyelana and His Benders. The album is extra ordinarily revolutional. It criticized the bad governance and reckless attitude of the then president of Nigeria, the federal government, the socio-political imbalance and the plights of the Nigerian masses. Although the music was banned by government but the messages were clear to educated minds who could lay hand on the album.

Below are two excerpts from the album:

A. I never tell you de story of London Airport
Where the Customs grab your [President’s] company Director
Six million Naira dem find inside in briefcase
Crisp and new, straight from our Naira mint.

Your Excellency – they give am in proper title –
You be Mobile Bank, or Nigerian Mint in transit?
Your Director laugh, e laugh e nearly collapse
E say, White Boy, make you no waste my time.

For dis small portmanteau na in you dey open your mouth?
Ship containers, na others dey take load cash,
London or Frankfurt go give us foreign exchange
They love our Naira, so wetin be your concern?

B. I love my country I no go lie
Na inside am I go live and die
I know my country I no go lie
Na im and me go yap till I die

I love my country I no go lie
Na inside am I go live and die
When e turn me so, I twist am so
E push me, I push am, I no go go.

One go proud, the other so meek
One go hide, the other go seek
One go slap, the other go turn cheek
And soon they are playing Hide and Seek
They’re lovely twins of whom I speak
Mr. Country Hide and his brother Seek
One country hide two point eight billion
‘E tell Country Seek, Brother, carry on
Seek from Turkey to China Sea
The more you look, the less you see

You tief one kobo dey put you for prison
You tief ten million, na patriotism
Den go give you chieftancy and national honour
You tief even bigger, dem go say na rumour
Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop
Sweet pounded yam – some day e go stop!

In addition to the foregoing, the ‘death’ of apartheid in South Africa was effectively enhanced and fostered by music. If we agree to take that as a test case then we can build on its model.
In terms of methodology, the issue of language is crucial in composing for reformative purposes. In order to communicate effectively, there is the need on the one hand, to employ our Lingua Franca (English Language). This will enable people in the government and international observers to understand the message. Of what use is the message in a music aimed at communicating important message to people and rendered in languages they do not understand? This is the bane of some of the local musicians who sing in vernaculars to communicate to non-speakers of their languages. On the other hand, in a heterogeneous society like ours, a multilinguistic approach that presents the text in different major languages will be more effective in carrying all the people along especially at the grass root level. For instance, a song may be composed in different languages, combining English, Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa etc.
In the theory of composition, personality to a large extent determines style, techniques and qualities of one’s compositions. Also based on an axiom that ‘you can only give what you have’, the Nigerian art musicians, especially composers should as a matter of urgency shelve their egos and pride and rediscover a sense of true purpose, unity, love and harmony, and co-operation. For how can we preach love through our music if we refuse to love one another? How can we compose music on uniting the country if we ourselves are in disunity? In this direction, the empathic theory of Laurence (2006) is applicable:
The realization of this potential depends not only upon the content and sounds of the music, nor simply upon their beauty, perceived meanings and shared reference points, nor upon the exquisiteness of their performance. To these, we must add an intricate web which includes intentionality, consensus, voice, agency, key actors, the committed and explicit fostering of feelings of similarity, active attention to the other, acknowledging the other’s humanness, and cooperative, interactive, non-alienating and non-hierarchical human interactions in the making of the music (Lawrence,2001:364).

It is in the light of the foregoing that Nigerian art music composers should come together and discuss how to realize the noble task set before them.
There is need to revitalize composition as an area of specialization, train more composers and encourage the existing ones. This may involve the employment of practising experts or sponsoring candidates abroad for exposures. Also one of the ways to encourage composers in the University settings is to consider compositional works as part of the criteria used for their promotion. For instance up till now, in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, the criteria for the promotion of academics in music although include compositions and other creative works on paper level, they are not implemented. This if reactivated, will encourage willing composers to spend time to compose.
The issue of wider circulation of compositional works needs to be taken more seriously. In this direction, publication of indigenous music should be strengthened. The Ife Music Edition is now being resuscitated to feature standard works of African composers. As suggested by Omojola in an oral interview recently, compositions to be published must first be performed to professionals, edited and certified okay. According to him, regional performances of such works may first take place before short listed ones are brought to national conferences such as this. The implication is that we need to create spaces for performances of new compositions in our musicological conferences.
Lastly, for recognition purposes, the Musicological society of Nigeria as a body needs to make its presence known to the government and the public through regular public performances of their compositions and through active consultation and participation on policy formulation on Music Education in Nigeria. Up till date I don’t think the society has ever met the federal government on salient issues surrounding Music Education in the country, whereas the PMAN and other performance bodies are recognized by the government and are well attended to. If done, this will foster co-operation between the duos as partners in progress.



This paper has attempted to sensitize composers of art music on the need to tailor their compositions toward meeting contemporary social challenges in the society. This dimension is major in transformative musicology which focuses on musical activities that bother on the transformation of our society. It could then be deducted from the findings in this paper that art music composers in the past have failed in this dimension and the reason was probably that the composers practised their art in the spirit and aesthetic philosophy of their Western masters and refused to apply the functionality philosophy of traditional African music practices.
In conclusion, the call made in this paper does not in any way and by any means imply the abrogation or reduction of other functions. No! Rather it should co-exist with other existing themes that have been analyzed in this paper. Composers should seek ways of effectively achieving the end-goal through individualistic and cooperative efforts.




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Adedeji, Femi.
Send Down the Fire. (2003)

Euba, Akin.
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Adeleke, Abel
E See ‘re Ko Dara for choral prelude for S.A.T.B., twin going and rattles

Adeyeye, Adesanya
Iya (Mother) for piano, 1982.
I feel good, 1985.

Akinwumi, Debo
Eje Ki Ife Ko Wa (Let there be love) for S.A.T.B. and piano, 1990.

Akpabot, Samuel
Three Nigerian Dances for string orchestra and percussion, 1962; published by Oxford University Press, 1977.
Three Roads to Tomorrow (sound track for the film of the same name) 1959.

Bankole, Ayo
Fugal Dance for the piano
Toccata and Fugue for organ, 1960; published by University of Ife Press, 1978.
Three Toccatas for organ, 1967.

Ekwueme, Lazarus
Dance of the Black Witches for quintet

Euba, Akin
Igi Nla So for piano and four Yoruba drums, 1953, oriki scores
Four Pictures from Oyo calabashes for piano, 1964.
Impressions from Akwete Cloth for piano, 1964.
Wind Quintet, 1967.
Scenes from Traditional Life for piano, University of Ife Press, 1977.
String Quartet, 1957.
Abiku No 1 for Nigerian instruments, 1965.
Four Pieces for African orchestra, 1966.
Olurombi for symphony orchestra, 1967.
Dirges for speakers, singers, and African instruments, 1972.
Two Tortoise Folk Tales for speakers and Nigerian instruments, 1975.
Morning, Noon and Night for singers, dancers and Nigerian instruments, 1967.

Nzewi, Meki
Death and the Dance of the Spirits (a symphonic poem)

Ojukwu, Samuel
University of Nigeria Song for S.A.T.B.

Okosa, Alphonso
Two songs for Africa, for S.A.T.B.

Anseye Igbeyawo (Yoruba wedding music)

Omojola, Bode
Ode for a New Morning for soloists, chorus and piano, 1989.
Ofa Ife (Arrow of Love) for baritone solo, piano and iya-ilu, dundun (hourglass drum), 1994.

Uzoigwe, Joshua
Four Nigerian Dances for piano, 1976.
Masquerade for piano and iya-ilu, 1980.


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