Last weekend, it was drums carnival in Abeokuta, as the city hosted the 4th edition of the African Drum Festival.
The feast attracted all the glamour it deserves, attendance was equally overwhelming. When it began in 2016, in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, it was tagged Nigerian Drum Festival, because it only attracted drummers and individual artistes in the country.
However, based on demand, the Ogun State Tourism and Culture Ministry (the organisers), decided to invite drummers from other African countries. Therefore, subsequent editions saw a wider participation from the continent. The name now changed to African Drum Festival.
The 4th edition, which held from Thursday, April 25 and Saturday April 27 attracted 13 countries and 19 states of the federation.
At the maiden event in 2016, drummers from 19 states of the federation participated. The main aim of the festival, according to the organisers is to revive the “dying culture” of Africans, as well as to display the rich cultural heritage and discover talents…
The high point of this year’s event was roundtable/workshop segment. The roundtable was conceived to bring intellectual flavour to the character and content of the project.
Whereas the 2018 was a conference, this edition was designed as a roundtable, with speakers being professional master drummers, culture workers, scholars, researchers as well as experts in media, promotion, marketing and communication.
Themed, ‘Drumming The Future’, the event was created as a platform through which the very nature and character of drum and the vocation of drumming could be distilled in order to rediscover its potentialities as a significant instrument for advancing the cause of the society.
The sub-text explored how the drumming vocation could be programmed and strategised to contribute to the future developmental projections of the continent. Also to project into how the vocation could be made more attractive as possible line of engagement by Africa’s teeming youth population.
The workshop, with ‘Rhythms & Tonality’ as theme, examined the correlations between percussion (rhythms) and tonality (melody) – in African musical composition. Nine troupes – four Nigerians, four international – were pre-selected to form the fulcrum of the workshop. They were joined by other troupes in what has been described as an eclectic experimental and experiential event, which is driven largely by improvisation and instant creativity.
In his opening remarks, Professor Wole Soyinka, who is the Festival Consultant, spoke on the emergence of melodies from listening to the rhythms of natural activities.
Soyinka also harped on the importance and “presence of rhythm in our lives” and expressed the desire to discover the rhythm of even his own creative endeavours.
The roundtable attracted artistes, academics, scholars, culture practitioners and other high networth guests including, Luc Yatchokeu from Cameroun. Yatchokeu is the founder/director Le Kolatier Music Market.
Lead speakers were, Dr. Sylvanus Kuwor (Ghana) – He is a drum and dance scholar at the University of Ghana, Legon. He is also leader of Hesu African Drum Ensemble – and Prof. Jeleel Ojuade (Nigeria) – Ojuade is researcher of dance and music, Unilorin, as well as leader of Ojuade Dundun & Bata Ensemble.
Speakers were master drummers/troupe leaders such as, Sofiane Frendi — Algeria (leader of Babylone Freeklan), Othnell Moyo – Zimbabwe (leader, MAP Band), Landry Luoba – Cote d’Ivoire (leader, Moaye Bla), Ben El Heni Aziz – Tunisia, CheIckne Sissoko – Mali (leader, 5TAMANS), Mboyo Eddy – DR Congo, (leader, Mbonda Drummers), Oladikpo Abila – Benin (leader, Jah Baba Percussion), Sserwanga Bernard — Uganda (House of Hot Talents), Dennis Kirimi Ngurwe – Kenya (lead drummer, Chukka Drummers), Thandi Swaartbooi– South Africa (leader, Women Unite), Amad Kachina, Morocco (leader of Zegro Band) and Noumoucounda Cissokho -Senegal (leader PMB Band).
Professionals were Armel Bokassa (Benin), Adepo Leon Yapo (Cote d’Ivoire), Gregoire Kabore (Burkina Faso),
Dr. Ben Amakye (Ghana), Sam Dede, Festival Directing, Brenda Uphopho — Art Project marketing, Yomi Badejo- Okunsanya – Communications/PR expert, Dr. Wale Adeniran, Dr. Akin Adejuwon, Femi Odugbemi, Festival Documentation, Adeola Oshunkojo, Festival & the Media, Vernon Shabaka Thompson – T&T —Carnival Specialist. While rapporteurs were Razeenat Mohammed, Lecturer in English &Cultural Studies, University of Maiduguri and Lillian Amah actress, writer and TV content producer.
The conference started off with chairman, Luc, posing a question on “What do we mean by the future of the African drum?”
In his response, Kuwor said, “if we desire a vibrant future, the drum must be the instrument driving that future. The reason this is possible is because the drum is not just an instrument but also a repository or archive of knowledge and African tradition.”
He emphasised the importance of examining the African drumming traditions in transition from the Arab- Islamic and Christian traditions as having relegated the original African drumming tradition to the background.
He said that drumming should be used to create a national identity and commended Governor Ibikunle Amosun for promoting drums and a cultural revival, stating, Ghana is already taking a cue from this by “discussing how to educate the youth to understand the importance of drums in the drive for cultural sustainability.”
Ojuade, a professor of Dance Studies at the University of Ilorin, who is an expert Bata and Dundun drummer and dancer, looked at the correlation between rhythms and melody, the subject of the workshop segment of the conference, defined rhythm as a regular recurring motion, which could be used to construct a sentence.
He believes that rhythms interact with one another forming a harmonious whole that conveys meaning. He is worried about the heritage of drumming, stating, “fathers do not insist on transferring the art of drumming to their young.”
According to Ojuade, “our culture and tradition will be eroded if we cannot transfer the culture of drumming to future generations either through practice, performance, workshops, and documentation as the younger generation are taking to more modern practices such as medicine and engineering to the detriment of our traditional cultural practices.”
For the Malian, Sissoko, “the drum is not an instrument that is new to the African continent, because it is as old as the continent itself.”
He averred that children should be taught as early as age seven – the age he started himself — to understand and value the African talking drums.
According to the academic, he comes from a family of drummers and emphasised the commercial viability of the art of drumming, stating, “my father trained me and I’m training my children all on the proceeds from drumming.”
Mboyo, from Congo DR, who has 18 years drumming experience, said: “Drums to him are the most important part of African life.”
He stressed the importance of African governments supporting master drummers to pass on their knowledge to the next generation.
Mboyo was impressed by the enthusiastic promotion of drums and drumming by the Ogun State government and requested for the video of the conference to take back to Congo with the hope that when his government sees what Ogun State is doing, it will be eager to emulate such a good effort.
He stated that Congo has over 300 types of drums and even their own students have no idea of the names of some of these drums.
Dennis, like Mboyo, called attention to the need for master drummers to be supported to promote and disseminate the knowledge they have gathered for the sustainability of drumming in Africa.
Sofiane lamented the fact that unlike European drumming, the African art of drumming is not written or put in notes “to make it available to the world.”
Luoba, from Cote d’Ivoire, also expressed the need to transfer the knowledge of African drums to the younger generation,while Abiale called for drums and drumming to be a part of “our education from primary to tertiary levels. The future of drums in Africa is in our hands to stifle or advance it to prominence.”
The Zimbabwean, Moyo, said, “drumming could be elevated to become a source of progress to us Africans instead of waiting for aid from Europe.”
Bernard, a Ugandan master, raised the need “to preserve the art of drumming, we have to teach our children to love drums and also to document the history of drums and drumming and to preserve these documents”.
Amakye-Boateng, a musicologist, from Ghana, spotlighted the different eras of music.
He posited that when Europeans and Americans no longer had anything to offer, they turned to Africa.
He mentioned Steve Wright who introduced Minimalism, which he defined as the art of taking small nuggets of rhythm and making large tranches of music out of it.
They also came up with the art of studying African rhythms in comparison to theirs so they can better understand African music.
He raised a poser: “If people are coming to Africa to take our rhythms, study them and add on to it for their own benefit, what are we as Africans doing with our own rhythms?”
Shabaka, former Director of the Nottinghill Carnival, Cultural leader with extensive experience in carnival, event management and production, he has worked in Canada, the Caribbean, the USA, Britain and Africa, reflected on the future of the drums from the perspective of his country.
He said the colonial masters frowned on the use of drums which, they thought constituted a nuisance and; noisy. The people then in a bid to get other instruments that will be more acceptable experimented with different materials until they at last arrived at the steel drum, which is now considered their national instrument.
The drums never became extinct no matter how much the colonial masters tried. At a point, however, drums were at risk of being extinct because Africans have not been promoting the art of drumming.
Another interventionist, Dr. Olu Adeniran, a cultural researcher and scholar interested in the preservation and promotion of African cultural heritage, said: “Drums are very important in language acquisition, especially among speakers of Yoruba language, because of the tonality of drums, which greatly help child speakers acquire language skills. They can teach morals like cautioning against profligacy and/or tight-fistedness.”
Dr. Sam Achibi Dede, actor and performance art teacher, reflected on the predicament of Africans.
With so much to offer in terms of cultural resources and riches, he wondered why not much is being done to achieve global recognition for the culture.
“We can’t take care of our own needs and are at the bottom of the ladder as far as rest of the world, especially the Europeans are concerned.”
He said, “we should tie our development to a rhythm – the rhythm of the African drum as our present zig-zag developmental rhythm has not helped us at all.”
The award winning filmmaker, Odugbemi, espoused on the relationship between the “rhythm of our drums and the stories on which our films our based. The experience of our films is mostly incomplete, because of the absence of African sounds. The critical part of film making is to be found in rhythm and when the rhythm of our African drums is missing, the film is definitely incomplete.”
To bridge this gap,” we need to archive the stories these drums are telling and ensure our stories in film are accompanied by the rhythm of African drums,” he said.
Adejuwon lamented the poor attitude to documentation by culture producers and promoters.
Adejuwon called on Ogun State as a leader in cultural documentation and preservation to document the new wave of music by the likes of Olamide and Wizkid, which makes good use of “our traditional African drums. He thinks that Ogun State as the Gateway State should help document and bring out the values of African drums.
Uphopho intervention was made up of two suggestions: The first was addressed to the drummers themselves and she asked them what else they do to expose and promote their music and drums?
She noted that outside of these festivals, she has never seen a drummer express himself in a way that is commercially viable. They need to grow the numbers in terms of their audience to make the commercial value very viable which will ensure funding for future sustainability.
Secondly, she said that there has to be other ways to put the music of drums out there.
She challenged the drummers to ensure they are part of the growing arts scene, which will put their music out there to begin to attract audiences and grow a following, which in turn will grow the money. Where drumming arts are put together on this level, we need to grow the numbers and audience to attain commercial value. Once drumming becomes mainstream, the drummers can very easily find commercial value in it.
Contributing to the session, Erelu Abiola Dosunmu, culture promoter and patron of the arts, said researchers should dig into traditional institutions, because information on drums and traditional music are in the custody of these traditional rulers. “Our Palaces contain a lot of oral archival materials and if enough research is done, these materials could be retrieved for written/filmed archives.”
She said, “everyone should make it their business to call for a pronouncement to create a niche for drums and drumming to promote the sustainability of our culture.”
Also responding, Prof. Bakare Ojo Rasaki emphasised the intersection between African drums and African languages.
“As we think of how to drum the future, we must think of how to carry African languages forward. He called for the inclusion of African drums and drumming into the curriculum of music studies in tertiary institutions. Every drum built and used in Africa speaks a peculiar language understood by the local people,” Prof. Rasaki said.
He expressed dismay at the department of music in African universities, where students cannot specialise in any African musical instruments but are compelled to specialize in musical instruments that are not traditional to the African continent such as, violin.
Finally, he said, “the African drummer of the future must be highly educated to articulate his craft and carry it forward, document and archive it as well as read and understand what others have documented.”
Concluding the conference, Yatchokeu said, “in every community and on the continent, culture is life. So we can believe that African culture cannot move forward without drums because drum is Africa and drum is life. In the field of music, Africa is the new El-Dora-Do as everyone is heading to Africa and African music to make money. In other words, the African drum constitutes the new El-Do-Ra-Do of world music. Since African drums are an important part of our music, we need to ensure the foreigners don’t come and take all of what we have without us benefitting from it.”
He called for master classes by the organisers for feedback on all that has been said and discussed at the roundtable.