Music, besides power, is intoxication
- Sufi Inayat Khan -
|Edaoto in a documentary film - "Ghettoration" by Aderemi Adegbite|
He may not come in the mould of a Mozart. He may not also possess the western touch of a Beethoven, or the dexterity of performance like a Michael Jackson. Even a Barry White or Steve Wonder, may just be out of comparison with his own brand of music, yet, what is certain, without any doubt, is that he has the energy to hold an audience spellbound, the vocal vitality to create a lasting impression on whoever encounters his music either in recorded form or while he is in performance, as well as the appearance-most important of all-to symbolize two distinct elements, which will readily stand him out from a crowd so much that one will want to ask “who really is this guy?”.
For some of us who grew up with him and know him so well, albeit to a great extent, music is simply an avenue to fulfill what in biblical parlance can be called “a calling’, knowing the kind of person he is, the energy with which he argues his point, the esteem and passion with which he holds his religious faith and zeal with which he wants to learn and acquire knowledge. Art, music, in this sense, becomes some sort of a “devotional imperative” for a soul yearning to understand his society, his real purpose on this planet earth, and, quite predictably too, what he is meant to contribute towards the advancement of that society, first as an individual in the cosmos and second as an embodiment of the creative essence of his Creator.
Art, as seen by Zulu Sofola, is “a creative experience which is the only human experience that is nearest to God because it is in that experience that man shares very clearly in the most enduring and significant attribute of the Supreme Deity”, because, it “emanates from the soul of man, the centre of his being in which resides his divine quality as the zenith of creation”, and ultimately as “the medium through which the soul of man reaches out beyond itself to transform and make intelligible the prodding within the inner recesses for the ultimate Truth, the meaning of existence, man’s place in the cosmos, his relationship to the Supreme Creator and to his fellow creatures, and finally the ultimate end of man”(2)
Edaoto readily cuts the picture of a reggae artiste, judging from his appearance, especially his dreadlock hairstyle, synonymous with the Rastafarian movement. However, that is where it all ends. The lyrics of his compositions, ranging from folk tradition, to myth and vintage Afrobeats provide a basis to examine his brand of music from perspectives, chief among which is the fact that he embodies the totality of the attributes of the African oral performer. Song rendition apart, the compositions in themselves encapsulate the energy that a writer would want to channel into his creative material, especially in the arrangement of the idea into the sequence of plot and characterization towards the realization of a set out objective, otherwise known as the thematic thrust.
Central in this regard are the oral artistes – griots, bards, minstrels, ewi chanters and story tellers who-often engaged in their art-utilized the medium of the spoken word. To Akporobaro, “the artist who performs in the medium of the spoken word is engaged in the same creative process as the modern writer who creates through the written words”, because in several ways than one, “while engaged in the process of storytelling as in the folktale or legend or in the evocation of imagery when reciting poems or creating rhythm and melody in his lyrical self expression, he shares with the modern writer the same element of creativity and language manipulation”.(3)
Edaoto’s kind of music, for its simplicity in terms of composition, effectiveness in his impact and delivery, the affinity towards the sublime often, despite the instrumentation and the blend of percussion, use of western instrumentation such as the guitar, drum set, trumpet and saxophone- components which help to achieve the heavy beats synonymous with the Afrobeats style-something striking is still very much discernable, mainly, the creativity with many dimensions, which he shares with the oral artist including, among others “the imaginative communication of experience, the communication of ideas of significant human value and the heightened organization of the resources of language towards the achievement of aesthetic effects”.(4)
|Edaoto at Lagos Life Series 16, Photo by Aderemi Adegbite|
A very striking influence on his composition is his Ifa faith, which underlines his cultural outlook to life and his environment. Ifa, as the storehouse of esoteric wisdom and knowledge embodies a careful and highly developed process of human intellectual development properly located in the Yoruba consciousness and serving as the cornerstone of the faith in the divine. This form of knowledge, theosophy, as it is known is a systematic formulation of the facts of visible and invisible nature which, as expressed through the illuminated human mind -Babalawo / diviner- takes the apparently separate forms of science, philosophy and religion, and, it is not just philosophical (but also) a religious system based on intuitive knowledge of the living (because) most of the utterances are either prosaic poetry or poetic prose or both interwoven in the Ifa corpus.(Ajikobi,9)
As a devotee of Ifa and one, who is versed in such spiritual process of awakening, he perceives the world in the light of the interplay of the forces and elements, with emphasis on the place of the individual in the vast universe, the knowledge of which he can never fully fathom. This in itself underscores his deep understanding of the fact that “for the African and his Afro-Caribbean progeny, religion is the essence of life” (Ojo-Ade,48) and that “religion in essence is the means by which God as Spirit and man’s essential self communicate”(Idowu,75). With music, he somewhat re-choes Nketia’s submission that in many parts of Africa, the general pattern of musical organization emphasizes the integration of music with other social and political actions, as well as with those other activities through which Africans express or consolidate their interpersonal relationship, beliefs and attitude to life, knowing that such occasions for public musical performances range from purely recreational, ceremonial and social attempt to the religious (24).
His song, ‘Aiye o fe ni f’oro’ inspired by a highly dialectic Ifa verse probes into such esoteric wisdom while, at the same time cautions against trusting any human being, knowing that man, by his very nature, is unpredictable, prone to evil thought and actions as well as deceit. Unlike the Christian Bible which has greatly maligned the belief in traditional African deities like the Eshu for instance-this much is discussed by Funso Aiyejina in a seminar paper at the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC) annual Black History Month lecture - which foresees a world of perfect harmony among plants, animals and their younger ones alongside their arrogant and ruthless neighbour man, Ifa calls for rich sense and caution in the dealings by man with his fellow man. Yet, he also understands, and, underscores this even as he cautions against reposing absolute trust in any human being that man’s experiences on earth, as well as material objects, have meaning only in relationship to elements of the other world-the world of Olorun, the Supreme Deity, and the Orisha, the deities-Eshu, Ifa, Obatala, Oduduwa, Yemoja,Sango, Ogun etc(48) This is why in the composition ‘Aye o f’eni f’oro’, these Orisha are ‘present’ as metaphors for the powers and even mortal replicas of the human race.
Knowing the kind of world in which we live and the evil which lurks at the very centre of man’s heart as the Eleri ipin(witness of fate at creation), Ifa admonishes wisdom as deciphered from Edaoto’s composition, ‘Aiye o f’eni f’oro’, contrary to a section of the 11th chapter of the book of Isaiah in which “the wolf will dwell with the lamb, the leopard will play with the young goat, the calf and the young lion will falt together, the cow and the bear will graze on the same site, playing hide and seek together, the cobra and the nursing child will exchange friendly winks, the lion, like the oz, will feed on straw and a little child will lead and minister to them all”. Such a world is merely an illusion and, like all illusions, can only exist in the imagination.
Edaoto’s delve into the repository of Ifa and bringing out of the song – it is more of an anthem in literary gatherings, such as WORDSLAM, Poetry Potter, CORA Stampede, the annual Ife Poetry Festival and Savannah Bar, a popular joint on Iwaya road, Onike, where he regularly performs – is a demonstration of an artist’s awareness and utilization of the cultural ideology of his people, even today in a world already taken over by foreign music genres and entertainment values. He echoes Khan’s opinion that “music is the most sacred of all art”(3) and the understanding that there is an African identity encapsulated in the same African world existence in which there are well defined ideas of nature, human life, existence, social relations, even as much as they affect man; and, this in turn being the basis for defining and interpreting cosmic and other ecological phenomena because, man in the African world is never conceptualized as an individual per se but essentially as a part of the collectivity in spite of his unique and characteristic idiosyncrasies (Onwuachi, 16).
Culture, the very dynamic structure for the better understanding of nations and man also becomes a veritable tool for what Olaniyan calls “race retrieval and cultural apprehension” with a song like “Osaa mo, pe Yoruba ni mi” etc. Music turns into a tool to join the call for cultural revival and more specifically, the Black African movement. Though subtle in approach, yet the message is loud and apt: there is the urgent need for all peoples’ of Black descent to retrace their steps, embrace their ‘forsaken’ old tradition starting with the names that they bear. Little wonder that Edaoto has adopted this stage name, throwing into the trash bin and refuse dump of history his Christian/Anglo-Saxon name at birth–Lawrence. Thus, Lawrence Agbeniyi becomes Edaoto, taking a cue from the very famous Black writer cum activist, Le Roi Jones, who threw away the colonial name for Imamu Amiri Baraka, because “our names tell stories/ our place get histories / Omo to so’le nu/ o s’apo iya ko”- that is, the child who scorns his heritage sets the stage for future disgrace and lament.
|Edaoto at Lagos Life Series 17, Photo by Aderemi Adegbite|
The Black consciousness movement which swept through the whole of the continents where Black peoples are domiciled, starting in America from the beginning of the 20th century-movement which became fully matured resulting in the famous Harlem renaissance of the 1930s, music such as the blues and Negro spiritual was a significant component of the struggle. Together with the activities of African-American civil rights activists, who employed artists and writers of their culture to work for the goals of civil rights and equality, groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), founded in 1909, came into being to promote civil rights and fight African-American disenfranchisement, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), by the Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey, who advocated the reuniting of all people of African ancestry into one community with one absolute government and the National Urban League (NUL) founded by Ruth Standish Baldwin and Dr. George Edmund Haynes, with the purpose of counseling black migrants from the South, training of black social workers, and working to give educational and employment opportunities to blacks, among other goals.
As such, Jazz music, African-American fine art, and black literature were all absorbed into mainstream culture, bringing attention to a previously disenfranchised segment of the American population while intellectuals like W.E.B Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Frederick Douglass, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jnr, in America including poets like Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Claude McKay and musician like Bessie Smith, as well as their Caribbean counterparts like the St. Lucian playwright, Derek Walcott and his Martinique compatriot Aime Cesaire and others strive to negotiate a better and respectable personality for Africans against denigration from their white counterparts through their poems and theatre. That same call was and still is a renewed call for the embrace of and value for our being. It is a call to abandon any form of colonial and neo-colonial apparatus and way of life which are eroding our heritage in whatever form they are.
This, in itself is definitely political, especially in the instance that the call is implicated in the destiny and future of the people. While addressing an audience of French students in 1967 on why he has decided to utilize the possibilities of theatre in the advancement of the revolutionary and political agenda of the Negritude movement he founded with Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal and the Guyanese Leon-Gontran Damas , Aime Cesaire evokes historical, political and technical imperatives, much as Edaoto would want to do now, seeing how terribly eroded our African values are, particularly in the aspects of music and its promotion of lewd, utterly provoking and culturally empty lyrics and foreign idiosyncrasies. Cesaire declares that “politics is the modern form of destiny; today, history is lived politics. Theatre (music in this sense as Edaoto’s ‘art’ is concerned) evokes the invention of the future. It is, especially in Africa, an essential means of communication. It must, accordingly, be directly comprehensible by the people”(239-40)
Edaoto has hearkened to the call, being stung by that bee of memory, which always hums the music of “never forget” because of his belief that “the artist must be a teacher helping his society to regain his belief in itself”(Achebe), because the artist in the traditional African society is strategically placed in a vintage position to function “as the record of the mores and experiences of his time” (Soyinka) and helping his society to “put away the complexes of the years of denigration and self-abasement”(8).
|The Afrogenius Band members at World Music Day 2011, Photo by Aderemi Adegbite|
Edaoto understands that the true African is aware that station in life is not primary, rather, it is the degree of divine presence in the individual that matters (13). Music has always been an elegant art, a time-tested art, which not only stimulates the ears, but equally propels the soul and the entirety of being into levels beyond the mundane. In African past folklore was a source, a very distilled source of wisdom and connection for the people and their ancestry which provides a vast tapestry in which is woven in terrifying images and colours, many actions and incidents that can chill, terrify, depress and, or excite the human imagination. The Black activists knew this and so adopted it, the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti knew this and utilized it to the fullest in the challenge of agents of oppression - government and religious clans alike–it is just a call, a renewal of faith in the poignant weapon that never fails to reach its target – the corrupt and diseased mind.
Edaoto, might have read James for he-through his kind of music- responds to the literary critic’s submission that in situations as explosive as Africa today, there can be no creative literature(music inclusive) that is not in some way political(and) in some way protest, for, even the writer(musician in this instance) who opts out of the social struggles of his country and tries to create a private world of arts is saying something controversial about the responsibility of the artist to (his) society.(10) He knows this rather too well, judging from the vehemence of his criticism of the silence and aloofness of fellow African leaders when America, acting under the auspices of NATO and other agencies of neocolonialism and oppression invaded, albeit, blatantly the sovereignty of Libya killing Moammar Gaddafi, much as the Super power invade the privacy of other less-powerful countries of the world, and his reaction to Nigeria’s own self-styled successive Messianic leaders, whose every decisions have been nothing but irrational, chaotic and outright bereft of sane direction, much to the detriment of the impoverished masses, some of who are equally gullible.
Little wonder that at his last monthly show at Savannah Bar, a friend- carried away by the energy of his performance that was almost virtuoso except for the back-up and instrumentation, together with the scintillating rhythm he was dishing out, supported by his AfroGenius Band-quietly walked up to me and asked, “What do you make of his music?”, and I asked in return “What do you think?” He only looked at me intently and whispered, “He is a true son of the soil!”
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James, Louis, “ Protest Tradition”, in Cosmo Pieterse et al (ed) Protest and Conflict in African Literature. London: Heinemann, 1974.
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Laville, Pierre. “Aime Cesaire et Jean-Marie Serreau: Un acte politique et poetique” in Les Voies de la creation theatrale II, 1970
Ngugi, Wa Thiong ‘O. Homecoming. London: Heinemann, 1972.
Nketia, Kwabena. “Music in African Culture” in FESTAC 77. Publication of the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. London: African Journal Limited, 1997.
Ojo-Ade, Femi.”De origen africano, soy cubano: African Elements in the Literature of Cuba” in Jones, Eldred Durosimi (ed). African Literature Today. Number 9: Africa, America & the Caribbean.New York: African Publishing Company,1978
Olaniyan, Tejumola. Scars of Conquest/Masks of Resistance: The Invention of Cultural Identities in Africa, African-American and Caribbean Drama. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Onwuachi Chike “African Identity and Ideology”, in FESTAC 77. Publication of the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. London: African Journal Limited, 1997.
Sofola, Zulu. The Artist and the Tragedy of a Nation. Ibadan: Caltop Publications Limited. 1994.
Soyinka, Wole. Art, Dialogue and Outrage: Essays on Literature and Culture. Ibadan: New Horn and University Press, 1988.
Lekan Balogun, award-winning writer and theatre director, is of the Department of Creative Arts, School of Postgraduate Studies, University of Lagos, Akoka.