By Anote Ajeluorou
Although music is a universal language that transcends boundaries, classical jazz, as popularised at Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) Centre, Onikan, Lagos, is viewed by a majority of music lovers as somewhat elitist. Thus it sometimes struggles to attract as much audience as it should in spite of quality training and skills its performers are being exposed to on a regular basis.
New Horizons Concert Series MUSON’s new Artistic Director, Mr. Tunde Jegede, has conceived, apart from preaching jazz gospel to many, is also aimed at democratising jazz and making it music to be loved by all, especially with the infusion of essential African musical elements.
At a press briefing to herald the new concert series last week, both Jegede and MUSON’s General Manager, Mr. Gboyega Banjo, explained efforts being made to take the gospel of jazz to all parts of Nigerian in spite of the challenges that ambition poses.
Jegede’s New Horizons kicks off this Sunday, February 22, with unique themes. The other three performances are scheduled to hold on Sunday, March 29, April 19 and June 14. Time for all shows is 6pm. The first concert this Sunday is an exploration of jazz and its African Connections featuring Nigeria’s spoken word artists such as Venus Bushfires, Age Beeka, Imolayo Balogun and the Art Essemble of Lagos.
Jegede said the first concert “is a meeting point between jazz and music from here, a connection between Africa and the Diaspora.”
On Sunday, March 29, the focus will be on Africa Messiah, which is a contemporary opera by Jegede. It brings African and baroque music together for the first time. It is the story of “the messiah in parallel to the historical trials and tribulations of African people through millennia and told in poetic narrative.” It will feature MUSON Choir and the Samadhi Essemble and will be conducted by Sir Emeka Nwokedi. This concert, Jegede also noted, “is also a meeting point between African and Western classical music; I will play the kora in it. Most of the work I do is a meeting point.”
On Sunday, April 19, performance theme is After the Dream, which is “an opera of celebrated arias put together by the soprano soloist, Ranti Ihimoyan, and features American opera diva, Laverne Williams and some of Nigeria’s finest opera singers, including Guchi Egbunine, Fatima Anyekema and Chika Ogbuji”. The third concert, a soprano, “is classical work adapted to a storyline, which has an access point,” Jegede stated.
On Sunday, June 14, performance theme will be Emidy: He Who Dared to Dream, a “concert centred around the life and times of the 19th century composer and violinist, Joseph Antonio Emidy, who traversed three continents from Africa to South America and Europe. The concert features Jegede, Diana Baroni and the Indian multi-percussionist, Renu Hossain.” According to Jegede, “There is a balance between folk traditions and classical music.”
These four Sundays promise a unique “taste of Jegede’s operatic, jazz and chamber music” and his “unique synthesis of classical jazz and traditional music, which embodies the legacy of African Classical Music idiom.” This is more so, as Jegede’s New Horizons “embraces jazz, classical opera and African music” and made unique by the array of local and global talents billed to perform.
THE coming of Jegede to MUSON has the bonus of making jazz music more democratic. According to him, “Classical music internationally, has a problem; it has difficult time reaching out to non-classical music enthusiasts. So programming is key; we have to have a clearer way of programming. I combine jazz and spoken word, and this is to say that MUSON has more than jazz music.”
In order to mitigate the challenges of spreading the gospel of jazz to unbelievers of the music genre, Jegede said MUSON was mulling creating more outreaches to get classical jazz to non-traditional places and non-enthusiasts. “There could be more outreach work to get jazz music outside of here (MUSON Centre) to the public; that could be started next year. Taking MUSON to Abuja, Port Harcourt or Abuja or elsewhere would take time because of the commitment involved to get it out there.
“Outreach programming is important; it has to be done. We have to go out and play music. I would like for musicians here at MUSON to go out and collaborate with music departments in universities”.
Banjo said the appointment of Jegede as Artistic Director of MUSON was spot on, as he said, “From our experience, Jegede’s appointment was an immediate hit, as they say in music, in what he has done when we hired him. From our experience also you only have to motivate young people in this country and they will exceed your expectations.”
On the need for MUSON to take music to public places outside of the centre, Banjo noted, “We’re actively wrestling with that idea. Given the geography of this country, it would be good for us to have branches or partners out there. What could happen is that we could replicate MUSON in Abuja or Port Harcourt – two strong cases to look at.
“Another thing is aggregating a critical mass of people in those places take the initiative and MUSON partners with them to establish it there or MUSON takes concerts to those places and it generates interests. Those things could happen in the fullness of time. It will be ideal, no doubt. Right now, we look as if we’re Musical Society of Lagos rather than Nigeria!”