By Anote Ajeluorou
ECHOES of the unfinished musical innovations of late Elder Steve Omodele Rhodes reverberated on the grounds of Freedom Park two Saturdays ago as the curtain fell on Lagos Black Heritage Festival 2015 after a long week of cultural performances. Activities at the festival included masquerade parades at the opening, child artists’ exhibition and award of Vision of the Child project, boat regatta and unlimited dramatic performances that had the inimitable Prof. Wole Soyinka rolling up his sleeves to direct his play The Beatification of Area Boy. Other plays staged in continuation of extending the dramatic dialogue started with the coming to town from London of Shakespeare Globe Theatre’s Hamlet were Snapshot by Bode Sowande, Gbekude and The Tarzan Monologues by Wole Oguntokun.
But the final night belonged to musical innovators and experimentations, a fusion of traditional African music with any latter day or foreign notes. And it played out so seamlessly on the big stage where four musical groups thrilled the lucky audience that kept faith with the festival organisers. Culture Advocates Caucus, producers of the Night of the Poets, had it titled ‘Sound Verses and Senses: A Music-Poetry Cross-Pollination’ to capture the under-stated if un-promoted, new music genre.
Of Elder Rhodes, it also said, “Before he passed on six years ago, the art impresario Steve Bankole Omodele Rhodes had been working on a sound fusion experimentation through which he desired to explore the relationship between rare traditional music instruments and western instruments in contemporary urban Lagos musical forms. He had gone as far as collecting a lot of such rare, almost extinct instruments and was already researching into their musical implication for today’s sound… This project is thus a tribute to the unfinished work of Steve Rhodes”.
On hand to put Elder Rhodes’ research into practice was Uhuru Sound, made up of multi-instrumentalist, Cef Echefu and spoken word artist, Rasaq Ivori. But they were not the only performers, with rare, quaint instruments or talents. After Renaissance Band of Freedom Park opened the act Captain Jimi Badmus and His Salam Salam Agidigbo Natural Band brought his seven-man traditional music piece to croak their way through. They burst the warm evening air with throaty folk songs that also got the audience singing along.
But even more striking and heart-stopping was the balladic almost mournful, soprano tunes of Genevieve Ogu, which she wove into her knitting routine, as some Igbo housewife doing domestic chores. She was imperceptible at first, as the sound seemed to come from somewhere far-off, but immensely soothing yet disturbing in its solemnity that seemed to be rising from a deep well, as it were. But when she became visible, it was clear something musically rare and enchanting was happening and it sipped through to the inner recesses of the audience as it rose into the night. And when it ended, Ogu’s ululations lingered long in the subconscious; it was a sound impossible to shake off.
Meanwhile, inimitable instrumentalists, Music Director of MUSON Centre, Jegede was on the kora, with Cef on his calabashes, bucket that gave Ogu’s voice the needed balladic accompaniment that enhanced her performance.
Then the duo of Ayo Ewebiyi and Jumoke Oke burst onto the stage and took to the rhythmic beating of their pestles on mortar to pelt out poetry in melodic Yoruba chants. They had bata drummers and other instrumentalists to back them up. The duo’s gyrations and rhythmic, alternate beat of pestle on mortar was stuff of housewives on their turf and reminiscent of ancient times, which organizers envisioned when it said, “The idea is to have a musical sound infusion on live stage, set in a theme reminiscent of quintessential times when Africans congregated communally to display individual or group talents and skills in the village square under moonlight – oiled by merriment, especially palm wine… a time when priests, griots and bards would team up with sound makers to tell tales of history and future to come”.
With Jegede on his kora and Cef on his half calabashes, with one filled with water and another upturned into it, and him sometimes going beserk with the sheer intoxication or even possession by some unseen music spirit, it was such a rare sight to behold. Ivori supplied the whimsical poetry that accompanied Cef and Jegede’s instrumentation. It turned out a night of uncommon sound. At a point, there was a joint performance by the duo of Jegede and Cef and Captain Badmus Agidigbo band; it was the fusion of musical possibilities that could be hatched on the spur of the moment. And, did it work!
Not least was Uche Uwadinachi’s poetic offering to his enchantress, with Oke being the receiving artner. It was a love borne in the moon and executed somewhere also unreal.
But that wasn’t all. Uncle Jimi Solanke wasn’t left out of the musical shindig designed to wrap up a week of Lagos cultural feast. With Renaissance Band backing him up, Solanke towed the path of jazz mostly, as against his usual highlife and storytelling performance. But it seemed that was the spirit of the night and he yielded himself fully to what had gone before. But he was no less charming in his act for which he got ovation from the audience that had begun to thin out. After he finished, columnist Mr. Tunde Fagbemi rewarded Solanke’s efforts with a bottle of beer at The Grill Station to cap a remarkable performance!
And it seemed the night had just begun, as Pa Tunji Oyelana was setting up to perform at the FoodCourt stage. Oyelana sang late into the night. It became a double reward for those who saw him perform as blind beggar during the 3-day performance of Soyinka’s The Beatification of Area Boy. Even age is yet to diminish the vocal power of this remarkable London-based African minstrel!
Lagos Black Heritage Festival 2015 will no doubt continue to echo in the minds of Lagosians who took time to be part of it. This year seemed better organised, with activities that seemed designed to reach to the core of culturally conscious audiences.