By Anote Ajeluorou
A line up of choice musical activities will light up MUSON Music Festival 2015 that starts from October 14 through 25th at MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos. It will be a feast of diverse musical traditions ranging from classical music to jazz, African traditional music, chorale music, drama and dance. It is the 19th edition of the music festival dedicated to the highest ideal of music composition and performance. Various professionals in the diverse fields of music, drama and dance will bring their input to bear on the festival to make it MUSON standard of excellence.
Individuals performers expected to bring their professional excellence to the festival include Mr. Uche Nwokedi of The Playhouse Initiative who will direct the musical drama Jesus Christ Superstar, Mrs. Sarah Boulous of Society of Performing Arts of Nigeria (SPAN), a dance group of immense motivation and Sir Emeka Nwokedi of Lagos City Chorale group whose recent musical exploits in Germany at the Olympic Chorale competition earned Nigeria gold medals. Others are MUSON’s Artistic Director, Mr. Tunde Jegede, MUSON’s Resident Pianist, Mr. Tunde Sosan, MUSON Jazz Band, Girls Rule Band, School Big Band and classical guitarist, Mr. Philip Uzor. Others are Ranti, Mr. Ayo Ajayi, who was music director for acclaimed musical theatre, Saro the Musical, Imole Ayo, Bez (Idukale) and current student and trumpeter, Mr. Etuk Ubong of Ubong Quartet. Many of the performers are mostly graduates of The MUSON School of Music.
It certainly is an awesome array of performance activities any lover of quality music would regret to miss. But sadly, efforts to deepen the kind of wholesome music MUSON delivers continue to attract little result by way of needed assistance in terms of corporate sponsorship and patronage. It is the harsh reality managers of MUSON Centre and others of like minds are faced with ahead of festival opening.
However, corporate social responsibility from corporate bodies for cultural productions continues to thin out just as robust support pours in for music on the other side of the divide - hiphop or Afro-pop, as it were. This is the new direction of music craze in the country, with companies queuing up to pick up huge bills for musicians whose artistry is less sterling and appealing and lyrics that are outright ‘unmusical’, but which appeals to the a large section of the youthful population. And that seems the key for companies looking to support the arts and culture production. Demographic bottom line has become the defining impetus! It does not matter the type of value the music is delivering with such lyrics and performance.
Orezi (Osegine Allen) recently admitted that he does not know the meaning of his hit track Shoki, saying it’s a dance step he stumbled upon. This just about sums up the lyrical content of much of the music on offer in Nigeria.
Former Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) and philanthropist Mr. Bolaji Rosoji calls it the ‘age of noise,’ and that multinational firms’ patronage tends towards the ‘outrageous’. He said the situation calls for concern, noting, “Music on air now is certainly not as edifying as when Sunny Okosuns, Ebenezer Obey, Osita Osadebey, etc, were playing; there was a compliance with what they said. It made you want to do what they were saying. Now, music is a projection of ignorance, violence and degradation of womanhood. This is a dangerous thing to our children”.
Rosiji said ‘Clean up your Lyrics’ campaign was part of efforts he made as PMAN president to make music “more edifying, conscious and god-fearing,” but which has since been lost for lack of continuity. He argued that the music videos being made now were even more dangerous in the erosion of wholesome values, adding, “What you’re absorbing into your senses through videos is more permeating and influencing”.
He called on song and copywriters to think outside the box for a healthy music industry. Also, Rosiji asked companies to reduce the amount of noise they generate in the name of promoting their products and services.
ALTHOUGH Vice Chairman of MUSON Centre Mr. Louis Mbanefo put it down to “donor fatigue and the arts seeming to be fairly low down the list; too many people are asking for sponsorship,” it was culture impresario Chief (Mrs.) Francesca Emanuel, a MUSON patron, who had a handle to the issue at stake when she observed with a hint of sadness.
“The music featured on our TV is painful. The lyrics are no lyrics from the music being made and played. The female dancers are half naked and the males are wearing trousers almost falling down. At MUSON here, we’re turning up graduates who are disciplined and trained to do music that influences society in glorious and spiritual manner. The purpose of MUSON in impacting the public is bringing up a breed of Nigerians that understand classical music and who will then diversify into other kinds of music”.
Mbanefo further restated the mission of MUSON and its place in countering the offensive and corrupt music that now dominates the airwaves, and which companies in Nigeria are so eager to promote since its star performers attract a large youthful audience to it, which, ironically, has become the standard to measure the direction the country’s value orientation is headed.
According to Mbanefo, “Culture is talking about civilization of the human psyche and spirit. We need to urge companies that MUSON has big impact on society in enriching its soul through good music. We can’t do much about current music on the airwaves, but we try to elevate the music we play. The MUSON Music Festival is pointing the way for MUSON as the centre of the arts in Nigeria”.
He traced the origin of MUSON and blames the new crop of chief executive officers managing corporate companies, as being culturally and artistically illiterate and not enlightened enough. Director of The MUSON School of Music Mrs. Marion Apata said it was poorly designed school curriculum in recent years that has relegated the arts to the background, saying it was reason for lack of music appreciation among many adults today, a situation that has impacted negatively on music tastes for the current fad to thrive.
Apata said, “If we as parents ask that music should be taught in schools, children will learn new kinds of music. Schools that used to have choir don’t do so any more, including music festivals where prizes were awarded. Not everyone is going to be a lawyer, doctors and so on. Many parents discourage children from doing music because of the kinds of things they see on TV. At MUSON we do a lot of music not just classical, but different kinds, as the music evolution leads”.
Mbanefo noted, “In the early days, most of the CEOs were foreigners who were enlightened people and older generation of Nigerians educated in Europe. When we asked for funding to build MUSON response was huge. But if it were now, I’m sure we won’t get response and MUSON would never come into being. Back then CEOs saw the importance of classical music, but now it’s about bottom line”.
WITHOUT intending to dilute MUSON’s music tradition and direction, Mbanefo thinks dynamism is the way to go, as with all cultures. Young people hold all the aces and it won’t hurt if MUSON bends over backwards to also cater this powerful demographic group.
“So perhaps, we need to redirect our focus to young people,” he stated. “We’re going through a process of broadening the programme to include several other kinds of music. We’re not foreclosed on that, but widening the scope.”
Advertising chief and patron of MUSON Chief Adeniyi Williams brought the demographic angle companies look out for to determine what project to sponsor or not, when he said, “MUSON’s kind of music is slightly different from the kind of music D’Banj and the other young ones are doing, which is for large crowd of youth”.
Emanuel also took on the question of bottom line companies often ask for in project sponsorship. She noted, “The sponsorship question, what is in it of companies; if MUSON tries to answer that question by saying it’s not in financial terms, but the wholesome edification of society. Money is not everything; values should also count”.
Mbanefo also cleared the misconception regarding the kind of music MUSON does and said it was not just classical or European music and certainly not elitist.
Sir Emeka Nwokedi restated what MUSON does with classical music that is lacking in the current music fad that doesn’t seem to have a foundation.
“Classical music is music that has been properly organised, written down and properly scored before being performed. It’s not just European music,” he said.
Beside donor fatigue, General Manager of MUSON Mr. Gboyega Banjo blamed lack of sponsorship on poor economy, with companies cutting back on corporate social responsibility alongside demographic spread that determines sponsorship. He, however, sued for support for MUSON’s music activities, as he noted, “The MUSON School of Music is a gift to society. The school does a lot to lift society. We provide a platform for all activities in the arts and culture sector”.
A former student of the music school Ranti said MUSON was trending in the right direction even though the music is not super popular as the fad on the airwaves. She, however, blamed the high brain drain among graduates of the school who would have influenced Nigeria’s music direction on poor appreciation of good music in the country. “There’s brain drain of our scholars going abroad to excel,” she noted.
RUB-A-DUB master Orits Williki blames Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) for the rot in the airwaves, saying they should wake up from slumber. “It’s for NBC to wake up,” he said. “It’s NBC’s responsibility not to allow bad lyrics to air on radio or TV. The law also requires grading so you don’t kill creativity. In our airwaves, NBC has failed our nation. In our time there was what we called ‘Not-to-be-broadcast’ (NTBB) adopted by the quality control section of radio stations. I don’t know if they still have it these days. So, everything is doing down. Until quality control is brought back things will remain bad.
“Those in corporate firms massively supporting these bad lyrics with money don’t know better. They don’t even know what the lyrics are saying. Most of the time they are watching cable TV and don’t know what is happening on terrestrial TV or radio. So, if you try to control TV, cable TV is still on”.