Nigeria’s thriving art and music scene


Music students in Nigeria are funded by corporate sponsorship

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News from Nigeria often concentrates on corruption in politics, fighting with the Boko Haram militants in the north and unrest in the oil-producing Delta region – but Africa’s most populous nation has also quietly become a hotbed for the arts.

The big band was rehearsing in the sauna. At least, that is what it felt like in a cramped room at Lagos’s School of Music.

It was packed with young musicians who, despite the heat, were giving it their all whilst paying close attention to the conductor, Tony Chiafor – a retired lieutenant commander from the Nigerian navy.

By the end of a rousing rendition of the tune, Onward Together, the saxophonists and flautists, as well as trumpet, clarinet and trombone players were all drenched in sweat.

“I wrote that one,” said Mr Chiafor, after bouncing up and down enthusiastically, waving his baton.

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He has fond memories of studying in Britain at the Royal Marines School of Music at Deal, in Kent, before later going on to head the Nigerian navy’s own music school.

“I may be retired but I am not tired,” he told me, adding proudly: “We are doing serious business here, serious business, and I hope you are coming to next month’s concert.”

There was a very different atmosphere in the room where the strings were practising – it certainly had an international flavour.

A strict German conductor was guiding the Nigerian violinists and cellists through the Italian composer Arcangelo Corelli’s 300-year-old Christmas Concerto.

The Musical Society of Nigeria, or Muson, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and with several events planned there is a lot of practising going on at its school of music, so a walk down the corridors is an aural cocktail.

‘Do Do Mi’

In one of the rooms I met John Eclou. Wearing a diamondiferous-looking earring and trendy skinny jeans, he would not look out of place in a Nigerian pop group.

He closed his eyes and delivered an impressive, passionate version of Ave Maria.

Next door another student, Uche, played a rickety piano, accompanying Alaba, whose hands danced above the xylophone to a number inspired by West African high life music.

Alaba with his xylophone Alaba hopes to study abroad after finishing his diploma

At least I thought his name was Alaba until he put me right.

“Say, ‘Do Do Mi’,” he instructed, as he tapped out the notes on the xylophone. “That is it now A-la-ba.”

“Start Quote

In addition to the wealth of music on offer in Lagos there are also several art galleries”

Although it is not the most convenient thing to carry around, a xylophone is just what is needed to get to grips with the tricky tonal pronunciation of Nigeria’s Yoruba names.

A former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, was broken down to: “Re Mi Mi Re, Re Mi Re Mi. O-Lu-Se-Gun, O-Ba-San-Jo.”

The xylophone brings back memories for me of excruciatingly boring music lessons at school. I think this was largely because I was not allowed to play a whole one.

Instead, each student had just one lonely note to “ding” at the appropriate time.

Watching Alaba work his magic I now have a new respect for the instrument.

Will Ross reports from an exhibition in Lagos showcasing photography

Like many of the students here, he started off singing in a church choir.

Nigerian Pentecostal services are so lively even saxophonists and drummers learn to play in church.

Alaba is certainly talented on the xylophone and once he has finished his diploma, he hopes to study abroad.

“I was offered a place at Manchester. But there was just one problem,” he told me.

“Sixteen thousand one hundred pounds a year.”

“Sixteen thousand pounds a year?” I asked.

“No. Sixteen thousand, one hundred pounds,” he shot back. “There is no way I can afford that. My father is not a politician,” he said laughing.

Barbie weddings

This giant of a city, Lagos, has a thriving arts scene and, in addition to the wealth of music on offer, there are also several art galleries.

One of them is currently holding an international exhibition, LagosPhoto.

At the opening, Seun Kuti, son of the late Afrobeat star Fela Kuti, performed with more than half a dozen musicians on stage.

There was more dancing inside the gallery, but not involving any human beings.

The artist Obi Nwokedi has spent months re-enacting a Yoruba wedding using black Barbie dolls.

He has painstakingly created and photographed the scenes all the way from the bridal party getting their pre-wedding beauty treatments as they browse miniature iPads, to the wedding lunch with tiny bottles of Cognac and coke, and then onto the dancing with the very Nigerian tradition of “spraying” – where guests throw cash at the newly weds.

Barbie dolls having their wedding lunch A wedding lunch recreated by Obi Nwokedi with black Barbie dolls
Barbie dolls being sprayed with money at wedding Guests throw cash at the newly weds at a Yoruba wedding
Barbie dolls' wedding party In Obi Nwokedi’s creation, the DJ is the last person standing at the end of the wedding

It is such an integral part of the day that I have seen women walking amongst the guests at a Lagos wedding with massive bundles of money.

People can then exchange their high denomination bills for a bundle of lower ones and still enjoy spraying the cash without going broke.

But the Nigerian Barbie dolls must have been at a high society wedding – there are miniature $100 bills suspended in the air.

I am not sure if they were safe with the groom though.

The last photo shows the aftermath of the party.

The DJ is the only person still standing and the groom appears to have passed out next to an empty bottle of brandy.

Babatunde Akinsola
Babatunde Akinsola
Babatunde Akinsola is aNaija247news' Southwest editor. He's based in Lagos and writes on the Yoruba Nation political issues, news and investigative reports

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