I finished my copy of How Music Works by David Byrne the other day. It’s a brilliant book and I’d highly recommend it. I’ve been keeping notes all throughout this trip because I have 5 ideas for projects I’d like to do when I head back to England. My lovely orange notebook (thank you Bethan and Dan) is filling up nicely with thoughts and permutations on the different ideas. One particular idea has had a lot of thought and some of the themes and thoughts I’d written down for it kept cropping up in the book, especially the last chapter which was littered with similarities. It’s nice to know I haven’t had an original idea yet. But what’s an original idea anyway?
There’s a great quote in it from cognitive scientist Steven Pinker: ‘Music – played or enjoyed- physically brings us together to the extent that even our physiological processes come in to sync; our heartbeats and breathing begin to align when we are all involved in the same piece of music’.
I love that and have experienced it many times, specifically when playing. It’s the unspoken special gift of shared musical experience. He also muses on whether music is a consequence of the way that language, rhythm, emotion and acoustic analysis are packed in to the brain. This could go a long way to explaining why some cultures are seen as more musical – is it the musicality of their spoken language that gives them musical skill? Or does it just affect what music is made in that culture?
I googled the book and came across a Howard Goodall documentary series from 10 years ago also called How Music Works. I half remember watching it the first time round but thankfully it’s on Youtube. It’s similarly brilliant and it covers 4 aspects of music: melody, rhythm, harmony and bass. I’ve seen the first two so far. In the melody episode I heard Robert Vaughn Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme for the first time and inmediately couldn’t stop listening to it. Trust me to come all the way to West Africa and fall in love with classical music.
There’s still no electricity on the island amd hasn’t been any for days, nor has there been any in Satellite Town. Life is powered by generators. One Politician, I don’t know who, has special interest in importing generators, so it isn’t in the Government’s interest to provide electricity for people. The generators are powered by fuel, also very lucrative, so all that palava with NEPA the other day to get people to pay their electricity bills resulted in 1 day of electricity. I’m becoming increasingly frustrated by what Nigerian people have to put up with in their day to day life. It’s a complete stitch up.
We also had an attempted break in at 4am on Sunday morning. I was woken up by the sound of my window sliding open – how it was unlocked I don’t know – and a torch shining in to my room. A daft dialogue of him asking for money and threatening to shoot me and me telling him to fuck off ended with me getting up and opening my door, seeing a figure in the house, telling them to fuck off as well, realising it was Ojo and then the wannabe intruder scarpered. It’s another source of increased frustration. They just assume that because I’m white I have money. If I had money, I’d be in a hotel on Lagos Island, not mingling on Ibasa. That doesn’t occur to them. When we walk home at night Ojo tells me that he hears locals saying “there he is, there’s the white man”. In the grand scheme of things it’s nothing, but it’s not nice being targeted and is becoming very boring.
I’ve just started reading Sacred Drums of Liberation by Don Ohadike. It’s a book that looks at the power of African music and religion in resistance movements in Africa and the diaspora. It has a really powerful quote that takes us to the road to answering why traditions here have been lost:
‘Of all the tactics that the Europeans use to subvert African cultures, especially African religions and musc, none is more ingenious than the principle of assimilation. Outwardly, assimilation is harmless yet its consequences could be devastating. One of the aims of assimilation is to achieve political and cultural control by mounting a vicious attack on the victim’s consciousness and self-esteem. When put in motion, the victim begins to hate the customs of his people, their language, music and religion. Now, he listens to Mozart and Beethoven, rather than Fela Kuti and Sunny Ade. And rather than visit his relatives and ancestral shrines in the countryside, he spends his vacations in Paris, London and Rome’.
He goes on to explain how white oppressors divided people in to antagonistic sects. In the Americas, Europeans divided slaves in to house slaves and field slaves. In Africa, colonial administrators took a small group of locals, dressed them in a thin layer of European table manners and gave them a passionate love for Europe. The house slaves in the Americas find their counterparts in the assimilated natives of continental Africa. This creates a social gap between the indigenous elites and the masses, between house slaves and field slaves, and the oppressor produces deadly divisions within black society. European Christian missionaries were also employed to help with this mission of promoting white superiority and black inferiority. The Bible is used to frighten African converts in to obedience and slavery. With this new sense of ‘belonging’ to their masters, house slaves unknowingly had their self respect and identity stripped and replaced with an acceptance of permanent silence and black inferiority. Since the Second World War however, many Western educated Africans are returning to their roots. It’s a slow process.
We went to a Christian Church Thanksgiving thing in Satellite Town Cathedral yesterday because Ojo’s brother is part of the church. Having read that in that book, I absolutely hated every second of it. After that we went to see some live music up the road in a place called Golden Groove. It was music from the east, Igbo, and the audience was almost entirely made up of Igbo people. I can see a big difference between Igbo and Yoruba. Physically, Igbo people have very rounded features, especially facially, whereas Yoruba people tend to have more marked features – stronger cheekbones for instance. Igbo people are also a closed shop – two lads sat next to Ojo thinking he was Igbo. 2 hours later after they kept talking Igbo to him and he had to say he wasn’t, they got up and moved. Yoruba people are very inclusive to anybody. Plus the music was so repetitive! The band played for over an hour before the ‘star’ arrived, Sunny Bobo, and it was exactly the same rhythm and tempo the whole time. It didn’t change once! Then when Bobo arrived, and danced and sang amongst the captive Igbo audience, it slowed down and the rhythm changed a touch. But then it was just that rhythm the whole time! I really struggle with musical repetition. I become very bored very quickly. Even little variations keep us alert as an audience. As nice as it was to see some music, I won’t be rushing to any future Igbo music gigs.
Hopefully we can sort out a Visa for Ghana this week so I can see another part of West Africa. I’m ready to move on for a bit now.