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BOOK REVIEW: The Aesthetics Of Performance And Orality In Na’Allah’s Dadakuada

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BOOK REVIEW: The Aesthetics Of Performance And Orality In Na’Allah’s Dadakuada

By
Toyin Falola

The aesthetics of performance as a dynamic process has proven its ability to create, re-create, reflect, refract, and re-present the sociocultural identities of the society. It cannot be detached from society because it concerns itself with the politics and other realities inside or within societies. It is a gigantic force that towers above religion, culture, or traditions. In Na’Allah’s Dadakuada: Ilorin Art History, he addresses the aesthetic complexities and dynamics with particular reference to performance. As employed by the author and through the methods he adopted in the analysis of artists who are actively engaged in the oral poetic forms, the performance of Dadakuada, an oral poetry form, can be considered to be aesthetically pleasing.

Broadly speaking, the book’s examination of the aesthetics of performance shows that language, space symbols, religious forms, and most importantly, the nexus between public and private lives is a divergent and multicultural atmosphere that human experience, especially the people of Ilorin, a Muslim-dominated locale. Hence, it can be deduced that reading the book through the lens of performance aesthetics helps readers to understand the geography, culture, and politics of the city the author grew up in.

In summary, this book unearths and uncovers the history and performer’s vision of Dadakuada, and examines how interesting it is as a form of art and as the most popular traditional Yoruba oral art form in Islamic Africa. Na’Allah has illuminated and pictured the role of Dadakuada in Ilorin, the city where he grew up. Essentially, the book covers the cultural identity, performance aesthetics, language, and the most delicate and important part, Dadakuada’s relationship with Islam.

It is surprising to note and critically analyze how Na’Allah carefully describes this relationship and discusses how the performers, through their songs and dramatic nodes, are able to successfully accommodate the tenets of Islam in ways that have cemented the necessary survival of Dadakuada as a traditional African art form in a predominantly Muslim community like Ilorin. Thus, the importance of traditional cultures, aesthetics, arts, and communication known to the people cannot be dismissed in an attempt to understand the phenomena of the existence of the people before the invasion of colonialists with their religion, which proves that most African countries host a large diversity of ethnicities and cultures.

READ ALSO: BOOK REVIEW: Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah’s Seriya And The Aesthetics Of Socialist Realism

The African space has been a site of and for orality, and the production and consumption of African arts and music are dependent on the sensibilities of the people. Debatably, the oral aspect of African aesthetics is the most talked about and researched aspect of African culture and aesthetics. Basically, the origin of all literature is an oral medium that functioned as a repository for people to preserve their ancient experiences and beliefs. Through this book, Na’Allah has heightened the interest of scholars, students, cultural curators, and music enthusiasts in the aesthetics of traditional African culture, African art history, performance studies, and Islam in Africa.

The introductory chapter of the book, which discusses the geography and culture of the Ilorin people, is paramount as it introduces us to the different perspectives of knowledge that a human community transmits. In the book, the cultural identity of the Ilorin people can be deduced and verified as an expressive one even amidst variant cultures. As highlighted by Na’Allah, the community where he grew up has different nodes of knowledge—from the traditional Ilorin community to the Islamic constituents, the coexistence of these contrastive perspectives between multiple knowledges is being constructed and imbibed freely amongst individuals from communities in the state.

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It is necessary to take into account that discussing, examining, and experimenting with the various knowledge is the premise of the concept of culture. In other words, there is a strong relationship between variant knowledge and cultures from the lens of social, political, and the didactic nature of Dadakuada, which Na’Allah seeks to expose in the book, and how it creates and builds the multi/transcultural city of Ilorin. Hence, Na’Allah concludes that “Ilorin presents very interesting cultural and social opportunities for both indigenes and non-indigenes.” There is a convergence of Islamic cultural activities, multilingual opportunities, and the traditions and cultures brought by the new immigrants from all parts of Nigeria, which has ultimately brought steady development to the state, such as a tertiary institution and the establishment of a teaching hospital.

This created a sense of performance in both indigenes and immigrants, and has brought a great thrill to families and individuals. In addition, apart from the ethnic, artistic forms, and performances generated from the society, Islamic tenets have brought a different kind of color and fame to the city, which has ultimately set the standard for the propagation of the Dadakuada oral performance.

Considering these multicultural approaches, Na’Allah advocates that we must put ourselves and others in mind when planning to analyze the cultural patterns of a society. If this is practically carried out, the idea of having mono or ethnocultural bias will be avoided, which can greatly affect co-habitation in a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria. As a result, performing a well-thought-out and particular nodes of knowledge in different forms should be extolled as they are invariably part of the human experience.

The re-examination of the concept of orality by Na’Allah is important to perfectly understand the background and the context of the performance of Dadakuada. Based on the definitions and opinions of oral literature scholars like Ong, Finnegan, Okpewho, Na’Allah states that orality is usually defined as the thoughts and verbal expressions in those societies where writing skills have not been developed. The essence is to maintain that orality should not be ignorantly perceived as oral tradition. Oral tradition describes a long-established action or pattern of behavior in a community or group of people, which, more often than not, has been handed down from one generation to another. It is a set of customs, behavior, practices, and beliefs lived and valued by a culture.

READ ALSO: The Ties that Bind: Love, Tolerance, And Communal Life In Abdul Rasheed Na’Allah’s Baba Omokewu

Most Africans have robust oral traditions that existed and continue to exist as one of the ways through which African value systems are passed down to the upcoming members of a community. These belief systems, attitudes, modes of worship, traditional mores, communal expectations, and cultural affinity are orally transmitted through traditional methods like storytelling and other kinds of ritual recourse. Various elements of orality echo in the performance poetry, which Na’Allah illustrates with examples of Omokuekue, Odolaye Aremu, and the likes in the book. Clearly, the performance is not majorly postmodern as it originates from pre-literate societies. However, this does not equate to illiteracy, as there is always confusion between ignorance and illiteracy.

The verbal communication in the Dadakuada performance is transmitted orally from performer to performer and is constructed using literary devices such as allusion, metaphor, repetition, consonance, alliteration, and rhyme. Most importantly, it is constructed through didactic representations, for which most artists employ the technique of repetition of key phrases to aid memory and recollection. More often than not, the performer’s recitation is usually from memory, basically from a variant that they had learned consciously or unconsciously. However, there is a technique of performer’s license that allows the reciter to add their own details to further embellish the recitation for aesthetic purpose, or to foreground the current situation when they are performing, which is often the case.

The major significance of this is that Na’Allah has re-awakened the notion that the verbalization of thought contents through language is essential for major cultural development, as the constraint which users of language face in navigating from inarticulate to articulate formations are drastically reduced in the oral environment in which the performers are. It is also important to state that the orality feature in Dadakuada promotes communicative understanding when listened to, and it helps to understand and build the concept of the self, watering down notions of individualism and greatly enhancing the basic element of communal stance in almost every interaction the performers find themselves.

Furthermore, the description of the developmental stages and the performance techniques of Dadakuada by Na’Allah is well espoused through categorization into how it explicates the Ilorin poetry and the great influence of the Islamic society of the state. This inextricably linked nexus between the human experience of the Ilorin populace and the religious feature, which is a predominant characteristic, has helped readers to understand the technique, performance, and function of the Dadakuada. Na’Allah illustrates this with various artists or Dadakuada performers in Ilorin such as Odolaye Aremu, Aremu Ose, Jaigbade Alao, Omoekee Amao, and the delivery of their topics or subject matter, the effect of drums, audience appeal and participation, the method of apprenticeship, and, most importantly, the didactic dimensions of the performance.

Overall, from the topicality of Aremu Ose to the politics of Odolaye Aremu to the didactic dimensions of Alao and Omoekee, it is evident that the rendition of the performance in orality does not require only one statement and it is necessary for the speakers and the audience to communicate and interact as committed orators and willing audiences. Accepting this is important because the performer will continue to push for success if the message to the audience is well received, which is usually based on trust. Also, the speakers’ confidence increases if they tag along with the message and they employ gestures to further embellish the topics. Similarly, the act of communication that the speakers and performers display is usually nurtured by dance and traditional oral culture skills. The performers are emotionally tied to their subjects or topics to the point of living in their performance, as this ensures they introduce a specific style to assume a sort of “on-stage originality.” In relation to this, the element of crafting an original mood in orality must be dynamic and have the element of freestyling.

These performers are also invested in examining the question of socio-political commitment, which involves pondering the very nature of commitment. Commitment refers to the artist’s dedication to his duty as the voice of his people. It is the interest a writer or artist takes in the happenings around him in the creation of a literary avenue and how he chooses to respond to these issues, whether by simply portraying them in his work or by proffering solutions to the problems bedeviling the society he finds himself in. For instance, Na’Allah uses some of Ose’s topical songs about social reality. He is not afraid to address any social or political persons. Even when, like Odolaye Aremu, Ose is not a politically partisan poet, he is the singer of engagement in all its ramifications as he is well versed and he talks about people, the government, and the solutions they can present to the Nigerian nation through the community and religious aesthetics, which has made him an important figure in the Ilorin community.

READ ALSO: The Nigerian Condition: The Way Out (4)

In conclusion, Na’Allah argues that the culture of primary orality should be encouraged. He has used the Dadakuada mode to inform people about the need to see familiar reality because the cultivation of communal passions is essentially a form of education. Also, it would appear that the task of communication, as espoused by Dadakuada, and how the performer embellishes it with verbal cues, has helped to identify and interpret the sociocultural realities of the Ilorin people, extending to the Nigerian society as well.

[This is the fourth and last written as part of the events marking the public presentation, on June 30, of Professor Na’Allah’s three new books: Seriya, Baba Omokewu, and Dadakuada: Ilorin Art History]

 

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MUSIC REVIEW: Simi’s “Woman”: An Explosive Tool For Social Change

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Alaafin Adeyemi III: The Throne Of Numerous Authorities

By

Toyin Falola

Explosive—that’s one word that aptly describes Simisola Bolatito Kosoko’s latest single: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udnkr-pMRa8

Better known by her stage name, Simi, this amazon of an African musician has yet proven the strength and quality of her musical renditions. “Explosive” must be an apt appellation for a song that has garnered close to a million views on YouTube within 48 hours of release. What is so electric about Woman that has made it the talk of the town?

Simi’s “Woman”: An Explosive Tool For Social Change

With Woman, Simi has proven that she is a master of her art. The song is a masterfully mixed sampling of popular Fela tunes, from Suffering and Shmiling, to Water No Get Enemy. Through this song, Simi has donned the philosophical robes of one of the greatest musicians Africa has ever produced, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, to direct society’s focus to the challenges of the average woman. She previously took successful older songs and repackaged them to more powerful effects, as in her

Aimasiko (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDIqkEWLYzE)

and

Joromi (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRS8Afj3dOM)

The latest single is a much bigger project. Leaving aside her constant trope of “love”, Simi moved to a more consciously activist one. The proclamation in the song is direct: It’s a tough world for a woman. It’s always been, and Simi brings our attention to this by making us know that women receive criticisms from all angles—from men and from fellow women too. This is perhaps the best time to release a song like this, seeing as the #Nobodylikewoman campaign trended on social media some days ago. This was a campaign through which women spoke up about hate speeches and denigrating words they had received in the past. Society looks upon women as a class of people that need to be subservient. Simi throws a snicker at the popular term “submission” by asking if women have assignments to submit. What exactly should women submit? Why should inordinate gender dominance be shrouded in the garment of “a woman needs to submit to her husband?” Why can’t girls can? Why shouldn’t women go for what they want and become who they would love to become?

The woman is a song from a musician who understands women’s experiences and can fully relate to the lyrics of the songs. One can trace a connection between Simi and Beyoncé, a celebrity American musician and powerful woman who has preached the message of women empowerment and the appreciation of women through her songs. Brown Skin Girl and Woman are two songs from two different musicians having thousands of miles between them; yet, they both speak to the needs and challenges of women while serving as a source of strength and assistance to a class of humans that are, contrary to societal perceptions, strong, resilient, and robust.

READ ALSO: Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje At 90: A Measure of Grace Indeed

Sampling is not a new concept in the music industry. There are scores of African musicians that have sampled Fela – from Falz to Burna Boy, and now to Simi. One thing that one can notice in these musicians is the will to fight against societal perceptions and spread clear messages through the vehicle of music. The woman is not just a song, and it is not just a musical single. Instead, it is a powerful tool that would spark needed conversations in society, re-concentrate our focus on the significant issues affecting women, and help bring about some required changes.

If I were to offer a dissenting voice, it would be that Simi’s voice has become too consistent to the point of saturation. For now, I will take the message since Simi is representing the voiceless.

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

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BOOK REVIEW: A Journey Of Guided Discovery: A Review Of James Yeku’s Where the Baedeker Leads

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Alaafin Adeyemi III: The Throne Of Numerous Authorities
Professor Toyin Falola

By

Toyin Falola

The first time I started to read James Yeku’s poetry collection, I wondered why he chose that title for his book. First off, not many people would know what a Baedeker means. However, the earliest glimmer of revelation hit me, and some tens of pages into the collection, the revelation was fully confirmed. When one considers the author, the content of the poetry collection and the title, one would understand the aptness of the double entendre in the title, or should I call it multiple entendre? To fully understand, we must first know what a Baedeker is. A Baedeker is a guidebook that comes in handy for travelers. Karl Baedeker started the publication of these traveler’s guidebooks, and decades after his death, the Baedeker has become known as the symbol for quality guidebooks.

BOOK REVIEW: A Journey Of Guided Discovery: A Review Of James Yeku’s Where the Baedeker Leads

James Yeku

James Yeku is an assistant professor of African digital humanities at the University of Kansas. He was born and grew up in Nigeria. He lived the better part of his childhood, adolescence and even his young adulthood in Lagos before moving to Canada, and later Kansas, the United States. Where the Baedeker Leads is proof that the human is restless—always in transit, whether mentally, intellectually, spiritually, or physically. Amid the human’s eternal journey, the importance of a helpful guide, the Baedeker, cannot be overemphasized. Family members, friends, a university degree, an appointment—all these have the potential to serve as the Baedeker.

Where the Baedeker Leads is a chronicle of a man’s experiences in two different worlds and the noted similarities between these two worlds, despite their stark differences. It also gives a clue into how people note experiences and formulate perceptions by relating them to other things they have previously encountered. What relationship is there between Lagos and Saskatoon? For how long does a human feel alien in a new environment till they blend in and call and see the new place as home?

James Yeku’s Where the Baedeker Leads is a 95-page collection of 57 poems. I love that this poetry collection touches on every aspect of concern that a contemporary Nigerian in the diaspora could have. From Saskatoon to Móremí, Dr. Yeku speaks to us of the issues that affect a Nigerian in Kansas the most: of police brutality and the #EndSARS agitations; of the Buhari era and its adverse effects on the life, economy, and standard of living of Nigerians; of love; of settling down; of kidnappings.

READ ALSO: BOOK REVIEW: Olayinka Oyegbile’s The Dirty Leap: Dramatizing Disillusionment And Dystopia

The collection opens with “Saskatoon,” a poem that, through vivid imageries, aptly narrates the beauties that endear one to Saskatoon. The reader understands that Saskatoon is a good place for people who love comfort and pastoral life through the poem. Yeku acquaints us with the people of Saskatoon and the vital role they play in the bubbly and loving nature of the city. Saskatoon is its people, radiant souls tipsy with dreams. One does not need the words of a magi to know that Saskatoon is a city of welcoming and amiable people.

In “Isolation,” the poet hits us with the reality of what was left of the world at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The imageries are consistent, and they appropriately describe the state we found ourselves in during the enforced lockdowns worldwide. Yeku takes us through the experience of a man in isolation—the dread for the pandemic, the loneliness, and the longing for physical human interactions. He whets readers’ appetites with the hopes of what could yet come by asking them to imagine scenarios where they are back on the streets, in the midst of the hustle and bustle. He ends the poem with a thought-provoking line that reminds us that humans crave things they had earlier detested in moments of deprivation. Typically, people do not like the stress that often comes with hustles and bustles, but at the height of a pandemic and the enforced lockdowns, they craved even the slightest amount of activity.

James Yeku is a poet rich in language and language use. He knows how to pick his words and string them together to spark the sound effects and elicit the correct responses. “Traveler” is a short but thought-evoking and powerful poem. In this poem, Yeku relates different forms of traveling to reinforce the same phenomenon and message. From the people who travel through their thoughts and minds in the form of a daydream to the poet’s words that travel on a mission to achieve his aims, to the poet who travels as he writes to achieve his dreams, every entity travels with a destination in mind; and a journey that the Baedeker guides lead to an arcane of futures, and a world of endless possibilities.

In “Away in Lagos,” James Yeku yet proves that he is a master of alliterations and metaphors, which are two of the most robust tools of outstanding poets. Through the deft use of these tools, he creates an impressionable image of Lagos in the reader’s mind. You do not need to have visited Lagos to understand the message of the poem entirely. He not only compares Nigeria’s beautiful city to its counterparts in other parts of the world, but he also draws a not-often-talked-about issue of how Lagos residents (known as Lagosians) continually leave the city they call home in search of greener pastures; how they would rather have winter than the harmattan of Lagos; and how in many cases, their moves are often ill-advised and not well thought out. At their arrival in their city of destination, the reality of what they left behind hits them; then, they start to feel uncertain about actualizing the dreams that made them flee in the first place.

“#EndSARS” evokes memories and brings to the fore the realities of the average Nigerian. In this poem, the anger and frustration of the Nigerian are strongly brought forth through the poet’s choice of words. Like every Nigerian, the poet is angry at the country’s political leaders, law enforcement officers, police brutality, and a system that continually fails the citizens. “#EndSARS” shows hopelessness and despair and how people would revolt when they are pushed against the wall.

“Bubu” is yet another poem from the collection that laments the fate of Nigerians. For six years now, Nigerians have witnessed what can be deemed one of the country’s worst governments. The country’s state is more lamentable at the deafening silence the government gives to the people despite justifiably raised concerns and agitations. It is one thing for a government to strive and yet be unable to deliver on the job, but it is outright unacceptable and grossly wrong for a government to not deliver on the job yet see no need to be accountable to the people. And what happens when the Buhari-led government eventually decides to speak out? Citizens are fed speeches reeking of nonchalance and a stark dissonance from the experiences of the people. The government speaks without empathy and from a reality different from that of the populace. These are the issues that are rightly addressed by the poet in “Bubu.”

READ ALS: BOOK REVIEW: Adetanwa Odebiyi’s Twisted Love And The Dangers Of Favoritism In A Nuclear Family

James Yeku has successfully woven together  words that speak volumes. Through them, he has been able to touch on diverse issues that affect the people. Where the Baedeker Leads is a book that provokes you to reason, rethink, and discover. It is a collection that everyone would find at least one poem to relate to. Though it is rare to find a book that suits everyone’s taste, I have read Where the Baedeker Leads, and I must say James Yeku has committed time and intellectual resources to put together poems that are unified in their diverse message and will always find a place to rest, as they journey from the pages of the book, through readers’ minds.

Where the Baedeker Leads by James Yeku is a 2021 publication by Mawenzi House, Toronto, with support from the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, and the Canada Book Fund.

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

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BREAKING: Tanzanian Novelist Gurnah Wins Nobel Prize In Literature

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BREAKING: Tanzanian Novelist Gurnah Wins Nobel Prize In Literature

The novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah won the Nobel Prize in literature Thursday.

Gurnah was born on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar but arrived in the United Kingdom as a refugee in the 1960s and lives there today.

His work focuses on the experience and identity of refugees.

The Swedish Academy, which choses the winners, said it had chosen Gurnah “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.”

It comes after a rocky few years for the prestigious award, which went to American poet Louise Glück last year — a more popular choice after a run of controversy.

The prize was postponed in 2018 after sex abuse allegations rocked the Swedish Academy.

READ ALSO: Why Buhari’s Govt Supports Herders’ Suit Against South-South Governors – Malami

There were protests in 2019 after it was given to the Austrian writer Peter Handke because of his strong support for the Serbs during the 1990s Balkan wars.

In 2016, the academy broke with tradition and handed the prize to Bob Dylan, the first musician to win the award.

As well as the international recognition, Gurnah will receive a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor (more than $1.14 million). The money comes from the estate of the prize’s founder, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.

Until his recent retirement, Gurnah was Professor of English and postcolonial literatures at the University of Kent, in the U.K. In 1994, his novel “Paradise” was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

On Wednesday, Benjamin List of Germany and Scotland-born David W.C. MacMillan won the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

And on Tuesday, Japanese-born American Syukuro Manabe, German Klaus Hasselmann and Italian Giorgio Parisi won the Nobel Prize in physics.

On Monday, U.S.-based scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

Reuters

 

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