The month of July is quite remarkable for Theatre practitioners, dramatists, literary critics and political activists who have come to find power and voice in the ARTS. July 13th of every year is well celebrated world over; it’s the birth of our own Professor Wole Soyinka; a literary icon and Noble Laureate, whose works have been of great influence to dramatists and Theatre practitioners worldwide, also a point of convergence for politics and theatre.
The Muson centre in honour of this great man organised a forum tagged My Kind of Music and brought professor Soyinka on stage to share with the audience this great passion of his that is not so popular to the public. The life interview was conducted by Mr. Ibare Akinsanya. It was a great opportunity for the audience to see the Nobel Laureate on stage talk about his passion for classical music, jazz music and Indian percussion. Reflecting on one of his Songs, “Don’t Touch my Uniform”, he said this song was composed for the production of his play “Beatification of Area Boys” which was triggered by Military rule in Nigeria, particularly the Abacha regime which also forced him on exile.
Before this interview, little did the public and audience know about Professor Wole Soyinka’s passion for music and the fact that he is a great composer? Did you know that he composed the COJA ANTHEM in conjunction with another renowned guru of music in Nigeria; late Elder Steve Rhodes? Professor Wole Soyinka has also composed several songs for his plays to advance and instil his messages in the psyche of the audience. This is because, music is a very powerful tool of communication and continuity; its easier to absorb, assimilate and memorize cause of its melody. When music is combined with drama, it becomes a vehicle of instruction, development and change in the hands of the masses.
According to Stephen Sondheim, a song marries lyrics to relentless tempo of the music which pushes the lyric along at speeds a listener cannot control. Poetry, she said can be read, reread, or put aside; a theatre song lyric must be grasped and understood the first time through or you risk losing the thought for the rest of the performance. In this, she said the writer of the theatre lyrics shares many of the platform concern of a public speaker. Criteria for effective communication are the same. There is no second chance once a statement is sounded. Sound symbols provide basic communication. Nothing escapes time, space, rhythm.
To buttress this point being made on music, the DJ played one of his songs, titled, “Etike Revo Wetin?” This is a pure commentary on Nigeria politics and the intrigues of our leaders. This track was from the collection of the “Unlimited Liability Company” alburm, released in July 1983 and also banned by the government of the day. The audience could identify every words or lyrics of the song and come to terms with the message. This is because the song employed the staccato technique peculiar to most of the songs written for his plays; the words are punched, and enunciated for clarity and emphasis in a stylised manner without losing its melody. At the end of the song, he concluded by saying NOTHING MUCH HAS CHANGED SINCE THEN and the audience replied in the affirmative.
Still talking on the power of music, Professor Soyinka shed some light on the works of Lanrewaju Adepoju; a popular traditional Yoruba EWI exponent who uses his kind of music to expose the atrocities of the government of the day. His music has become a powerful voice for the oppressed that are his major fans. The fact that his songs are played on every street where you find cd sellers has also made this figure and his music quite popular and a threat to the government of the day who thought he was embarrassing them. Professor Soyinka would have loved to play one of his music for the audience to listen and reflect on but said it was quite unfortunate that his only copy of the CD could not be found and every effort made to buy more copies proved abortive as a particular character in government whom he called Dani Elebo ordered that all the copies be bought as soon as it was released.
This is how powerful and revolutionary music can be when employed in advancing the yearnings of the masses. For the audience, it was a great opportunity to see and listen to this man of honour in person, talk about his passion for music and not just drama or theatre that he’s popularly known for. It was a wonderful experience and an indelible one too. More information on Professor Wole Soyinka