|Nigerian Art Music Composers|
|Thomas Ekundayo Phillips|
Joshua Uzoigwe (1946-2005) belongs to the Igbo group in the eastern region of Nigeria. He had his early musical training at the King’s College, Lagos, and the International School, Ibadan. He received advanced training at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (1970-1973), Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London (1973-1977), and the Queen’s University, Belfast, where he earned his Ph.D. in ethnomusicology in 1981. He immediately returned to Nigeria after his musical training in England and Ireland. While in Nigeria, he taught at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and the University of Uyo, where he was an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Music for several years (Sadoh 1998: 28-40). Uzoigwe’s compositional outputs are not as extensive as Ayo Bankole and Akin Euba, but they are some of the most finest music ever written in twentieth century Nigeria. He composed for chamber and orchestra, but he is more famous for his tuneful solo songs and brilliant virtuosic piano pieces.
Uzoigwe’s research into the traditional music of the Igbo, in particular, Ukom music, can be clearly observed in his piano works. In these piano pieces, he uses diverse twentieth century pitch collections such as octatonic scale, atonality and the twelve-tone row method to evoke nuances of Igbo music and creative procedures. Playing Uzoigwe’s piano pieces is reminiscent of performance on Igbo traditional drums, xylophones or flutes. Uzoigwe undoubtedly captured the soul and essence of Igbo traditional music in his piano works. Some of his famous songs and piano pieces are Four Igbo Songs for Mezzo Soprano and Piano, Nigerian Dances for Piano and the Talking Drum for Piano. The contributions of Akin Euba, Ayo Bankole and Joshua Uzoigwe are very unique. This was the generation of the music-scholars or what I call composer-ethnomusicologists. All these composers studied Western classical music in Nigerian and British schools of music and ethnomusicology in American universities. Their compositions are greatly influenced by their research into Nigerian traditional music. From the 1960s, these group of trained musicians embarked on an intense investigation of traditional music of their society to expand their understanding of the component materials of the structure, stylistic principles, tonality, function and meaning in the society, theoretical framework and the interrelations of music and dance. The focal point has been cultural renaissance and the search for national identity.
It is from this period that we witness the notation of Nigerian traditional musical instruments in the music scores. Prior to this era, music notation was confined mainly to Western musical instruments. African instruments were not included in the scores of early composers but rather used for supportive purposes and to create spontaneous improvised rhythmic background for vocal songs. Such rhythmic patterns were never notated until the era of the composer - ethnomusicologists. In terms of tonality, this group of composers introduced early twentieth century European tonal devices such as atonality, dodecaphony, twelve-tone row method and the octatonic scale system, into the Nigerian musical language. It is interesting to observe that Nigerian modern composers employ the twentieth century tonal schemes to evoke the nuances of traditional musical instruments on Western instruments. For instance, Euba uses atonality to evoke the percussive sound of the Yoruba dundun drums in his piano works, thereby, making the piano behave like African traditional instruments.
Uzoigwe uses the twelve-tone system to evoke the sonorous sound of ukom music of the Igbo people in his piano compositions. Apparently, the third generation of modern Nigerian composers are more focused on the Africanization of their compositions so as to draw their works to the African cultural roots. Their intention was to create a patriotic African audience that would deeply appreciate and patronize their music. Art music in Nigeria has been undergoing a process of ‘evolving’ from its inception as a sacred idiom for worship to the modern eclectic concert forms. Nigerian composers continue to assimilate idiomatic expressions from foreign cultures and juxtaposing them with indigenous source materials, whereby creating some of the most beautiful intercultural music of the twenty-first century. Interestingly, the performances of these type of compositions have been restricted to a limited group of people in Nigeria. Performances of Nigerian art music are commonly found in selected circles among the well-educated, upper-middle-class, and the affluent. The patrons have always being from the cream of the Nigerian society and the elite, while its performance venues have been confined to churches, concert halls and auditoriums on college and university campuses. In spite of these limitations, the performances and publications of the composers’ works all around the world have transformed them into international icons.