By Ademola Orunbon
THE drum has always played supporting roles in major festivals as it has never had its own festival, but recently, the cultural instrument took the centre stage in what was tagged, ‘’ First Nigerian Drums Festival’’. And as it turned out to be, for the first time, drummers from 36 states of the federation and beyond gathered at the ancient city of Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital for the maiden edition of the Nigerian Drums Festival now renamed African Drums Festival.
The festival, which was described as a force that binds Africans together lived up to its billing from the first day, April 19, when the festival was declared open by the Executive Governor of the State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun. Right from the time of the unveiling of the tallest drum till the 22nd when the festival ended, there was no dull moment as the participants demonstrated some of those things that made Africa great before civilization wiped them away.
It was a rich display of the cultural heritage of Africans and discovery of talents as cultural troupes from various parts of the country dressed in colourful costumes took their turns to perform to the admiration of the audience. The drummers really shook the entire city and Africans living and even the dead woke up to the reverberating sounds from the drums.
The festival witnessed electrifying performances of some of the best examples of drum bands in Nigeria. It also saw the unveiling of what was declared the world’s tallest drum which stands 16 and 17ft from the ground. Apart from the colour and fanfare that characterized the opening ceremony, there are many other lessons that can be learnt from it. The event saw almost all the Obas sitting together. There were also ambassadors of countries from all over the world to witness the event. One point that kept resonating from the entire goodwill message delivered at the event was that art is capable of unifying the world.
Almost all the performances at the event featured female performers whose dexterity on drums equaled that of male drummers. The state troupe, described as Amosun Singers, opened with the performance of the National Anthem, an ensemble of talking drums. The troupe also performed the state’s anthem, Ise ya, Omo Ogun Ise ya, Ise e Maa Yaa oo, Omo Ogun Ise yaa, featuring ladies on the drums. The first performance after the opening prayer was by Aanu. Aanu, a female Ekwe player, led a band of male and female drummers to get the audience singing to the rhythms of her ekwe, a wooden percussion with origins from eastern Nigeria.
Unique Fingers performed after Aanu. Unique Fingers, which featured about 10 females out of the total 40 drummers on stage, showed that women can play any drum, just like men. Aralola, one of the best female talking drum players in Nigeria also took the stage, accompanied with a xylophone to thrill the audience. Olobata also came to the stage to show the world that what a man can do on drums, a woman can do the same, perhaps better. Even the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) drama group that performed last featured female drummers.
One of the highpoints of the event was when Aralola played the cover of Olamide’s Eleda mi ooo, on the talking drum accompanied with a xylophone. The audience became ecstatic, singing along. If late Hubert Ogunde was alive, his records may still get to the music chart, because when the band of the late thespian led by one of his protégés came to the stage at the opening ceremony, the reception was surprisingly warm. People, including the state governors and the monarchs, sang along.
The state governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun who unveiled the two drums, Isokan and Saatagaa, described the festival as a cultural reawakening to connect to our roots, as well as a platform to glorify that which connects us as Africans. He said the festival is also an opportunity to learn more about dance steps of the people, describing Ogun State as a cultural haven. He declared that from today ‘’we will not just call it the Nigerian Drums Festival, but the Africa Drums Festival’’ adding that drums are the sensual parts of the African race and our day to day experiences as Africans are measured on improvement of ourselves and drums.
Amosun stated that apart from the entertainment value, drums are also part of our spiritual health and it is therefore not wrong to say that drums are drawing a similar part in our culture. Beating the drum is a matter of awakening us to our rich cultural heritage; that is all what the festival is all about. If there is anything to take away from the festival, it is the need for cultural re-awakening in various states, genuine social, economic and political development. The festival was indeed, the first of its kind and the government use it as an opportunity to announce Ogun State as a cultural and tourism ground. Tourists should not just pass through the state, but allow the state to pass through you as you will not regret doing that,’’ Amosun said.
Meanwhile, the Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Otunba Muyiwa Oladipo, said culture and tourism make invaluable contributions to the economic, social and environmental well-being of a society and its people, stressing that in Nigeria, this sector is unique in its commercial and cultural significance and has the potential to contribute to every state’s economy while enabling Nigerians to explore their heritage and celebrate their cultural diversity.
. Orunbon writes from Abeokuta Ogun State