W.E.B.

Du Bois Institute

Is African Music Possible? Author(s): Abiola Irele Reviewed work(s): Source: Transition, No. 61 (1993), pp. 56-71 Published by: Indiana University Press on behalf of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2935222 . Accessed: 15/11/2011 18:28
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T R A NSITION

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Position

IS

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POSSIBLE?
In an age aftermodernism, what roleis leftfor localdifference?

Abiola Irele
Sometime I duringthe midsixties, hadthe to a arts goodfortune attend major festival being held in Belgium, that of Knokkele-Zoute.At thepavilliondevotedto electronic music, to which I had wandered out of curiosity,I found myself in conversation with one of the organizers, who, observingmy obviousperplexityat the sounds which emanatedfrom the formidablearray equipment of thereandon that remarked learning I wasfromAfrica, thatsincethis musicwas reallyno different in its fundamental fromthe principles traditional musicof my nativecontinent, I was well placedto appreciate what he himselffelt to be its specialappeal. One can of coursesummonan array of objections the remark my Belgian to of interlocutor, beginningwith the assumption thatelectronicmusichas any intrinsic musicalor aesthetic But appeal. I have often wondered,ever since my conversationwith him, aboutthe wider impliof cations the rapprochement madebehe tween traditional Africanmusic and the idiomof modern musicin the art peculiar
West. This has led me to reflect further upon the generally weak profile of art music (as distinct from popular music) in the ongoing process of cultural production in contemporary Africa. It is indeed a striking fact of the contemporary cultural scene in Africa that, of the three principal arts, the one area that has known the least development is that of art music. Unlike literature and, to a certain extent, the plastic arts, where original expression has developed and has flourished (as demonstrated by New Currents,Ancient Rivers, the superb volume put together by the lateJean Kennedy and recently published by the Smithsonian Institution Press), art music, in the sense of a conscious and highly elaborated form, has yet to take root within the contemporary culture of Africa. Despite the efforts of enterprising exponents-such as Fela Sowande, Akin Euba, and Ayo Bankole in Nigeria and Kwabena Nketia in Ghana-to provide our continent with a corpus of serious musical literature, there is as yet no indication of a strong and

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definitemovement towardthe creation in yet their particular form of musical exAfricaof a modernmusicalcultureout- pression is confronted with obstacles of side of the popularrealm. the most formidable kind. Not only is The reasonsfor this situation stem there a wealth of musical forms and styles sit- still in active use within the various trasociological partlyfromthe particular uation and culturalatmospherewithin ditional cultures of the continent, there which art music has had to develop in is also a lively development of contemAfrica,andpartlyfrom the problemsin- porary forms of "popular" music at varherentin musicalcompositionas an ac- ious levels, not all of which can be distivity, problemswhich are also closely missed as being without real musical to linked,as I shallendeavor show in due interest-a point to which we shall reto international turn. course, the contemporary The immediate point that emerges situationof the art. The former set of involvesnot only questionsof from these preliminary considerations is problems infrastructure-the material conditions that the modern composer in Africa is for of required the organization musical faced with an initial difficulty-that of officialand integrating artmusic into the modern cullife, such as patronage (both unofficial),the existence of competent tural life of Africa. This difficulty is cenand the tered upon the problem of musical idiom, (individual collective), performers availabilityof performing centers, the and its immediate relation to an indigesupportof radio and television, all of nous audience and cultural environment. which are at the moment insufficient to The very fact that our new art music is a sustaina viablemovement-but also the derivation of Western art music raises in to very fundamental questionof attitudes a very acute form a larger issue involving art music among that section of African other aspects of our contemporary culsocietywhich one would have expected ture-that of our historical and cultural to support sucha movement-that is, the relationship to Europe as it has been desocialand intellectualelite. The truth is termined by the colonial experience. This thatthiselite,by andlarge,is not disposed is an issue that cannot be gone into here towardan acceptance art music as a in its general character, but it is worth of form of culturalproductionamong us. making a few remarkson it as far as music This addsa singularcomplication the is concerned. to situationof artmusicas it has developed The constant argument that is emso farin Africa,for its idiom,boundas it ployed to justify the lack of tolerance for, is to the musicallanguageof Europe, and and even the active hostility to, Western evenrepresenting somecasesadvanced art music ("classical music," in the genin formsof thatlanguage, almostinevitably eralparlance)in Africa is that it is foreign. excludes possibility its everfinding The truth of course is that this kind of the of a significant audience itshomeground. music is no more foreign than other kinds on Africancomposersthus find themselves that have been widely accepted among us, in a highly paradoxical situation: they are such as the waltz and fox-trot of ballroom surrounded an extraordinary by vitalityof dancing popular with us a few decades musicalexpression variousforms,and ago. Art music (or classical in music ago. Art classical music)too is (or music) too

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partof that generalcivilization of the West which produced the great works of literaturethat have found with us a genuine appreciation. Generations of African schoolchildren in English-speaking Africa have responded to Shakespearewith a warmth of profound admiration for his handling of the human situation in his plays and his exceptional power of expression, and this appreciationof the great English bard has often laid a sound foun-

The argument about the

foreign characterof Westernart music is manifestlyabsurd,at least on logical grounds
dation for literary taste among us. One might even go further and observe that an intellectual response to the achievements of Europe in science and technology should go hand in hand with an emotional response to the "high art" of its civilization. This is perhapsa differentand more contentious issue, but the point is that the argument about the foreign character of Western art music is manifestly absurd,at least on purely logical grounds. Nonetheless, the force of this argument cannot be ignored, stemming as it does from those deep centers of feeling to which, ironically, music has ultimately to appeal for any real form of response. It needs to be recognized, too, that Western art music is tied to specific conventions and does make peculiar demands on the listener, demands which are more closely related to Western values (in the restrictive sense of the term) than is the case with other forms, such that it becomes especially difficult to dissociate this

music from its specific attachment to European culture so that it can be accepted on its own terms as an aesthetic phenomenon. This particulardifficulty can be illustratedby the fact that, despite the close culturaland formal links of Western classical music with the Christian religion and hymnology, very few African Christians are able to go beyond such clearly religious works as Handel's Messiah and the Bach cantatasto the sometimes more interesting instrumental works of these composers. It is thus not unusual to find a practicing African Catholic, who is steeped in Gregorian chant and appreciative of it and yet totally unresponsive to the liturgical music of Palestrinaor Monteverdi, not to mention Verdi's Requiem. It is perhapsnot surprisingthat this should be so, for music is possibly the most culture-bound of the arts, and musical taste one of the most inflexible. If, then, the musical taste of even well-educated Africans remains largely unadapted to the idiom of Western art music in any of its various forms, it is not only because such music continues to be felt as essentially foreign and therefore inaccessible,but also because it is experienced, quite simply, as profoundly alienating. Given this background of the prevailing attitudetoward Western art music and of its historical and cultural associations, it is understandable that the conditions appeardiscouraging for any real effort to promote in Africa a musical consciousness centered on the purely contemplative dimension of the art which is central to this kind of music. Thus, African composers must begin their work from a feeling of confrontation with formidable difficulties (although there may well be a possible advantage here, since this situation could

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lead reflectiveartiststo think their artanew and to reexamine their assumptionsabout it). For the problem, I believe, goes beyond the simple question of promoting art music on our continent through the creationof an audience,an effortthat could conceivably be based on a serious policy of music education in the schools and follow-up in the universities, in the hope of eventually creating an expanded musical awareness in the African population. But the problem, it seems to me, goes much deeper and concerns the very mode, as it were, through which a modern musical expression can be created and integrated into our modern culture. It is this that I referredto earlieras being inherent in the contemporary international situation of art music-more specifically, in the musical idiom and conventions of style associated with the modern development of this music. This situation seems to me to pose a practically insurmountable barrier, at the purely artistic level, to the African composertoday. It is worth devoting some attention to this issue.

Howdoes the African composer create a musical workat once aesthetically valid and recognizably African?
Put simply, the problem can be stated thus: How does the African composer adaptthe forms and conventions of Western art music to his cultural setting in order to create a musical work at once aesthetically valid and recognizably African? Put in another way, the problem concerns the effort to evolve an original musical language with which a developed

modern musical sensibility can identifythat is, the creation of an authentic modern idiom of African music within the contemporary system of musical expression developed from the Western tradition (which, like so much else in the modern world-as the impressive Far Eastern contribution to contemporarymusical life demonstrates-has become internationalized). There is a sense here in which our composers can be said to face a problem similar to that which confronts African writers who create in the European languages. The use of these languages carries important implications for our writers, inasmuchas these languagescome to them charged not only with their particular structuresof references but also burdened with a whole literary tradition in which, over time, those references have had their most intense and sustained elaborations. African writers have by and large succeeded in making literary expression a central element in our modern culture precisely because they have had to meet the challenges posed by their use of the European languages and thus to rethink their art, in order to evolve a new mode of expression appropriateto their milieu. They have been helped in the process by the fact that these languages remain with us as important vehicles of communication and, consequently, of expression at all levels. This last remark indicates, however, that the parallel between music and literature is deceptive, for it masks an important differencebetween the two means of artistic expression. For, unlike the elements of natural language, the material of music is pure sound (or, to be more precise, tone, with specific respect to mqlody and harmony), with no distinct se-

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matic significationoutsideof itself, so that music has to rely for effect entirely on the intrinsic qualityof thesesoundsin theirformalrelationship one another, to in orderto haveanykindof emotionalor aestheticsignificance. can thus be said It that a musical language is less readily adaptablethan ordinarylanguage, for where the structure any naturallanof can be manipulated designate to guage any reality-and it is indeedthe markof the bestliterature carrythis processof to as far as possiblewhile remanipulation taining a coherenceof signification-in the caseof music,the particular character of its effectsseemsto inherein the formal that configuration the soundsthemselves It is this peculiarity that differpresent. entiatesthe variousmusicallanguages of the world, and not any referenceto the human and naturalfeaturesthat distinguish particular places.Thus, the structureof Africanmusic,dependent facon torssuchasmodeandscale,harmonic and tone color andtimbre rhythmicpatterns, and (of instruments voice qualities)-on factorsthat are essentiallymusical-underlieswhat we identify as the musical languageof Africaand definesour sense of a tradition different from,even standtraing in oppositionto, the European
dition.

the mode of "high art"-to other kinds of music,andespecially thevaried to forms of folk musicin different of Europe. parts Thus, the distinctionhas tended to be madebetweenthis corpus, reifiedandendowed with a "classical" status,on one hand, and, on the other, "folk music," this distinction being madein termsnot of character alsoof "level."(We but only areleavingout for the momentthe question of contemporarypopular music, whichhasmorelatelycometo complicate the situation.)In this way, the general

The fluidpoliticalstate of Europebefore the clear emergence of nation-states helped forma common musical language and tradition
corpusof art music in Europe,with its genres,conventions,and specializedapis off plications, marked fromthe bodyof worksthathaveretained traditional forms of musicalorganization feeling. The and resultis thatthe kind of musicon which we now baseour conceptionof the musicallanguageof Europeis in fact an artificialartform,in at leasta neutral sense; the fact that it developedlargely away fromthe traditional communal and roots of musicalexpression to the creation led of a musicallanguagethat cut acrossthe ethnicandnational boundaries Europe. of On the otherhand,the variousformsof folk music have remained(and in some areasof Europe,continueto flourish)as the primary musicalcultureof the communitiesconcerned. This separation the two kinds of of

And yet, when we examinethe situationa littlemoreclosely,it becomes clear that this oppositionof the two musical languagesof Africaand of Europeis a valid in some respects but simplification, a numberof important issues. concealing One of theseissues, which hashadserious for the developmentof art implications musicin Europe,has been the changing patternsof the relationof art musicconsidered a differentiated as corpus,in
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music can be attributed the first inin stanceto the influence the Church,and of later,to thatof the rulingclasses(the arand the bourgeoisie), influan istocracy ence which helpedto give to artmusica it character, "supranational" raising above the particularities languageand temof and it perament so constituting as a continentaland cosmopolitan medium.The fluidpoliticalstateof Europebeforethe clear emergenceof nation-states the in nineteenthcenturyas we know them today, coupledwith the constantflow of cross-influences among composersand performers, helped form that blend of styles and of conventionswhich was to lead to a commonmusicallanguageand tradition. was this thatmadeit possible It for Handel,withoutthe slightestsenseof to his incongruity, compose Italian operas andEnglishoratorios the sameornate in vocal and instrumental style of his day. Yet it is significant Handel's that practice a fromsomeof his Enprovoked reaction for glishaudience, it is a well-knownfact thatJohn Gray'sTheBeggar's was Opera inspiredby a desireto ridiculeHandel's of application the Italianconventionto texts,andindeed,to "laughItalEnglish ian operaoff the stage."(Fora discussion of contemporary reactionsto the Italian conventionin England,see A. K. Holland,Henry Purcell, 1948.) Mozartmight be thought in his own work to have asin similated a moreharmonious way the he manydifferent stylesandconventions in to encountered, order fashiona musical idiom thatwas at once personal repand resentative his age. In this developof ment, the folk elementcountedfor little or nothing at all, despitethe occasional borrowings,and "national"characteristics expressedthemselvesmore as conIS

ventions (an "Italian" or "French" style) and occasionallyas subsidiaryformal traits, rather than as rounded "flavors." The point here is not so much that folk music was ignored by the classical composers but that-as in the case of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven (in the finale of his Eroica Symphony, for instance)-it was merely borrowed when used and totally absorbedinto the cosmopolitan idiom. By the end of the classical period, culminating in the mature compositions of Beethoven's middle period, a central musical tradition, firmly grounded in tonality and harmony, had become well-establisheda tradition which served as a reference for all art music in Europe, the centrality of this tradition being confirmed by the triumph of the sonata form. This reference to a convention of Western art music which, in its historical development, has contributed to the general conception of the "language" of Western music so widely held today, serves to illustrate the point that the cleavage between "art music" and "folk music" within European culture was in fact adventitious, and that it bears no meaningful reference to the essential quality of any instance of either type of music. Indeed, this artificialseparationof the two types of music came increasingly to be felt as detrimental to the development of art music itself in Europe. For despite the consummate art of Bach, who illustrated in his own work the rich and complex possibilities of the musical system he had helped to standardize, it became increasingly evident that, by closing off earlier avenues of musical expression and excluding other possibilities, this system had led to a severe restriction of the expressive range of Western art music. It

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1965.) The fact that Richard Wagner, the pivot around which the modern revolution in Western music can be said to turn, went to German mythology for the subflowed, significantly ject of his operas is of capital significance development enough, from the methods and styles of in this respect, for in seeking to give exthe principal guardiansof the classicaltra- pression to a Northern sensibility, condition in the nineteenth century, the Ger- ceived as an intense introspective dispoman Romantic composers, a development sition, as opposed to the clarity of the that was to lead to the revolution in WestSouthern European-the correspondence ern music which would eventually dis- to Kant's distinction between the "subrupt its integrity, and thus produce in our lime" and the "beautiful"is not, of course, century the crisis from which it has not fortuitous-he was led to a method of yet quite recovered. composition which could no longer reIt is a commonplace of European in- main securely within the bounds of the tellectual and cultural history that the Ro- accepted system of tonality. It is of course mantic movement, in music as in the oth- true that he was anticipated in this direcer arts, was contemporaneous with the tion by Beethoven, whose late works awakening of the nationalist conscious- strainedso forcefully against a convention ness in Europe; as regardsour subject, the he had himself consolidated that they inmovement witnessed a steady diversifi- augurated a new conception of musical cation of the musical imagination, in close form and expression, so that, for instance, relation to nationalist awareness. Wag- his late quartets can now be seen to lead ner'swork in particular representsthe high straight to those of Bartok, composed point in music of a German nationalist more than a century later. With his opfeeling whose roots lie in the cultural fer- eras,however, Wagner amplifiedand gave ment of the eighteenth century which sensuous life to Beethoven's austere forproduced the work of Herder and the malism. German Romantic poets. German romanThe case of Wagner exemplifies a genticism, akin in many respects to the ne- eral movement during the nineteenth gritude of our Francophone poets, had as century in which various composers one of its principal interests the folklore sought to extend the scope and expressive of the German-speaking people, both in potential of Western art music while remusic (Volkslied)and in literature (Mdr- maining within the mainstreamof its trachen-collected and analyzed by the dition. There is a sense in which this Grimm brothers). This movement deter- movement was, at least in part, a redirecmines in music a current that links the tion inward, into the heart of Europe itspiritualismof Mozart's masonic music in self, of the impulse that lay behind the

is instructive in this respect to consider the way in which the European composers'themselves sought to overcome this problem, in order to renew their art form-to infuse it with new blood, as it were, drawn from the folk tradition. This is especially apparent from the musical history of Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This new

his last opera, The Magic Flute, directly with the contrived but deeply affecting religiosity of Wagner's Parsifal.(See Andre Coeuroy, Wagner l'esprit et romantique,

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occasional excursions into exoticism in earlier periods, the best-known single instance of which is perhaps Mozart's socalled Turkish rondo, an outstanding example of "orientalism" in Western music. It is curious that this aspect does not receive extensive musical articulation as such, as one would expect, in his Abductionfromthe Seraglio,in which, as also in Rossini's ItalianGirl in Algiers,it is conveyed simply by the libretto. But as Edward Said has shown in his discussion of Verdi's Aida (in his Cultureand Imperialism), the orientalism implicit in this piece was to assume in the late nineteenth century a properly spectaculardimension, in both aural and visual terms, in Verdi's "Egyptian" opera. (Incidentally, Said also recallsin this connection the link between Mozart's masonic affiliations and the esoteric significance ascribed to ancient Egypt in the European imagination.) By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, the impulse toward the exotic had become, as it were, "indigenized," so that the folk element gradually took on a pervasivepresence in Western artmusic. Thus, composers like Chopin and Liszt (following the precedent of Haydn), and even the academic Brahms, introduced national forms and melodic and rhythmic patternsinto the classicaltradition. In this way, the greater range of tonal styles and instrumental color that came increasingly to be employed-a phenomenon that was itself a reflection of the constant technical refinement of the instruments themselves-afforded a decisive opening for the particular contribution of the "nationalist"composersof centralEuropeand Russia. It is especially with these composers that nationalism, in the sense of a consistent use of folk materialand musical

styles, was to penetrate, as it were, the classical European musical tradition. The case of Dvorak and Smetana representsof course the most graphic illustration of this development. By bringing a Czech accent and inflection to the musical language of Europe,these two composersmake in their music a vital affirmation of difference, resting upon an equally vital acceptance of the folk tradition as a source of serious musical ideas. It is indeed noteworthy that Dvorak's chamber music owes its intimate quality and peculiar intensity to this particularization of his musical expression. The nationalist strainwas carriedto its limits in the music of the Russians. It appearsthat one of the most enduring of the various streamsof influence that converged upon the group of nineteenth-century Russian composers known as "The Five" was the personality and the work of Berlioz. It is not difficult to understand this, for the chief attraction of the music of Berlioz is perhaps his daring use of orchestral color. But whereas with Berlioz, orchestration counted as a matter of expressiveness for its own sake, with the Russians, it came to be employed for a specific purpose, that of giving a national characterto their compositions. This fact is best illustrated by Mussorgsky's powerful opera Boris Goudenov, whose subject is taken from Russian history and whose national character is pointed up by the important role played in it by the chorus, representing the Russian people in their full historical personality. The opera establishes, at the very outset, in the melodic progression and harmonies of its opening scenes, a spirit that is distinctly Russian, one that is sustained throughout the work and is given a tragic resonance,

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movement in music that goes back to and the Glinka, his earlyworkbears stamp of the influence of Rimsky-Korsakov. With his earlyballetmusic,TheFirebird, and StravinPetrushka, TheRiteofSpring, sky carriednationalistmusic to its extremelimits-indeed the lastwork mentionedcanbe called"nationalist" in only the sensethat its inspiration concepand a tionprovoked musical writingthatwent outsidethe prevailingnorms completely of Westernartmusic,for in termsof actual musicalmaterial,it took practically nothingfrom the nationalheritage.The sic. same Stravinsky,however, along with Nationalistmusic in Russiawas also Schonberg with his serialism, attempted in a cultural similar in his laterperiodto recreate classical the atmosphere produced movementalluded ideal in Westernmusicwith a new emto thatof the German interestin folk- phasison form and organization. to above.The prevailing in loreis reflected thiscaseby the subjects of Stravinsky's Withtonality dethroned, earlyballets,and interest frontwas laterto find thaton the literary art music cannot in a formof consecration Vladimir Propp's accommodate the stylistic seminalwork, Morphology theFolktale. of that differentiation The German Russian and examplescited hereindicatethe way in which new concharacterizednationalist oftengrow of musical expression ceptions music in the nineteenth out of the total culturaland social concentury sciousnessdeterminedby historicalcirThis neoclassicism to disposeof was But cumstances. the case of the Russian in in is significant morethanjust nationalism music,sinceit impliednot composers this respectof its connectionto the na- only a returnto an idealof formbut also of in movement Westernartmusic, a new andmorerigorous tionalist separation art this chan- musicfrom popularor folk music.This for it is paradoxically through froman aversion any results to was nel thatthe movement to spenditself separation back to the centraltra- form of simpleor directevocationin art and seek a way interestin music.For the pecu- music,anduponan overriding dition of European liar tension between the differentiation soundaspureelementsin a formalsystem sought in nationalistmusic, and an ac- whose interestand value lie specifically designthat ceptablecommon referencein a central in the degreeof architectural his materials. achieves with findsin the work of Stravinsky the composer tradition it its clearest Stravinsky, must Thus, the interestthat attachesto sound expression. idiomof Westernartmusic be recalled,was a productof a national in the modern

betweenthe heroandthe in the interplay Gouchorus,in the greatfinalscene.Boris denov thus be considered, all the can on points that count, as the perfect exemof plification the nationalist spiritin music. In it, the musicalstyle proceedsat onceat threelevelsof expression: folk the traditioninvigoratesthe equally rooted heritage of liturgical music developed withinRussian whichin turn Orthodoxy, conferson the folk traditiona hieratic fusionitselfis quality,andthis marvelous thencastintoformsprescribed the cosby mopolitanlanguageof Westernart mu-

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can hardlybe called entirelymusical,if by this we meanan affectiveratherthan a logical system. The developmentof electronicmusic as an extensionof this new idiom is a clearindicationthat this interest partlyacoustic: the new muis in are sic, the materials no longer notes (in the senseof intervals) sonorities, but and their combinationsare no longer harmoniesbutstructures sounds of which are expectedto yield new and unusualqualities and to producea new kind of "musical" sensation,a pure experiencedetachedfrom any conventional emotions. It is not for nothingthatStockhausen, for has given the title Gruppen to example, one of his best known works, a kind of modern concerto in grosso whichthe musical "conversation," as it is, moves such backandforthbetweenthe threeorchestrasfor which the work is written. With tonalitydethronedin music in moderntimes as perspective been in has the visualarts,it is clearthatthe currently prevailingidiom of Western art music cannotaccommodate processof stythe listicdifferentiation characterized that nationalistmusicin the nineteenthcentury and which remaineda viable option up to the FirstWorld War. This is not to overlookthe fact that even afterthis pecontinuedto proriod, some composers duce effectiveworks which integrated a particularnational characterand even modernidfeelingwithin a recognizable iom. These cases requirein fact some commentin orderto set the problemof artmusicin Africain a morecomprehensive perspective. It is well known that much of Debussy'spersonalstyle can be largelyaccountedfor by his encounterwith Oriental music, the principlesof which he

absorbed his uniquemusicalpersoninto ality. Under the directinfluenceof DePuccini ableto evolvea distinct was bussy, idiom that consistedof the use, personal in his operas, anorchestral of texture with animpressionist character support to vocal Greenfield observed, has lines;asEdward thesehavethe essential of qualities Italian his trilogy II popularsong, noticeably Trittico. a full exposition,see Green(For field'sPuccini: Keeper the Seal, 1968.) of The "Soviet" composersShostakovich, and Prokofiev have been Kachaturian, successful investingthe modern in largely idiomwith the dynamic character their of differentnational temperaments-there is indeed sensein whichProkofiev's a score forthe soundtrack Eisenstein's film of epic Alexander drawsits inspiration diNevsky BorisGoudenov, rectlyfromMussorgsky's though it must be noted that Prokofiev had to moderatehis habitualastringent modernism orderto ensurethe appeal in of his work. More radical,and perhaps mostinstructive this regard, Bartok's in is to approach the problemof reconciling modernismin music with the folk trathat has been well dition, an approach summedup by CharlesRosen:"Bartok's chromatic was expressionism increasingly deflected his attempts reacha modto by ifiedformof tonalityby usingthe modal folk systemsof central European music." It is this association modalitywith a of certainfolkish archaism that accountsin for Bartok'slatermethod,the largepart resultof his conscious studyof Hungarian folk music. An evenmorestriking exampleof this kind of willed archaism contemporary in musicis providedby the generaltemper of RalphVaughanWilliams'scomposiin tions,which contrast this respectwith
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the more resolute modernism of Benjamin Britten. Sibelius may be said to have adopted a somewhat similar approach to that of Bartok, notably in his Sixth Symphony-arguably the most accomplished of all his orchestralworks-in which the finale is woven, as it were, out of delicate strands that are gathered at the end into a modal restatement of the initial theme. Alongside these examples can be cited the works of central Europeancomposers like Janacek and Kodaly and, in particular,the Spaniards,Granados, De Falla, and Rodrigo, who employ a recognizably modern treatment to develop musical ideas of a folk or national character.The Spaniards especially bring an authenticating expressiveness to the abiding fascination of their national music, which non-Spanish composers, especially their French neighbors to the north (such as Bizet, Chabrier, Debussy, and Ravel) have in their various ways exploited, with varying degrees of success and conviction. Despite the undoubted attraction of many of these works, however, they remain, with a few significant exceptions, largely marginal to the dominant thrust of modern music. What passes for advanced musicaljudgment today would label much of this type of music as selfindulgent compromise at best. Since the Second World War in particular,serious musical composition has come to be understood in certain so-called avant-garde circles in the West in such narrow terms that any work that makes the slightest concession to tonality or that recalls the Romantic convention of musical feeling is rejected out of hand. This attitude is perhapsunderstandablewhen one considers the inflation of means and of effects that characterizedthe orchestralworks of

the late Romantic German composers, tending frankly to bombast in the symphonies of Bruckner, for example. Yet this uncompromising stand-in itself a reaction to the widespread insensitivity and even hostility to "modern music" in the West-has determined a kind of near terrorism of the avant-garde against the general musical taste and provoked a state of crisis in the present-day international situation of art music. It is this crisis within art music in the West itself with which African composers have to contend. It adds a singular complication to their domestic situation as discussedearlier, for they have to reckon with the fact that the contemporary musical idiom, in what must be seen as its impersonality, leaves them little or no scope for a differentiation like that of nineteenth-century nationalist music in Europe or, in our own day and nearer home, for the kind of felicitous transposition of African speech into the register of the European language in the best African writing-as in the works of Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka in English and Birago Diop and Ahmadou Kourouma in French. For the new musical idiom has become a reconditeand even esotericmode of conveying the musical language inherited from the Western tradition. Furthermore, much of this music seems unlikely to be immediately engaging to the average listener. This is not to deny that modern music can have an expressive power all its own, as for instance do the operas of Berg, but it is obvious that the means it employs to achieve such power are also so peculiar as to call for an unusual kind of response in the listener. Because of this impasse in Western music, African composers face a dilemma:

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they may either employ an outmoded Romantic style, in which case they run the risk of not receiving the considerationthat may be due to them, or they may employ a style of musical writing that is up-todate in the Western sense and thus leave themselves little chance of securing an audience, local or international, and furthermore lack a real assurance, it seems to me, of having produced original work. To support this assertion and at the same time illustrate some of the formal problems which confront the African composer, it will be useful to consider some of the representativeworks in the present musical literature of Africa, with particular focus on the Nigerian situation, with which I'm most familiar. Scant as this literatureis, it points up in a dramaticway the agonizing nature of the dilemma to which I've alluded. The best-known African composer today is undoubtedly the late Fela Sowande. His musical style, in his two most important compositions, African Suite and Folk Symphony,harks back to the nationalist music of nineteenth-century Europe in its use of Nigerian melodies and rhythms within a work that is conceived essentially along the lines of Western orchestral writing before the contemporary period. Sowande's style in music can thus be compared to the style of the "pioneer poets" in African literature, on the basis of their common reliance on ideas and techniques that are no longer in current use. This is not necessarilya disadvantage, since Sowande's conservative style correspondsmore closely to the musical taste of the little we have of a local audience for art music, and his use of popular melodies allows him to appeal to a larger audience than otherwise possible. More-

over, Sowande's achievement in music stands well above the level of that of the Africanpioneer poets; the abiding interest in his African Suite was made evident by the memorable performanceit received at Wole Soyinka's Nobel award ceremony in 1986. Moreover, his Folk Symphony, commissioned as part of the Nigerian independence celebration in 1960 and performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra for a BBC broadcast on that occasion, builds up to a force of utterance, especially in the finale, within the bounds of its chosen idiom. It is plain, however, that Sowande'scompositions, becausethey use the conventional Western scale and an outmoded idiom, cannotbe saidto point the way to an authentic mode of musical expression within the modern African context. This judgment applies with even greater force to the music of Adam Fiberissima. His opera, Opu Jaja certainly contains passages of some interest-the vocal passages, for all their conventionality, could conceivably have drawn their inspiration from the melodic patterns of the musical tradition of the Rivers area of Nigeria. But the work, as a whole, does not have sufficient expressive power to match the subject. What is more serious, it fails to adequately integrate elements drawn from the different musical traditions, as Mussorgsky did in his masterpiece, which we discussed earlier. This weakness is obvious from the very beginning, in the way that the overture introduces Nigerian elements as if irrelevant intrusions into its progression, instead of weaving them into the orchestraltexture. When we turn to the music of Akin Euba, we find a range of musical styles wider than that covered by the music of

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either Sowande or Fiberissima.There can be no question that, for the moment, Euba's most well-rounded works are Western-inspired, with the important qualification that he employs an advancedidiom of the Western musical language, as is evident in his String Quartet, whose derivation from Bartok is apparentfrom the first note to the last. Only a few of Euba's early compositions suggest a non-European author. His Scenes from Traditional for piano solo, employs interesting Life, changes of rhythms that may recall the diversified and complex rhythms of African music. There are parts, too, of anfor other work, The Wanderer, cello and which also suggest a tension bepiano, tween the basic nontonal characterof the work and a melodic line endowed with a certain Yoruba inflexion. The orchestral piece Olurounbisimilarly employs instrumental effects and rhythmic patterns that may remotely be related to the Yoruba folk tradition. In some later works, however, Euba moves far from the strict Western Style and attempts a recasting of the Nigerian (and African) musical tradition into a modern musical idiom. In his Six Yoruba Folk Songs,for instance, he uses well-known Yoruba folk songs, largely unmodified in their transcription for solo voice, and provides piano accompaniments that are directly expressionist in style and character-rather in the manner of Puccini's treatment of Italian song referred to earlier. It is perhaps in Abiku and his setting of Senghor'sdramaticpoem Chakathat Euba comes closest to an original conception of African artmusic-one in which the musical material, both in its structure and instrumentation, is felt to proceed organically from the African musical tradition. Yet, despite this move-

ment towarda new form of musicalexpression,Euba finally seems, as far as musical formis concerned, moreat home in the Westernthan in the Africantradition.Muchof Euba's musicin whatmay be called "neo-African" stillwears the vein a decidedlyexperimental, that is to say, air. inconclusive The diversityof Euba's musicalstyles and the varietyof his approachesattest to a dispositiontoward constantexploration, studiedquestfor a an idiomthatdoesnot sacrifice satisfaca musicalexperienceto achieveorigtory
inality.

The same quest for authenticity and musical coherence apparent the work is in of the late Ayo Bankole,whose diversity of stylesborders, however,somewhaton eclecticism.His particular genius seems to haveexpressed itself most naturally in small-scale works, which nearlyalways of maintain balance somekindbetween a Western musicalwriting and a Nigerian-specifically Yoruba-reference.His PianoSonata, subtitled "ThePassion," for example,drawson a wide rangeof pianisticstylesandeffects,eachin somemeasureincorporating broad hints,asit were, of traditional musicat the level eitherof melody and harmonyor of rhythm. It that can,I think,be argued the veryrange of the musicalwriting in the work tends to diffuse somewhat totaleffect-it has, its for example,originalpassages that,in the midstof a too varied of procession musical do not receive adequatedevelopideas, ment. Nonethelessthe work has significancein its attemptto achievea fusionof elements from two musical traditions. Another composition, the Ten Yoruba Songs,though similarin conceptionto Euba'sThree Songs,has anotherkind of interest. Bankoleemploysvocallinesthat

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though original compositions, follow the tonal pattern of the Yoruba words of the text, departing occasionally, however, from the melody, as with Euba, as a means of creatingtension between the two frames of reference of the song suite. The most interesting of Bankole's works I've encountered remains, however, his CeremonialMusicfor the Tempest,in which he uses a small orchestramade up entirely of Nigerian instruments and exploits their peculiartonal colors and sonoritiesto make some striking musical statements. But again, this work and others in the music of Bankole that incorporate indigenous elements cannot be said to amount to a convincing whole, unlike his religious compositions, which clearly form part of the evolving tradition of Nigerian Protestant church music-exemplified by the hymns of Dedeke and Phillips-in which Western hymnology has been adapted to the demands of texts in Nigerian languages. In other words, the neo-African works of Bankole, as in the case of Euba, appear for the moment as indications of the possibility for a new art music in an original Africanidiom-envisaged but not yet fully realized. It is indeed sadto reflect that Bankole's death at an early age precludes the possibility of furtherdevelopment of his great promise. Yet despite this promise, what his work and that of the other Nigerian composers reviewed here seems to me to demonstrate is the difficulty which any African composer must experience in creating full-scale original works in a medium other than the Western. The same conclusion follows from considering similar efforts in other national contexts, such as those of J. H. Nketia and Ephraim Amoo in Ghana. When African compos-

ers are not writing within the Western tradition in any of its historical forms and idioms, they seem unable to make more than tentative gestures, unable to work with real confidence to produce works of a sustained musical inspiration. Because, in its present circumstance, the Western musical idiom no longer offers them a viable option for a genuine "native" expression, they are compelled to hover, at best, between the two traditions without achieving a satisfactory integration of

Africahas simplyno chance of repeatingthe achievement of nineteenthcenturynationalist music in Europe
both. It thus seems as if, both as a direct consequence of the present impasse in Western art music and the lack of stimulation of an indigenous audience, the dilemma confronting our composers is one that cannot, in the present circumstances of our social life and cultural expression, find a satisfactory resolution. It appears, then, to put the matter bluntly, that African music, as a conscious and elaborated form which meets a definition of individual art in the Western sense, is not possible. There is, it seems to me, simply no chance of repeating in the African context the achievement of nineteenth-century nationalist music in Europe. The questionthat arisesfrom what may seem a dispiriting conclusion is whether this is a situation that should give us cause to grieve. For my part, I think not, for it seems to me that the assumptionon which much of the effort to create art music in Africa rests-that cultural production in

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Africa is somehow incomplete without this kind of music-is fundamentally untenable. That assumption presupposesthe same kind of opposition that has dominated the Western conception of the art: between, on one hand, a form of musical expression that belongs to the domain of "high art," reserved for the contemplation of an elite, and, on the other, all the other forms that are considered, by their very nature, less exalted. If anything can be concluded from the review attempted here of the evolution of Western music since about the time of Bach to its present impasse-with its stultifying effect on efforts to evolve African art music-it is that this opposition can be, ultimately, a disabling one for the healthy development of musical life and expression in the general culture. The point that needs to be stressed is that Africa has the resources required for such a development. We need to remind ourselves in this respect of what I referred to earlier as the vitality of musical life in Africa. The fact is that our continent already possesses a powerful tradition of musical expression, far more engaging than the general run of what passes for modern music in the West, and least of all, electronic music. To attach the rather patronizing label of "folk music" to this tradition is to misunderstand its extraordinary range, both in terms of its formal complexity (and I'm not thinking here merely of rhythm, which has too often been singled out as its main claim to attention) and of its pervasive social function in various contexts, often in conjunction with song and dance-contexts, among others, that may be festive, religious, and, even, therapeutic. It is also to overlook the deeply contemplative value

of much of this music, a feature that is explicitly recognized by several traditional communities, as for example, in the Songsfor Thinking of the Gbaya (represented in the UNESCO collection of Central African music) or the ozo music of the Igbo in Nigeria. The continued existence of a fully living musical culture within our various indigenous societies thus provides us with an immense cultural resource that hardly needs to be complemented by art music in the Western sense. It is not at all evident that we can raise our traditionalmusic to a new level of expressiveness in any significant way by subordinating it to a new mode of formal treatment derived from the Western musical conventionsby removing it from its vibrant context of composition, performance, and transmission. For the question might be asked: What new dimension of artistic expression can the kora assume in the concert hall? What novel contribution to the universal patrimony of music can be made by a work written for that wonderful instrument-say, a "Concerto for Kora and

Popularmusicians have evolved a musical idiom that is both originaland adapted to a new, modern Africansensibility
Orchestra"-that hasn't already been made by the organic fusion of oral utterance with song in the Manding epic of Sundiata? When we turn to the area of popular music, we encounter, if not the same variety, at least the same vitality. Here, the striking fact is the remarkable freedom

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with which ourpopular musichas andis assimilationof styles and evolving-its fromvarious traditions creto techniques atenew formsadapted the modernento The vironment. syncretism is the very that of ourpopular musicalformsis principle thusa reflection the changingcircumof of stances ourcollective Whatis more, life. within thesepopular therehave currents, been originaldevelopments which have beenresponsible thesuccession styles for of in this medium,rangingfrom the West African to "highlife,"brought perfection in the late sixtiesby the Ramblers Band in Ghana,to the Zaireansoukouss and Cameroonian makossa today. of This,then, is music that is constantlyrenewed,revitalized. It maybe objected the new forms that of popular musicdevelopedin our urban environments not offerthe samekind do of serious musicalinterestthatwe expect of either traditional music or art music, but the samecan be saidof much of socalledclassical music,andnot only of the "light" variety.On the other hand, as Waterman shown in the has Christopher caseofjuju,theseformscanindeedsustain in technicalterms.One analysis rigorous has to pay some attentionto the inonly

novativechordsand progressions the in best of this musicto be awareof the soof phistication which our popularmusicians are capable.We do know, morein over,thatmostperformers thismedium not only areconscious the standards of of technicalexcellencethey areexpectedto attainhigh levmeet,but alsofrequently els of instrumental skill. The overridingconsideration that, is in theircreative transformation foreign of models,and, even more strikingly,their of our manipulation foreigninstruments, musicians haveevolveda musical popular idiomthatis both originalandadapted to a new, modernAfrican In this sensibility. factoris the recidiom, the determining ognizableindigenouselement in which it is rooted.The successof our popular musiciansremainsan indicationof that fullness of musical life and expression which our new art music, in its present circumstances, cannot even begin to match.Aboveall, it is the wide appealof ourpopular musicthatmakesit the most importantsingle source of moral sustenanceformillionson ourcontinent, faced of todaywith the harshrealities what Ali Mazrui has called "the African condition."

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