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AN AFRICAN RESPONSE TO KODALY by Annetta Miller and Nicholas Kofie

International Kodaly Symposium University of Hartford Connecticut, USA August 1994

You cannot play a drum with one finger. African proverb

This paper will be played as one might play a bi-cultural drum. Nicholas Kofie, the one finger or hand, represents Africa while I, the other finger or hand, represent the West. As is well known, the drum in Africa has been an instrument of communication, carrying messages, much as the telephone does today. Bi-cultural drumming, as we have discovered, is not an easy undertaking. A coordinated beat requires keen cross-cultural ears, a commitment to mutual understanding and a readiness to affirm the values of both traditions. We nearly came to this conference without a prepared paper, but not for wont of trying. Indeed, we have spent many hours in preparatory discussion; in writing and rewriting, trying to reflect on paper the understandings that come together or fail to come together when culturally diverse hands seek to play a single drum. We have tried to understand the current political, social and economic crisis within which the music enterprise in Africa functions; we have tried to rationalize the current educational crisis of which music education is a part; we have tried to clarify in our minds what the larger music project on the continent might be; and

what role, if any, Kodaly philosophy and methodology might play in that project. Our discussions were interesting, confusing and at times frustrating. The interface between Africa and the West is scarred with pain; aspects of that encounter are difficult to talk about. In spite of much evidence to the contrary, Africa is still widely perceived as a cultural wasteland. To illustrate some of the continuing anomalies, I have in one hand a photocopy of an article which appeared in the June 28, 1993 international edition of TIME magazine in which a noted Harvard political scientist is interviewed. When asked, Is there an African civilization?, his reply was, I wouldnt say there was at this point. There may be the makings of one. But I think it is still very fragmented. 1 In my other hand I have a copy of a book entitled, The Principles Underlying the African Religion and Philosophy: A Textbook on the Aesthetics of the Black Man by a Ghanaian author, the Rev. Dr. Isaac Osabutey-Aguedze. 2 In this well documented book, the author identifies Africa as the home of learning in the fields of writing, painting, weaving, architecture, law, music and shipbuilding. The manuscript was originally written in 1933 and presented as a Masters thesis at Syracuse University. Unfortunately the thesis was rejected as too radically African! Sixteen years after the death of the author, the manuscript was re-discovered and published as a book. Subsequent research by Professor Cheikh Diop, linking ancient Egypt and modern Africa, confirm the writings of the Rev. Dr. Osabutey-Aguedze and place him among the pioneers of modern researchers on Africas cultural heritage. In my hand I also have a copy of a 1993 article written by a Westerner, Marguerite Michaels entitled, Retreat From Africa in which she portrays Africa as a desperate continent, making her point with the most depressing statistics. 3 On the other hand, I can refer to a 1993 manuscript entitled Social Reconstruction by Professor Jesse Mugambi, a Kenyan academic, in

which he reminds international prophets of doom that data collection and analysis tend to be ideologically biased, serving the purposes of those who draw the gloomy conclusions. 4 According to him, Africa needs time and space in its search for new paradigms and alternative futures. Thus Africa is poised between despair and hope. Hope lies in the fact that Africa is in the process of re-articulating its own self-image and self-understanding. Some portion of this undertaking must be placed within the current political climate of the continents more than 50 nation states. Three-fourths of the sub-Saharan countries are undergoing some kind of political transition. The uncertain independence movement of the 1960s has been termed the first liberation, an undertaking to be completed only when South Africa is politically stable under a new, more equitable order. While South Africa is still undergoing the first liberation, the rest of sub-Sahara Africa is experiencing the possibility of a second liberation. With the collapse of the worlds ideological divides in the early 1990s, the whole of Africas modernization project has come into question. Demands for political democratization and economic restructuring are having a profound effect on the mood in Africa. It is as though the entire continent were rearranging itself. Like eastern Europe, Africa is experiencing a resurgence of ethnic awareness as a corollary to the severe testing of the modernization project. It is difficult to exaggerate the significance of these changes. Now, for the first time since Africas contact with the West in the 1400s, Africa has a window of opportunity in which to think pro-active thoughts. (The history of slavery, colonialism, the missionary enterprise and neo-colonialism having elicited reactive responses)

Where are we? What are our values? Where do we want to go? How can we define things as they really are? Africa now has an opportunity to define itself on its own terms. Thus the shape of a rearticulated Africa may be in the making. Yes, Africa is poised between hope and despair. Hope also lies in the vibrant strength of its living cultures and traditions. It may be helpful to draw some brief comparisons between Africa and the West in light of these traditions, since each brings its own perspectives to Kodaly. The West, on the one hand, has a strong, dominant formal sector where time is linear, teleological, future-oriented; it is characterized by a less visible and less active informal sector where the traditions are less deeply rooted than in Africa. Africa, on the other hand, has a small formal sector in which traditions are alive and well-rooted, where especially in the rural areas cyclical or spiral time approximates the rhythms of nature and the life of the community. This clashing interface provides the background within which the tenets of the Kodaly philosophy are being tested. (See diagram) As far as I am aware, Kodaly has not been tested on any broad or systematic basis in Africa. During the past four years in Kenya, I have been implementing the Kodaly philosophy in experimental ways at Kenyatta University. In this regard, Nicholas Kofie and I have together taught a course during the past two years entitled, Resources and Approaches for Schools. Within the structures of one semester, there is opportunity to introduce students to a Kodaly-based approach to music education, albeit in the most abbreviated fashion. This introduction is meant to offer the basis of an alternative music education system based on the diverse wealth of Kenyan traditional music, in notable contrast to the music education system inherited from the colonial period. In the absence of extant collections of Kenyan music, students are required as part of the course to collect, transcribe, analyse, classify and sequence for

teaching purposes as many music pieces from the various ethnic groups. Additionally, one segment of the course requires students to compose several original compositions based on traditional tunes. One of the problems encountered in the course relates to the absence of sufficient musicianship skills among the students to cope with the notational rhythmic and melodic complexities inherent in many African folksongs, thus leading to inaccurate transcription. On the other hand, the enthusiastic response from current students as well as the positive responses from former students, who are now teaching, lead me to believe that a seed is being sown; Kenya will benefit from an application of Kodalys wisdom, however elemental and basic. The experience at Kenyatta University does not qualify as a full-orbed testing of the Kodaly philosophy and methodology within the African context. Even so, the experience has raised a number of interface questions which will be addressed in the remainder of this paper. I now hold in my hand a copy of The Selected Writings of Zoltan Kodaly. 5 In my other hand I hold, figuratively, the endless discussions with Nicholas Kofie who will now proceed with selected statements related to the Kodaly philosophy and our responses to them. Kodaly and his philosophy originate in the West, specifically Hungary. Aha, is this not simply another of those neo-colonial gimmicks, a development ploy, a western methodology to be added to the conglomerate of western devices which already saturate and divide the continent? Kodaly emphasizes literacy as an avenue for opening doors to the world of music. Even if one takes account of the obvious virtues of literacy, there is the question as to whether it should function as a primary goal within the African music enterprise; literacy for what purpose? Literacy for everyone?

Much of Africas music is still to be found in oral form. Of course, it is not therefore less real. Africas music education was imposed onto Africa through the colonial and missionary enterprise, the objective of which was to introduce Africans to western hymns and western secular music. The scales, tempered semitones and chromatic notes were alien to the African traditional sense. Western musical culture was imposed onto the continent largely at the expense of African musical culture; pain scars the musical interface between Africa and the West. Until today, most formal educational institutions reflect the colonial models on which they were patterned. Consciously and unconsciously they were bent on civilizing Africa by alienating Africa from itself. The few universities which offer music as a degree course require the study of both African and western music. Invariably western music takes precedence if only because of the relatively greater availability of resources. Perhaps the African music education scene would be better served if the songs and dances of the multiple ethnic groups were given recognition and celebrated in music festivals which would also function as musical educational forums. With this format, Kenya may well be taking the lead. Each year two major music festivals, featuring a variety of traditional music, are staged, one for educational institutions and one for non-educational institutions. Unfortunately, the music festivals have become highly competitive rather than celebrative occasions for learning. Nevertheless, this model may be offering an alternative to the goal of literacy. If Kodaly sees music as a necessary component of the human experience with literacy functioning as a primary facilitator, then certainly Africa has every possibility of singing quality materials with spontaneity and joy. For in Africa, much more so than in the West, music is experiential rather than performance oriented. Is literacy for everyone? Kodaly championed the use of quality folk and art music as foundational to music

education. Little quality material in notated form is available in Africa; the wealth of folksongs remains mostly in oral form. There is some attempt to create African art music, but since it is only in the beginning stages, it is not as yet developing to any set standards. Art music has been imposed on Africa from the West. Unfortunately, due to limited opportunity for listening to western art music, due to the lack of stylistic understanding and due to the culture specific nature of art music, its performance in Africa often tends to be greatly distorted. Additionally, because of limited resources, the existing western art pieces in a country like Kenya are being recycled yearly. Is it fruitful to strengthen this area and to what purpose? Kodaly advocates the use of the voice as the most natural and most accessible instrument for use in schools. The voice is already at the heart of African music to the extent that Africa has been called the singers continent. Singing provides the greatest scope for participation in musical activities since African music is by definition participatory and inclusive. It is well known that in Africa if you can speak, you can sing. African voices are not trained in the western sense; rather voices bear a relationship to speech and a variety of types of singing from whistles to grunts, yodels, ululations, whispers, imitation of animal sounds and screams. These are the sounds of rural people, of open spaces, sounds that carry above the swirl of rhythms and dancing accompanying the numerous social occasions. Vocal beauty is relative. To Africans a beautiful voice may be irrelevant to the attributes of a good singer. A good singer is likely to be one whose vocal strength and expressive artistry can carry above the vibrant rhythms and movements without faltering. Given this background,

should western vocal techniques, e.g., singing with a relaxed tone and playing into the overtones, be introduced to Africa since this use of the voice is alien to African ears? Kodaly says that one must learn to sing ones mother tongue before singing a foreign tongue. What is mother tongue in an Africa which has been told through a long colonial history that it has no valuable language, that it has no musical language? What does mother tongue mean in Africa which linguistically is one of the richest and most complex continents in the world? While it is obvious that communication does take place across the continent, the patterns of communication do not in every instance support the requirements of the modern nation-state. Africa can be divided into approximately six major language groups. These coincide more or less with the respective musical mother tongues. Alternatively, Africa could be sub-divided, linguistically, into 800 languages. With few exceptions, each African country is characterized by multiple languages; Kenya, for example, has about 48, Tanzania more than 100, etc. Additionally, one could talk of the major trade languages or, yet again, of the six or seven European languages brought to Africa by the colonial regimes. What in Africa constitutes mother tongue? And how does one begin to think creatively about building a music curriculum around such incredible ethnic wealth and diversity? We would certainly welcome advice from those of you who have carried out research or otherwise given thought to these issues. Conclusion The interface complexities between Africa and the West are enormous and, as this paper has indicated, excessively harsh. At best African culture was relegated to second rate status and at worst, there was an assumption that it would simply disappear or in some fashion catch up

with the West. The idea that Africa is catching up with the West must be discarded; Africas future is not to be found in the western present. We are all in a perpetual present (6) within which we need to strengthen and affirm each others musical traditions. In Africa one talks of boundary people, (7) a reference to people who live on the interface with neighboring ethnic groups. Since time immemorial, boundary people have played mediator roles; they are of necessity multilingual; they are heir to and participate in multiple histories; they participate in the drumming of multiple traditions. Their self-identity and their survival depends on openness to neighbors. With concerted effort, Kodaly philosophy and methodology have every potential of functioning within the African boundary mode, serving to bridge the gap between the much neglected and oft-maligned musical tradition, on the one hand, and the current music education system, on the other. By the same token, international Kodaly music educators are invited to be boundary people; deliberately open to the richness of cross-cultural musical experiences, realizing in turn, greater self-understanding. In the best of all worlds, we will all be playing multicultural drums.


1 TIME, International Edition, June 28, 1993. p. 43. 2 Osabutey-Aguedze, Isaac. The Principles Underlying the African Religion and Philosophy: A Textbook on the Aesthetics of the Black Man. Maillu Publishing House, Nairobi, Kenya. 1990. 3 Michaels, Marguerite. Retreat From Africa. Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 1, 1993.

4 Mugambi, J.N.K. Social Reconstruction. Forthcoming. Nairobi, Kenya. 1993. 5 The Selected Writings of Zoltan Kodaly. Boosey and Hawkes, London, England, 1974. 6 Sumner, Claude. In the Foreword to Sage Philosophy: Indigenous Thinkers and Modern Debate on African Philosophy by H. Odera Oruka (ed.). Africa Centre for Technology Studies. Nairobi, Kenya. 1991. 7 Discussions with Dr. Otieno Munala. Nairobi, Kenya. 1993.