It was a week the African drums rumbled and throbbed amid the rocky plains of Abeokuta, as the world celebrated African Drums Festival in its second year running. The Guardian spoke to some of the leading drummers on their experiences and what the future holds for the business of drumming on the African continent.
Immediate Past Master Drummer of National Troupe of Nigeria, Mr. Hunpe Hunga, who led the Gbenopo Theatre Troupe from Badagry said, “I am happy that Ogun State is hosting this big programme. Last year, it was Nigeria Drums Festival and this year it is African Drums Festival.
“This festival is an opportunity for drummers and dancers to showcase themselves and their talents. It is also important for us as drummers to ensure that all our efforts in practices and training are not in vain. I thank God that Ogun is hosting this festival and all of Africa is here.
“Its significant is that it will promote tourism and boost the economy of the state and the country in general. It should be sustained because it will take Ogun State to the world and they will be reckoned with and also Nigeria at large.
“The festival has also helped us to have connections with drummers and dancers from other countries.”Yusuff Salas, a dancer from Benin Republic, who spoke through an interpreter, said, “I am very happy to be in Nigeria and perform my native dance in Nigeria. I believe this will help to promote Africa’s rich culture and drums to the rest of the world. I’m happy to see dancers and drummers from various countries. I’m so happy to be here.”
An Haitian singer, Aaka Botula, who also spoke through an interpreter, said, “I’m happy to be in Nigeria. We originated from here; we were taken due to the slavery then. It is drums festival like this that brings us home. I’m happy to be at home. I will tell my people, when I get home all what I have seen here.”
Head of Francophone delegation to the festival, Mr. Bonny Abisogun Botoku, said culture is the shortest way to bring Africa more together for social integration and interaction. Botoku lamented that Africa, with its rich cultural heritage and musical instruments, still lacks their proper promotion.
“It is a great pleasure leading all these delegation to Abeokuta; some of them like the Haitians, are just coming to Africa for the first time and they are here in Abeokuta.”The countries Botoku led were Togo, Congo Brazzaville, Benin Republic, Haiti and Cuba.
“Drum festival is a great festival and it is not new and it has been in existence in some parts of continents in the world. When we talk about drums, it is Africa that has drums. It is an heritage of African countries even to those in the diaspora.
“We believe this festival is not just for the drumming aspect but we are having behind it so many other aspects of it, the move to link Africa together through culture by using culture as a driving tool to bring all Africa and Africans in diaspora together.
“It is a good thing and I commend Ogun State government for organising this event to bring Africa together. Africa is home of drums but we are not promoting it as the whites are doing.”
One of the sons of the late theatre legend, Hubert Ogunde, Mr. Abiona Ogunde, who performed with Ogunde Troupe said, “This festival is very important and very good. Drums are very important to Yoruba culture and Africa, too. When you hear drums, you will be happy; even when you are in sorrow, music and drums will console you.
“I was born into the home of dance and theatre in Ososa, Ogun State, and I know what drums are and the mystery that are attached to them but some people will call it superstition. But to me, I have the understanding about the power of drums.
“This event is great and important, not just to Ogun State, but to the African continent as a whole. I have witnessed a situation, where a drummer was sick and was taken to so many places for healing, but nothing happened until a sacrifice was offered to the deity of drums and he was okay.
“The significant of this event is much; we must tap into the rich culture we have and create opportunities through showcasing of it.“My advice to the government is that whenever they are hosting events which will attract people from the world, instead of inviting the hip-pop artistes, they should invite the local cultural groups to promote our culture. They should not forget us because by inviting us they are helping us”.
THE closing ceremony was as glamorous as the opening ceremony. Attendance was highly impressive and thousands of guests were glued to their seats throughout the five-hour programme, watching the various troupes performing.
At the states level , Kano State was declared the overall winner of the festival and went home with N5 million reward. Bayelsa State placed second with N2 million and Imo State took the third position with N1 million. 18 states participated in the festival.The highlight of the event was the display of a 92-year old Ogun State drummer, simply known as Baba Adewole, drummer for the late, Alhaji Ayinla Omowura.
At the continental level, the troupe from Republic of Benin emerged winners with a cash prize of N5 million, followed by Togo and Haiti (joint winners) N3 million and Congo Brazzaville came third with N2 million.Minister of Information and Culture, Alh. Lai Mohammed, who joined the State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, to close the ceremony, said the Federal Government would continue to support all efforts at preserving the country’s cultural heritage. According to him, the festival was important because of its focus on key a aspect of Nigeria’s cultural heritage, which had been taken for granted and was gradually fading away.
“Drumming is an aspect of our culture that we must not allow to die or allow to be overshadowed by the contemporary strain,” he said.Mohammed, who commended Ogun State Government “for blazing the trail by hosting the drums festival” urged the government to ensure the sustenance of the programme, adding that the Federal Government would accord it all the necessary support. He urged other states to ensure that they continued to promote culture.
‘I implore Ogun State Government to sustain this festival and I also urge other states to borrow a leaf from the gateway state by organising their own drums festival that will culminate in the national drums festival that would bring together all the 36 states of the federation and the federal capital territory,” Mohammed said.
On the relevance of culture to developing countries, he stated, “We must not allow people to tell us our stories; we must tell our stories by ourselves.”
In his speech, Amosun, said, “We are part of history and even made history with this. Last year, we did Nigeria Drums Festival, but this year it is African Drums Festival. It is to allow our brothers and sisters in Africa to participate.”
“If we want to diversify our economy, this is one of the tools to diversify it. This is our culture; we must be proud of it. We must take advantage of what God has given us and take the full values of what God has given us. We are re-awakening the great industry (culture) with this.
“I know President Muhammadu Buhari will be happy that we are using a God-given talent to develop ourselves”.What, however, is left to be seen how, going forward, Ogun State would leverage on the success so far recorded in the two editions to market African Drums Festival to corporate Nigeria for sponsorship. That way the state does not continue to dip into its purse for funds both to organise and reward winners. All put, it comes to a tidy N18 million given as prizes different from organisational funding. Another area of concern is continuity, like Port Harcourt Book Festival that ended with Rotimi Amaechi’s tenure. With Amosun’s tenure soon to end in about two years, it may be an uphill task selling the idea to his successor unless it is enshrined as an integral programme of the state’s official business and generous sponsorship forthcoming so it doesn’t drain the state’s lean purse.But clearly, Ogun State has set a pace worth emulating.