Behold the world’s tallest drum
Thousands of guests last week converged on Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, for the maiden edition of the Nigerian Drums Festival, organised by the government. Dressed in colourful attires, the guests defied the scorching sun to witness the unveiling of a 16-foot tall Isokan (unity) drum, the world’s tallest traditional drum. The venue was the June 12 Cultural Centre in Kuto, Abeokuta. Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME reports.
The phenomenal role of the drum in the socio-cultural life of Africans took the centre stage last Tuesday at Abeokuta, with no fewer than 12 individual and state troupes drawn from Ogun and Kano states performing at the first Nigerian Drum Festival. Apart from the entertainment value, the four-day festival, which ran from April 19 to 22, brought to the fore the critical role of drum as a communication tool as well as the need to revive the act of drumming among Nigerians.
The message on the need to revive a dying culture was not lost in the drumming performances as each speaker emphasised the significance and relevance of the drum to the socio-cultural life of every African. Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed summed it up saying that the drum festival initiative was laudable and should be encouraged and supported by all. He urged every state to design a cultural product to boost tourism, create jobs and generate revenue.
“The drum signifies a lot to every community. I see this festival going places,” he added.
Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State who unveiled the two drums, Isokan and Saatogaa 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 as a cultural haven.
Governor Amosun declared that from today, ‘we will not just call it the Nigeria Drums Festival, but the Africa Drum Festival’ adding that drums are the sensual parts of the African race and our day to day experiences as Africans and are measured on improvement of ourselves and drums. “In fact, drums have been in existence since time immemorial as they all perform different purposes,” he said.
He 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 used it as an opportunity to announce that Ogun state is a cultural and tourism ground. Tourists should not just to pass through the state, but allow the state to pass through you as you will not regret doing that,” he added.
Ogun State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism Mr. Muyiwa Oladipo said culture and tourism make invaluable contributions to the economic, social and environmental well-being of a society and its people, adding 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.
He said the 16ft tall drum has a symbolic relevance to Ogun and the IFA heritage and that with the numerous heritage sites and festival, Ogun should qualify as cultural capital of Nigeria. He noted that ‘our culture is dying and the festival is part of efforts at reviving it. Drum is universal to all mankind and as such it is central.’
The opening of the four-day event attracted frontline custodians of culture and traditions such as His Imperial Majesty Adeyeye Babatunde Ogunwusi Ojaja II, the Ooni of Ife and Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo Okukenu IV, the Alake of Egbaland, Olu of Ilaro, Oba Kehinde Olugbenle, the paramount ruler of Yewaland. Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed represented by Executive Secretary of National Institute for Cultural Orientation Dr. Barclays Ayakorama, Director General National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) Mrs Dayo Keshi, Director General Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) Mrs Sally Mbanefo and CEO of La Campagne Tropicana Mr. Wale Akinboboye among others.
Also at the event were Aambassadors of six African countries to Nigeria — Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Ghana, Senegal and Zambia.
His Imperial Majesty, Adeyeye Babatunde Ogunwusi Ojaja II, the Ooni of Ife, stressed the critical role of heritage in governance dating back to pre-colonial Nigeria, noting that before the amalgamation of Nigeria there has been governance, which was driven by heritage and tradition. He said there is a strong binding force- drum, which is common to all Africans as well as the dress culture. The Nigerian Drums Festival, he said, is a strong binding force and ‘we should not joke with it. This will reflect in the nation and continent as witnessed by the presence of African ambassadors at the festival.’
“We should work on harmonising our resources to help promote our cultural heritage. This is what we own and must be proud of it. I am proud that we are rejuvenating our heritage and culture. This is a good starting point,” he added.
Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo Okukenu IV, the Alake of Egbaland said since the 1977 FESTAC, Nigeria has not gone back to its roots but that with the Nigerian Drums Festival, ‘we are back to what we should have done.’ He noted that oil is gone and Nigeria must use what it has to get what it needs. “Ogun you have set the pace for others. Let us learn the culture of our neighbours,” Alake said.
Oba Olugbenle, the paramount ruler of Yewaland, said the festival would usher in blessings and turn-round in the state economy. He stated that ‘our heritage remains our roots and we will not go back to Egypt.’
Director General NCAC Mrs Dayo Keshi said there is an increasing recognition of the enormous potentials of festivals such as Nigerian Drums Festival in stimulating economic growth. She stated that festivals also present one of the best ways to integrate and generate economic growth right from the grassroots which has the custody of our heritage to state, national and international levels.
“Every state in Nigeria has cultural products around which cultural industries could be built in such a way that it becomes a win-win situation for income generation from grassroots in a bottom up creation of wealth. In furthering the economic growth of Nigeria creative industries, I wish to recommend that each state should establish an arts and craft village in its capital which pulls cultural products from all their local governments. These would serve as a cultural and commercial hub which would stimulate growth of rural economy and wealth generation from bottom up,” she said.
According to her, to further promote and expand on the economic gains from the sector, the private sector supported by government should give a serious consideration to the establishment of art malls where the best of works drawn from all states are sold.
The evening was not all about long speeches as troupes from Ogun and Kano states as well as solo and individual cultural groups thrilled the guests to scintillating drumming. They included the late Hubert Ogunde Troupe, ARA dance troupe, Unique Fingers, Olo Bata group, Palm-wine Kegite Club(Ilya Olumo), and Oluweri, which featured a 84 year-old woman dancer. Others were Bata Egba, Zealous, a hip-hop two-man group, Ogodo Egba and T-Raper, a 10-year-old boy.
The evening performances got to a crescendo when the late Hubert Ogunde Troupe mounted the stage. In unison, the audience joined the troupe in rendering the popular yet controversial song entitled Yoruba Ronu, a clarion call on the need for Yoruba to evaluate its position in national development. To the audience, the presentation was a refreshing outing with lots of nostalgic feelings. All through the duration of the festival, it was drumming extravaganza as different troupes took turn to perform every evening.
The festival would have been more grandious but for the challenge of funding. It was learnt that about 15 states cultural troupes confirmed their participation but couldn’t make it due to lack of funding, including neighbours like Oyo and Lagos states.
The maiden edition of the Nigerian Drums Festival could not have come at a better time than now when Nigeria is seriously in dire need of alternative sources of income apart from oil. If well packaged, the festival is capable of generating revenues for the state and the country at large. But to achieve these, the organisers must start planning for next year’s edition today by creating specific committees and setting targets for them. The marketing of the festival as a cultural product must be done aggressively in order to reach wider audience and corporate sponsors.
Branding rights should be granted to local artists who can produce gift items, souvenirs, t-shirts, and other unique crafts that bear the logo of the festival. This is one way of making the locals feel a sense of belonging and ownership of the cultural product and consequently protect it. The organisers should also keep records of visitors and guests to the festival. This will be useful for planning and marketing strategy when sponsors are being approached.
Isokan: Tribute to Africa
The drum was conceptualised and produced by Femi Coker of Femi Art Warehouse. It is designed on the concept that the family is the most important unit of the community and the society as a whole. Historically, man was created to be provider and head of the family, while the woman’s role is to be his help-meet and manager of the home. The children are the fruits and reward of their union. Isokan drum is very symbolic of this aspect of our history and it is a tribute to this heritage.
‘It is a representation of the nuclear family that expands to becoming the extended family. The concord, affection, peace and love that exist in the family are shared and extended to members of the community.
The tallest drum stands at 16 ft tall, and number 16 is a significant number to the Yoruba race. IFA, a popular traditional religion in Yorubaland typifies 16 Odu (corpus). Also, in Ijebu part of Ogun State, the notable deity Agemo, is typified by the number 16 (Alagemo merindinlogun) hence the world’s tallest traditional drum is significantly measured at 16ft.
“Isokan drum is made of hard wood and sealed at the top end with deer’s skin. Constructed around its long solid body/frame are carved reliefs of various cultural and historical representations and interpretations. The performance on Isokan drum represents three slit-dancers in a ceremonial and celebratory dance and the folklorist who chants the cognomen of the monumental drums. This is a tribute to the true history of the African continent, the irrepressible spirit of Africa and the immense contributions of the people of African ancestry to global trends, innovations and civilisation.”
Saatogaa: Africa’s Commemorative drum
Saatogaa, a re-adaptation of the Saato drum is conceived and designed by Abiodun Fagbire. It is common to the Egun speaking people in Ogun, Lagos and Benin Republic.
It is constructed from Apaa wood found in Dagbewe forest in Benin Republic. It took the artist two months to complete the construction which was done at Isembaye Gallery of Drums, Iju-Ota, Ogun State.
The drum is designed to look like the Igunnuko masquarader of the Tapa Community in Ogun.
Among the illustrations on the drum are Ori Olokun, Queen Idia head (Iyoba of Benin, mother of Oba Esigie), Nigerian Drums Festival logo and theme and Olumo rock.