Choral music in Nigeria can be broadly divided into two categories: (1) traditional choral repertoire, and (2) Western-influenced choral works known as modern Nigerian art songs. Traditional choral singing can be observed in naming ceremonies, funeral rites, religious worship, children’s activities, folk tales, royal events, wedding ceremonies, and at recreational gatherings. The performance techniques of indigenous choral songs include call-and-response, hand clapping, dancing, and instrumental accompaniment supplied by diverse kinds of drums, iron bells, sekere [maracas], or other types of idiophones such as bottles, calabash, sticks, and wooden clappers. On the other hand, Western-influenced choral works are usually performed in churches, colleges and universities, and public concerts. This article discusses the imprint of European and Nigerian musical elements in Ayo Bankole’s FESTAC Cantata.
Ayo Bankole was born on May 17, 1935, at Jos, in Plateau State of Nigeria. He was a chorister at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos, in the 1940s, under Thomas Ekundayo Phillips (1884–1969), the then organist and master of the music. It was Phillips who gave Bankole his early musical training in music theory, piano, and organ. In August 1957, Bankole left Nigeria on a Federal Government Scholarship to study music at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London, where he concentrated on piano, organ, and composition. During his studies at Guildhall, Bankole experimented with advanced techniques based on twentieth-century tonality.
After four years of study at Guildhall, Bankole proceeded to Clare College, Cambridge University, London, where he obtained a B.A. degree in music in 1964. While at Cambridge as an organ scholar (1961–1964), Bankole earned the prestigious Fellowship of the Royal College of Organists (FRCO), making him the second Nigerian after Fela Sowande to receive the highest diploma in organ playing given in Great Britain. At the end of his training at Cambridge University in 1964, Bankole received a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to study ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
After a brief service at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (now Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria) in Lagos, he was appointed in 1969 to the position of Lecturer in Music at the University of Lagos, where he embarked on in-depth research on Nigerian traditional music and presented scholarly papers at conferences. At the University of Lagos, Bankole combined the roles of music educator, composer, choral conductor, performer, and musicologist. Bankole composed for several musical genres, including organ, piano, choral works, and solo art songs. He did not write any purely orchestral pieces, except choral works accompanied by the orchestra. Unfortunately, Bankole was brutally murdered by his own half brother in Lagos in 1976, while he was still in his creative prime.
FESTAC Cantata No. 4
Out of all his numerous compositions, the last work written by Bankole shortly before his untimely death was the FESTAC Cantata No. 4 for soloists, chorus, organ, orchestra, and Nigerian traditional instruments. According to Afolabi Alaja-Browne, the FESTAC Cantata was commissioned in 1974 by the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in commemoration of the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC).1 The festival took place in 1977 in Lagos, Nigeria, one year after Bankole’s demise. The cantata was actually premiered in 1976 at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos, under the direction of the composer. The soloists included Tope Williams, bass, and Joy Nwosu Lo-Bamijoko, soprano. The choir was from the Baptist Church in Lagos, where Bankole was the organist and choir director. The cantata is one of Bankole’s most mature works and represents a summation of his entire creative experience in the art of intercultural composition.
This composition demonstrates Bankole’s fluency in both the European convention and Nigerian traditional music. The use of Western forms such as overture, fugue, and aria, along with techniques such as orchestration, contrapuntal devices, chromatic passages, tonal shifting, atonality, pandiatonicism, and polytonality attest to his mastery of Western classical music theory. In terms of Nigerian traditional practice, Bankole draws from his vast experience with various types of indigenous creative procedures to bring the music to its cultural roots and attract the Nigerian audience to it. The Western orchestra in Cantata No. 4 consists of flutes, clarinets, piccolos, trumpets, euphonium, triangle, and bass guitar, while the Nigerian traditional instruments include sekere (shaking idiophone or gourd rattle), high- and medium-pitched agogo (hand bell), small and large ikoro (slit-drum), iya-ilu dundun (talking drum or hourglass tension drum), and gudugudu (single-headed kettle drum). The text of the entire cantata is derived from the Old Testament (Psalms 14, 24, 53, and 91). Indeed, the FESTAC Cantata is a truly multicultural composition.
Structurally, Cantata No. 4 is divided into twelve sections. The opening instrumental overture is written for organ, trumpets, flutes, and clarinets. It is in the style of a typical French overture in three distinct sections, but having a very slow trumpet fanfare as introduction. (See Example 1. Bankole, Overture [from FESTAC Cantata No. 4], mm. 1–21, on page 26.) The fanfare from the Largo introduction transforms into the principal theme played by the euphonium in the A section Andante, while the flutes play fast-moving eighth notes over the theme. The flutes’ tune is a diminution of the ostinato of the tenor and bass voices in Fun Mi N’Ibeji Part II, another choral work by Bankole. The euphonium plays the principal theme in the bass. The B section, Allegretto, scored for organ and flute solo, is based on a phrase heard in several keys with the use of sequences. From measures 87 to 95, the principal theme from the A section reappears in modified form. The A section Andante returns to close the overture, but this time played only by the organ.
The second section of the cantata is a tenor recitative and chorus. The tenor solo that is accompanied by organ sings “Onare o, enikan o mo, Awamaridi ni” (“Nobody knows your ways, they are mysterious”). The vocal melody starts in C major but modulates to F in m. 136 to prepare the incoming chorus for its tonal center. The final chorus is accompanied with agogo, playing the popular West African time-line pattern (a.k.a. the konkonkonlo rhythm among the Yoruba of southwest Nigeria).
The third section of the cantata is an instrumental Allegro scored for several Nigerian traditional instruments, Western flutes, and clarinets. It opens with the sekere and agogo, followed by small ikoro, and later enters large ikoro, gugugudu, and finally the full orchestra plays to the end. The fourth section of the FESTAC Cantata is a chorus, “Nitori iwo Oluwa” (“Because of you Lord”) accompanied by brass, flute, euphonium, clarinet, and organ. All the instruments come in at various points, while the organ plays through the entire section. Section five is a soprano recitative and duet accompanied only by organ and sekere.
Section six is a tenor aria preceded by a fanfare played by two trumpets. The aria is not consistent with the formal structure of a seventeenth-century aria (ABA); rather, it is through-composed. The aria is accompanied with a passacaglia theme on the organ and clarinet. The passacaglia helps to maintain the phrasing of the vocal line and to reinforce the harmonic progression of the entire musical fabric. As in most passacaglias, the theme moves between the pedal and the manuals of the organ. The passacaglia is coated with various shades of harmonic colors and diverse rhythmic figurations to embellish the repetitions, develop the thematic material, and to create contrast between each appearance of the theme in different sections.
(See Example 2. Bankole, Chorus [from FESTAC Cantata No. 4], mm. 264–266.)
The seventh section of the FESTAC Cantata is a chorus, “O nse kisa, Olorun Oba” (“God the king performs wonders”), accompanied with improvised drumming, sekere, trumpet, and organ. The eighth section is exclusively traditional Nigerian. It demonstrates the composer’s experience, expertise, and musicological research into the traditional music of the Yoruba culture. It is an ege (a.k.a. oriki, a praise chant) and is accompanied only by sere that is shaken all through the section. Ege is a chant to be performed by an experienced praise singer. In the eighth section of the cantata, the ege or oriki is in praise of God Almighty. It sings of God’s power over nature and humankind, and his ability to fulfill his promises (this is the choral recitative sung by the sopranos and altos). The ege is chanted by a soprano or tenor soloist. It is not written down in the score as practiced in the oral tradition of the Yoruba, and consists of five-verse poetry, with each verse separated by the choral recitative of the female voices.
Section nine of the cantata is an instrumental Andante scored for trumpet, agogo, triangle, gong, sekere, wood block, small and large ikoro, ogido (another type of slit-drum), and iya-ilu. This is an instrumental interlude in the cantata, similar to the “Sinfonia” or “Pastoral Symphony” in Handel’s Messiah. “Inter” culturalism is further broken down in Bankole’s cantata into “intra” culturalism. The variety of musical resources in this section displays an array of instruments from the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria: the trumpet (Algaita) is from the northern region; the gong and ikoro are often found in the music of the Igbo from the southeast region, while the sekere and agogo are commonly featured in the music of the Yoruba region of southwest Nigeria.
Of all the orchestral instruments, the trumpet, agogo, and sekere are more active, playing repetitive rhythmic and melodic phrases all through. The trumpet melody consists of a three-note phrase—B, G, D—with the exception of measure 555 where it plays the only E. Most traditional flutes in Africa have three to five holes, meaning that they can effectively play three to five notes. Additional notes can be realized on such instruments by overblowing. Bankole understands the theory behind the organology of traditional African instruments. Thus, in spite of the fact that the Western trumpet employed in this section is capable of producing several notes, Bankole assigns only three notes to it as observed in Nigerian traditional music. Section nine closes with the full orchestra playing ff.
Section ten of the FESTAC Cantata is made of multiple chorus units and it is accompanied by organ, flute, bass guitar, and improvised drums. It is structurally formalized into three main units:
A – Soprano solo, tenor solo, SA chorus, and TB chorus (mm. 582–608)
B – Duet between soprano and tenor, alto solo and chorus (mm. 609–618)
A – Soprano solo, tenor solo, SA chorus, and TB chorus (mm. 619–634).
Section eleven of the cantata is written for a bass solo with chorus. (See Example 3. Bankole, Bass Solo [from FESTAC Cantata No. 4], mm. 645–654, on page 27.)
The final section of the FESTAC Cantata is based on Psalm 24. It consists of an instrumental introduction and choral fugue. The introduction is a fanfare for trumpets and organ conceived in bitonality, where the trumpet plays in D major and the organ is in C major. The choral fugue follows the structure of a standard fugue. The low brass in C major introduces the fugue theme from measures 833 to 840.
In the exposition, the tenor and bass first sing the subject, while the soprano and alto sing the answer. (See Example 4. Bankole, Choral Fugue [from FESTAC Cantata No. 4], mm. 841–851, on page 27.) In the episode, the SA chorus and soprano solo present the fugue theme in C major. In the keys of G and E major, soprano solo and contralto solo with SATB chorus exchange the fugue theme “Ti Oluwa ni ile” (“The earth is the Lord’s”) from measures 920 to 945. The finale presents the last entry of the fugue theme from measure 1043 in the SATB chorus, while the soprano solo, alto solo, and tenor solo sing a new phrase, “O nse kisa, Olorun Oba” (“God the king, does wonders”) over the fugue theme. The trio solos close the singing segment with the fugue theme in augmentation. There is a stretto between the tenor and bass solo in measure 1033. The FESTAC Cantata closes with an instrumental postlude for organ, piccolo, flutes, clarinets, trumpets, euphonium, bass guitar, triangle, agogo, sekere, ogido, and iya-ilu dundun from measures 1063 to 1086.
Ayo Bankole’s FESTAC Cantata represents one of the first experimental attempts by a twentieth-century composer in Nigeria to successfully incorporate Western and indigenous Nigerian instruments as well as creative procedures in a large major choral work. Bankole succeeded in creating a truly multi-cultural work that freely conjoins elements of two musical worlds to create such massive choral music. Bankole demonstrates his mastery of Western art music and indigenous Nigerian music in the way that he meticulously crafted this masterpiece into one organic entity. The way he shaped and molded the two cultures together in this work shows that Bankole remains a force to be reckoned with in the field of modern Nigerian music and intercultural musical composition.2