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After Mamman Shata, BUK’s scholarly gaze on music icon, Narambada Tubali

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Dr. Bukar Usman, former Permanent Secretary in the Presidency and current President of the Nigerian Folklore Society (Chairman of the occasion) addressing the International Conference on Ibrahim Narambada Tubali held at the Bayero University Kano from September 15-17, 2019

Although an affiliate of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, in the 1960s, Bayero University, Kano (BUK), since becoming an autonomous university in the 1970s, has distinguished itself as a centre for academic excellence.

BUK’s Centre for Research in Nigerian Languages, Translation and Folklore has pioneered a lot of innovations in the area of researching into indigenous languages and cultural productions. Its recent focus on the life, times and musical career of Ibrahim Narambada Tubali is instructive of a university centre that is serious in researching and documenting important aspects of cultural productions that predate the advent of technology with a view to remedying the obvious gaps experienced in such areas.

The conference had prominent personalities in attendance that included the Emir of Hadejia, Alhaji (Dr.) Adamu Abubakar Maje, Former Minister of FCT, Dr. Aliyu Modibbo, representative of Emir of Kano, Jarman Kano, Prof. Isa Hashim,.Gen. Halliru Akilu, and lead paper presenter, Prof. Aliyu Muhd Bunza.

While the centre devoted last year to a conference on Mamman Shata Katsina, an iconic music artiste, the focus this year was on another Hausa musical artiste, who still enjoys a large followership among northern elite.

The former Military President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida and Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, were some of the people who listened to Narambada’s music in cult-followership fashion. In fact, these two men played leading roles at the conference. While Adamu delivered the keynote address, Babangida gave a goodwill message to the organisers and encouraged them to keep up the work of cultural documentation that is so important in an ever-changing world.

In the keynote he aptly titled ‘Narambaɗa: The Unsung Hero of the Hausa Oral Tradition,’Adamu, who was represented by Prof. Ismaila Junaidu, began by commending BUK for organising the conference: “We are here to witness yet another conference organised to celebrate the life of one of the most prolific Hausa singers, Ibrahim Narambaɗa Tubali.

First, let me thank the organisers of this interesting conference: The Centre for Research in Nigerian Languages and Folklore and its collaborators, the Departments of Nigerian Languages and that of Linguistics and Foreign Languages, as well as the Bayero University management, not only for organising this insightful conference, but also for giving me this exciting opportunity to speak on this prolific artist who has contributed immensely in preserving our language and culture.”

Adamu reiterated the need for cultural education and the need to preserve it for now and the future, noting, “As a public writer some years ago, I had, in many cases, alluded to the importance of cultural education and self-enlightenment in achieving the goals of societal emancipation and generational change that is necessary for development. Our education system and curriculum often neglects the value of cultural preservation, and this has inevitably resulted into serious self-ignorance, which in turn, diminishes our values and traditional systems that are supposed to form the basis and foundation for the socio-cultural and economic development of our society.

“This has further endangered and undermined our heritage, our ancestral norms and values, our historical traditions, leading to the inevitable loss of our collective sense of nationhood and communal evolution, but to the advantage of the ever-encroaching external influences and their attendant damages that we all see today, in one form of globalization or another. It is for this reason that, as the Federal Minister overseeing the Education sector of this country, my team and I decided to reshape the educational philosophy of this country in order that the citizens of the various sections of our society will be properly and fully educated about, and within the realm of our socio-cultural setting, with the aim of restoring the norms and values of our society.

“Hausa singers have, over the decades, shaped our society in many ways, including the most basic aspects of our lives such as the traditional philosophy of family, education, health, political economy, security, politics and all forms of our social settings. This project of shaping the society via music and singing was shared and executed by all traditional Hausa singers over the centuries, as well as their modern artists who employ various modern instruments in developing their themes.

“However, for me, this conference is highly welcomed, partly because Narambaɗa is my most favourite Hausa singer of all times, and has given me pleasure in appreciating life and understanding the myriad complicated issues in our society. However, while I understand the significance of Narambaɗa in the Hausa traditional music sphere, it immediately occurred to me that the iconicity of this profound singer has been somewhat neglected in our cultural discourse and the academia, compared to some of his peers in the industry.

For instance, despite the existence of some academic works on this prolific singer, it cannot be compared to the huge amount of literature that exists on his contemporaries such as Shata, Dankwairo, etc. who, in my opinion, are only as good as Narambaɗa, but certainly not better.
Similarly, a search on the internet platforms such as YouTube reveals a similar situation as Narambaɗa’s songs are not as conspicuous on the search engines.

The Google’s Wikipedia page of Narambaɗa provides no information on either the singer or his songs, which itself is an indication of the lack of interest in preserving and advancing his works and contributions to Hausa literature and cultural preservation. Again, many higher institutions of learning have organized various conferences and colloquia on various Hausa singers, but this is the first time I heard of any attempt to bring forward an academic discussion on the life and works of Narambaɗa, even though his contributions to the Hausa socio-cultural world are spectacular.”

Adamu traced the historical trajectory of Narambada through his early years and how everyone who knew him agreed his skill in music would take him far in life, a talent he inherited from his maternal grandfather. This was to be.

“As said early, Narambaɗa inherited his singing profession through his maternal lineage,” Adamu said. “He was exposed to the world of music at tender early age; he inherited his grandfather’s musical instruments kept for him by his mother. At adulthood he became a conventional singer, thematizing on socio-economic events such as gayya, and in market places, the young Ibrahim became popular not only in his locality but also beyond his surrounding towns and villages. His popularity and fame was only the tip of the iceberg, as he grew quickly to make his own mark in the history of Hausa traditional music.”

The education minister stated that as Narambada’s “expertise in Hausa music and singing increased, so was his popularity. He expands his playgrounds to the palace, singing for the king of Tubali and other prominent people in the village. Singing for the chiefs and emirs is an entrenched tradition in Hausaland, a genre that saw the emergence of other prominent singers of that time. Similarly, most traditional rulers kept specialized singers in their palaces to entertain the traditional rulers and the audience. The most notable among these artistes was usually appointed as Sarkin Waka, who heads other musicians that perform in the palace. It was natural, therefore, that Narambaɗa, like all other emerging musicians aspire for this position which was then the highest in the profession.

“The reality of this dream was not too far, as in 1927 the new emir of Gobir, Tudu Muhammadu Na’ammani selected him as his official singer after a startling performance at the coronation of the emir, a position he held throughout his life. Narambaɗa became widely famous across the Hausaland as a prolific and excellent singer, even as his role as makaɗin fada provided him the platform to extend the tentacles of his career beyond the borders of Gobir kingdom, his official domain. He, therefore, had numerous invitations by prominent Hausa rulers and personalities on the behest of which he travelled far and wide to sing and entertain various rulers of several Hausa states such as sarkin Zazzau, sarkin Gusau, sarkin Shinkafi, among others.”

Adamu also explored the artiste’s literary style, which he remarked was “astonishingly encompassing, in that, although he focuses on specific themes, he had unimaginable abilities to merge topics and issues, relating his discourses with sufficient descriptions and comparisons. His mastery of the Hausa verse and rhymes, the coordination of stanzas, his metaphoric use of heavy-weight vocabularies make his songs a suitable example of a professionally sophisticated Hausa poem. Although kotso (the instrument he used) was a unique musical instrument in the Hausa culture, his mastery of lyrics and relay between the bits and the stanzas makes it all the more enthralling. In his songs, Narambaɗa does a great job of educating the public, discussing important contemporary issues, while at the same time entertaining and praising his masters”.

The conference also afforded the education minister opportunity to reflect on how to preserve the huge body of works Narambada has left behind and how to make them available to coming generations.

“This is entirely impossible without paying necessary attention to some vital parts of our culture, such as the oral traditions, in which much of our values and norms are stored for the use of the future generations. This conference, and indeed the one on Shata which took place last year, are vital steps in the right direction. I encourage this university and its counterparts across the region to amplify their efforts in preserving these important, but endangered aspects of our society.”

Adamu said for Nigeria and much of Africa to catch with the rest of the world, they must keep pace with modern developments in terms of technological trends, with “the body and soul of scientific knowledge have migrated from the shelves of libraries to the pages on the internet, and knowledge, like all other aspects of our lives, has become globally more accessible and more flexible. It is rather shocking to find out that most of our most valuable information is simply inaccessible online. Take, for instance, Narambaɗa’s Wikipedia page I talked about earlier. The barriers to knowledge that have long been eradicated in the world seem to be a hindrance to us today, as they were many decades ago. For us to preserve our history and culture, the knowledge of these values and norms have to be available and accessible to us, as well as the outer world. For, no one appreciates what he doesn’t know of.

“What does this tell us? It is saying that we must conform to the ever-changing world to remain relevant and alive. It is my honest view that people who are interested in preserving our culture, especially the academics (and we need a lot of them) to focus on digitizing original data so that it is accessible both locally and globally. I am aware of the efforts made by this university to establish a digital laboratory at the department of Nigerian languages, which can be upgraded to the required standards. Apart from collecting and digitally documenting these songs and other important data, there is the need to provide comprehensive online information about the people and their works.”

He also recommended special publication on prominent “Hausa singers, with each volume coming after an annual conference of this kind. Last year was Shata, which should have been the first volume, followed by this year’s Narambaɗa, and the work continues. This will give us a comprehensive body of knowledge and a coherent body of literature to rely on.”

In his goodwill message to organizers, presented on his behalf by chairman of the occasion and President, Nigerian Folklore Society NFS), Dr. Bukar Usman, Babangida noted the paucity of information and materials on notable traditional artistes across the country and urged conference organizers to take care to bridge such gaps that undermine local artistry and cultural productions.

According to Babangida, “It is common knowledge that our country Nigeria of great linguistic and cultural diversity is endowed with notable musicians of the likes of Ibrahim Narambaxa Tubali, popularly known as Narambaxa, the subject of this conference. We all in our separate ways appreciate the melodies and lyrics of their songs sung in many languages. Some of the songs, video and audio recorded have been played on the airwaves, on the television and online. Many had performed live to our admiration. Some had become the idols of many fans who relish their performances and the recital of their songs.

“Having said all that, I wish to observe one important thing which seems to be lacking. That is documentation of the lives and times of our artistes and a deeper study of the philosophical contents of their works. It is in that respect that I commend the initiative taken by the Centre for Research in Nigerian Languages, Translation and Folklore to convene this conference for the sole purpose of studying and documenting the life and times of Ibrahim Narambaxa Tubali who passed away in 1960 nearly six decades ago.

“I understand that this conference on Ibrahim Narambaxa Tubali follows a similar one the centre had successfully hosted in recent times on another notable song artiste, (Dr) Mamman Shata. Likewise the Department of Nigerian Languages, Umaru Musa Yar’adua University had made a commendable effort to come up with a book on him titled: Studies of the Songs of (Dr.) Mamman Shata Katsina. As you continue with this endeavour, I wish you every success in this and future conferences of this nature.”

While welcoming guests to his university, Vice Chancellor, Bayero University, Kano, Professor Muhammad Yahuza Bello, had stated, “Let me also publicly state that BUK has been a leader in the study of Nigerian languages. Many of you might recall that the defunct Centre for the Study of Nigerian Languages that has been transformed into the Centre for Research in Nigerian Languages, Translation and Folklore, was the first university-based research centre dedicated to the study of Nigerian languages in northern Nigeria. Since its inception, the centre has carried out its mandate creditably well and recorded numerous successes, especially in the area of promoting, supporting and upgrading the standards of Nigerian Languages. It is gratifying to state here that the university continues, within its limited resources, to support the various academic centres and their programmes for the benefit of our society.”

Also, Director, Centre for Research in Nigerian Languages, Translation and Folklore, Prof. Aliyu Mu’azu, restated the commitment of his centre to the drive towards providing scholarly research to local cultural activities.

According to him, “I now come to our choice of the lead paper presenter, Professor Aliyu Muhammad Bunza. Apart from his reputation in Hausa cultural and literary studies, Professor Bunza has led massive information-digging projects into the life and works of both the most popular and the least known Hausa singers, writers and thought leaders. Among all, the most captivating is his seminal work on the man in question, in which he provides evidences of the most contentious issues around the life, work and successes of Ibrahim Narambaɗa. Although a number similar works exist, Bunza’s monograph gave the Hausa world a clearer look at Narambaɗa, his background, life and artistic endeavours. It is for this credit that Prof. Bunza becomes the most suitable to give us an academic appraisal of the subject of our conference. Thus, the faces and names that characterise this conference represent the most possible choices available in terms of the subject, themes and goals.

“As far as the mandate, mission and vision of this centre are concerned, organizing this conference is a milestone in the realization of our objectives and targets. For those who might not be aware, the creation of this centre in the 1960s was a response to the ever demanding, super urgent need of sufficiently rigorous and in-depth study of the Nigerian languages and cultures, in the bid of the university to provide the required critical literature and training for the development of our country in its own terms and paths. This attempt itself was the result of the desire to emancipate our local heritage and Bayero University’s bid to play a critical role in the decolonization and deconstruction of knowledge, science and society. Since then, this centre has become the leader of the struggle for the actualization of the Nigeria’s linguistic emancipation and cultural preservation through various strategies and academic programmes.”

Mu’azu also listed some achievements his centre recently recorded when he said, “This centre, in collaboration with relevant sister departments of this University completed the science textbooks for Nursery, Primary, Junior and Senior Secondary Schools, to provide a more natural, native source of scientific knowledge to our children at the basic education level. This will also provide a pedagogical ease for teachers who will surely find it easier to teach with material written in their own native language. In the same vein, respected scholars across board are working with the centre to provide the translations and original works in crucial fields of human endeavour which if done, will uplift Hausa and other Nigerian languages to be at par with the major languages of the world. One of such works is on animation which series will begin to be in the public domain before the end of this year. Furthermore, collaborations with prominent international institutions that have genuine interest in African and Hausa studies has yielded a lot of results in our quest to expand the borders of Hausa studies across the oceans.”

Mu’azu also stressed the importance of collaborating with the international media in the hope that “all academic discoveries would be properly and expediently disseminated to the public. On this, the centre is proposing a strong coalition among some departments in Northern Nigerian universities to foster a strong, cordial relationship with the media, so that our research output is put in practice rather than just being within the covers of books or on the shelves of libraries.”


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