‘Drumming is spiritual and it cuts across the globe’
Isioma Williams is a multitalented artist. Apart from being an art consultant, Founder/Artistic Director of DrumsView Concept (an art academy for the youths), creator and director of Sights and Sounds de L’Afrique, he is a pioneer member of Korean-Culture Supporters Group and member of International Dance Council (CID) among other dance groups. He spoke to OMIKO AWA on his drum clinic, the Korean Janggu drum among others.
• Janggu Drum Is Not Competing With Any Drum
Different ethnic groups that make up Nigeria have different drums and drumming for every occasion, but you chose to study Korean drums. What was the motivation?
Well, I didn’t ignore our traditional drums. In the real sense of it, researching, preserving and promoting Nigeria’s rich culture is what I do professionally for a living. It was the grace of God Almighty that earned me the privilege of a scholarship to study traditional music composition and language in South Korea at Kyung Hee University, Seoul, in 2013. While doing this, I was also attached to the National Theatre of South Korea through a programme known as CPI. It was during this attachment for the practical aspect of my studies that I was attracted by the simplicity, beauty, style, uniqueness and technicality of the Korean drum. Before this, I have been longing for more knowledge on traditional drums of countries across the globe. So, the fascination was the nature and playing that kind of the drum, which relates to different drums in Nigeria and Africa.
Drumming is spiritual and it requires skills and knowledge of certain exoteric tradition to be able to engage a particular drum with dexterity.
How well grounded are you in the Korean tradition in relation to your association with Janggu?
From my personal studies and knowledge of drums, drums’ spirituality is embedded in the drum itself. Drum is a deity itself; it relates to you on account of your relationship with it, that is, your interest, the attraction, the urge and your mental feelings towards it. So most times, it is a connection between the drum’s spirit and the spirit of the person playing the tunes that do the connection. So, uniquely, you don’t really have to know about any deity before you can commune with drums because the spiritual connection between the drum and the drummer does the magic. I categorically say this because it happened to me at different occasions and that was how I acquired the ability of playing different ethnic drums in Nigeria fluently.
At what point does the rhythm of Nigerian and African drums correspond with the Korean drum?
All traditional drums have a meeting point because drumming is in a way spiritual and the spirituality cuts across the globe. It is just like music, which is known to have a universal language. So, it goes through similar process. The Korean janggu drum has a tonal resemblance with some Nigerian and African drums. Likewise some visual attributes, as we can see in the dundun, bata and bembe drums. So some of the rhythms and rhymes that could be played with our traditional drums can also be replicated with the Korean janggu drum and you will get the same message and understanding. All these I have experimented with in my traditional drumming band, Sights and Sounds de L’Afrique. In the band, I blended some African traditional drums with the South Korean janggu drum as an ensemble.
What do Nigeria and Korea stand to gain or lose through your involvement in coaching Nigerians how to beat the janggu drums?
It’s a gain-gain affair for both parties, but Nigeria gets more. This majorly strengthens the cultural diplomacy between Nigeria and South Korea. As my action promotes the Korean drumming culture in Nigeria, we, as Nigerians, likewise learn from the unique attributes surrounding the janggu drum and inculcate such uniqueness in our own traditional drums, too. This is because the theoretical aspect of janggu drumming has opened up opportunity for the Nigerian traditional drummers to learn the theoretical part of music that would enable them to write and document Nigerian and African rhythms/beat (learning music notation for percussion) rather than cramming and memorising the rhythms and rhymes. It also serves as avenue to easily connect the two countries and promote friendship among the citizens, especially as we now constantly perform in some South Korean events in Nigeria through the Janggu Drum Group I created.
What is the level of acceptance among Nigerians of this Korean drum, especially with many people showcasing their drumming skills to thrill foreigners and making good money?
Janggu drum is not competing with any drum and will not compete with any drum at all because it is in a world of its own. I categorically affirm that the drum is gaining ground and it’s well accepted because of its uniqueness and simplicity. As I earlier mentioned, I have incorporated Janggu drum into my Nigerian traditional drum ensemble (Sights and Sounds de L’Afrique) thereby making the team look unique and different anywhere we perform. I have also introduced it to ARA (Queen of Talking Drum and first female talking drummer) and she’s been featuring the janggu drums in some of her major concerts like the International African Drums Festival held in Abeokuta, Ogun State, and during her Osunfunke film premiere in Oshogbo, Osun State.
Do you still run the drum clinic? What is its import on our culture and how can Nigerians tell the African story through it?
I am still running the drum clinic. The clinic is basically meant to constantly research, sustain, promote and teach the originalities of Nigerian and African drums and drumming culture. It also serves as a platform to compare and evaluate other drum cultures around the world with a view to deriving quality, development and standard. Through it, we can regularly upgrade the standards of our local drums and promote it. As drummers, we look forward to building our capacity to stand at par with other international drummers. Through it, we can create room and opportunity for cultural exchange as promotional policy.
How long will it take to learn how to beat the janggu?
I learnt it in South Korea within six months of my study and I came back to Nigeria to share the knowledge. But I have compressed it to a three-month learning course. So, it takes at least three months to learn and perfect the technicalities of beating the janggu drum to a performance level and this can be done through the quarterly Janggu Drum Training Workshop I initiated and still facilitating. The Janggu Drum Training Workshop is regularly supported and sponsored by the Korean Cultural Centre based in Abuja.
Don’t you think another form of cultural colonization is being promoted?
Not at all! The Korean Government is not like that. They want to positively impact on us; they want to develop humanity through the promotion of their culture and tradition to enhance communication. They are not interested in colonising Nigeria, but purposefully for cultural exchange, which is a form of promoting their culture around the globe for mutual understanding and cooperative coexistence within humanity. It’s a way to
popularise and promote their merchandise.
Since you started, how many Nigerians have you trained? Are they involved in any competition within and outside the country?
After studying at the National Theatre of South Korea in 2013, I returned and embarked on the training workshop in 2014. The very first janggu workshop was solely organised and facilitated by me without any sponsor and support. I started it by inviting different traditional drummers from the different local government areas in Lagos State. It was after then that I approached the Korean Cultural Centre in Abuja for support and sponsorship and the first sponsored workshop was in 2016. Counting from 2014 till date, I have trained up to 50 Nigerians from 2014 to 2017.
There has not been any opportunity for graduates to participate in competitions outside the country yet. But many of the participants had participated in notable events and festivals within the country, including the Korean community in Nigeria End-of-Year celebration in Lagos in 2017, inauguration of the K-Culture Supporters Club held in Abuja in 2016 and the Lagos@50 Parade of Colours Carnival at Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) in Lagos in 2017. Other shows featured are Crown Troupe of Africa’s 20th anniversary festival held at Freedom Park in Lagos and Footprint of David’s Community Festival held in Bariga, Akoka, in 2016 and 2017.
How demanding is this initiative in terms of funding and how do you intend to sustain it?
Doing it alone would be too demanding and I would not be able to sustain it for long. But getting funding from corporate organisations or agencies and the constant sponsorship of the workshop by the Korean Cultural Centre-Nigeria (KCCN), it will be sustained and also have a lasting impact on the people and Nigeria and Korea that are majorly involved.
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