Sacthmo Jazz Festival 2015… Providing historical outline of Nigeria’s jazz heritage
s the world celebrated UNESCO Jazz Day last week, it afforded jazz enthusiasts a moment to reflect on Nigeria’s jazz heritage and its contribution to the world of jazz. A lecture in honour of August Agboola Browne provided a moment for a historical overview that culminated in a jazz concert featuring Nigerian and international jazz musicians at the Satchmo Jazz Festival 2015.
On hand to deliver the lecture was jazz historian and musician, Mr. Ed Emeka Kiazor. Also present at the lecture were jazz historian and Fela’s former artiste manager, Pa Benson Idonije, Founder of August Agboola Browne Lecture and Satchmo Jazz Festival, Mr. Dolapo Ajayi, former Jazzville founder, Mr. Muyiwa Majekodunmi and Victor Eriabe.
Kiazor began by tracing the history of jazz in West Africa from the church where the earliest forms of western influence seeped in through the choral music and hymnals. This was followed by marshal music, and later classical music and the brass bands. From here, the Lagos Mozart Orchestra (aka Calabar Brass Band), which was a synthesis of Yoruba and Effik tunes, became prominent.
But the Nigerian to make the earliest impact worldwide was the jazz impresario, Browne, who was born in 1895. He was stowed away to Poland in 1922. He joined an essemble at Ziemanskia Club in Warsaw,a nd recorded an album in 1928. Fela’s father the Reverend Ransome Kuti also did much to lift jazz in the country in 1940s when he also recorded a jazz album.
Kiazor said this year marked 90 years of jazz celebration in Nigeria through Browne’s legacy in the jazz music genre. Browne later moved to England during World War II where he later died in 1976.
Other foreign jazz influences in West Africa included Domingo Justus, George Williams Aingo, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller and Duke Ellington. Then came the era when West Africans began to come into their own mastery of the jazz genre of music, with Ghanaian E.T. Mensah leading the way.
Guy Warren was another master who developed what was known as Afrojazz. Both Mensah and Warren were in the Accra Orchestra. Ghana also produced female jazz singers as far back as the 1940s, but prejudice against female performers later drove them underground.
In Nigeria, Bobby Benson started the swing jazz group, according to Kiazor, and later included personalities like Steve Rhodes and fela Sowande, who were in broadcasting jazz band. The duo was in the big band organized by Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation band. Tony Benson, who was in Fela’s Koola Labitos made huge impressions as well.
According to Jiazor, one female jazz singer to make huge impact in Nigeria was Maud Meyer, who was born in Port Harcourt; she learnt at the feet of her mother, who had a jazz band. Kiazor stated that Bobby Benson later brought Meyer to Lagos.
Meyer’s skills were unrivalled; she would listen to any kind of music and convert it to jazz instantly. “She was one of the greatest female jazz singers of all time,” Kiazor enthused.
Kiazor gave prominence to Nigeria’s jazz export to the world, which he said had a profound impact on international jazz. Ambrose Campbell, he said, was a second-generation Nigerian jazz export after Browne.
Mike Falana, another of NBC jazz orchestra, also emigrated abroad, but Kiazor said he later succumbed to metal ill-health and later died. Falana and Meyer were later given posthumous awards for their prowess in jazz.
The jazz historian said Solomon Ilori, another jazz export, was an incredible musician. Others were Bayo Martins, a drummer; Fela Kuti, Michael Olatunji, Bala Miller and the Pirameeds and Bill Friday.
Kiazor also stated the obvious when he said, “Lagos was the most important centre for jazz music in Nigeria”, and still is. He also opined that The Nigerian Police Bands led by Tony Obey and the Army Brass Bands were also active, but noted that jazz began to suffer in the 1970s when discos became the vogue.
However, there was a turnaround during the 1980s when Fran and Tunde Kuboye came into the scene with Fela often going to play at their joint in Ikoyi. It was at this time also that Majekodunmi came into the jazz scene with Jazzville at Yaba; it catered to old and young musicians.
According to Kiazor, “Jazzville was iconoclastic with some of the finest musicians playing, including Lagbaja (although not masked at the time), Femi Kuti and many others. Dizzy Gillespie’s visits in 1980s also gave fillip to jazz revival in the country”.
Kiazor delivered his lecture with appropriate photo illustrations of his subjects; it also included playing the music of the jazz masters to indicate their dexterity at their art.
Also to deliver a paper to firmly establish the historical nexus of jazz in the country as it affects the UNESCO Jazz Day was art critic and historian, Idonije, who posited, “It is now a firmly established tradition that every year – on April 30 – the world would celebrate International Jazz Day in recognition of jazz as a force for peace, intercultural dialogue and cooperation.
In 2014, organizers from 196 countries produced a record number of events. Certainly, this makes Jazz Day one of the fastest growing and most enthusiastically supported international days, with every single UNESCO member state and more private members participating every year… The rather active involvement of Nigeria, courtesy of Satchmo’s Jazzfest 2015, is noteworthy and eventful”.
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