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The Pyrates Confraternity gyration song as burlesque

By Alade Rotimi-John
24 August 2022   |   3:35 am
It must be noted that the arguments for or against the outing of the Pyrates Confraternity the other week have largely side-stepped or ignored our collective understanding of the Burlesque as a literary form.

It must be noted that the arguments for or against the outing of the Pyrates Confraternity the other week have largely side-stepped or ignored our collective understanding of the Burlesque as a literary form. At the parade of the Confraternity, a song in jocular derision of an un-named presidential candidate was rendered even as the song instantaneously found a historic place in our stock of popular folk airs. Comedy characterised by ridiculous exaggeration is technically referred to as Burlesque. In it, the sublime may be made absurd, a serious subject may be treated frivolously. Conversely, a frivolous subject may receive a serious treatment. An ordinarily dignified style may be used for a nonsensical matter; or, in reverse, a nonsensical style may be used to ridicule a weighty subject. To the satirist, or the artist who blends a critical attitude with humour to the end that humanity or human institutions may be improved, nothing is sacred as to be excused or allowed to fester to the detriment of society’s spiritual growth.

It is against this background of our understanding of the role of this art form that we need to applaud the Pyrates’ departure away from the beaten track of panegyrics or unearned praise singing and the body’s adoption of the burlesque as an effective style for drawing public attention to certain observed anomalies or deviation from societal norms. Given the stark reality of our contemporary experience with ailing or ailed presidents and of the attendant loss of quality performance time or the frightful possibility of the usurpation of presidential power by opportunistic power mongers around the corridors of power, it is important that we pay attention to the health status of anyone who has put himself forward to lead our nation.

A president’s dutiful attendance of regular medical appointments at medical facilities abroad for periods ranging from one month to three months or more each time is another scary reality. The obvious medical or health challenge of one of the presidential candidates has received the timely interrogation by way of a memorable song so the nation may be spared the un-amusing oddity of an ailing nation presided over by a sick head of state in the event that the voting population misdirects itself and thereby elect him as president. The Confraternity as a civic unit has done us a lot of good in its own characteristic way. Historically, we have been educated, the Confraternity has been a social “whistle blower, conveying by means of songs all the misdeeds that have taken place or is taking place within the society”. We are further informed that the body’s songs are positioned to stimulate discourse and effect desirable social change.

The songs are creatively composed as the Emi l’o kan song attests to. The development of a melodious and satirical genre respecting the songs makes them readily memorable or worthy to be remembered. A consistent advocate of a responsible and responsive political leadership and public conduct, the Confraternity rears no sacred cows as it takes on all infractions of society’s norms or all abusers of her strides towards the enthronement of a just society. The long history of its non-partisanship and of its objective critique of societal ills have stood it in good stead over time. It is strange that certain interests many of who have been around long enough to understand the nuanced intendment of the Confraternity’s songs are mischievously or conveniently conceiving the Emi l’o kan song as invidious or directed to achieve a particular political objective or positioned for forming certain petty alliances.

It should be borne in mind that as we inch closely towards electioneering, the satirisation of characters in the race for 2023 may have just begun. Those whose attempts will be to shut down the airing of legitimate concerns respecting candidates have a long walk to make in the dark. They will be stoutly resisted even as they will have to take on a sea of troubles. The convenient reasoning respecting the requirement to preserve certain cultural mores in the discussion or reference to the frail or senescent conditions of persons aspiring to the highest office in the land falls flat on its face. An aspirant to a public office has, by his personal decision to run, opened himself up for public scrutiny. His private life including a giddy marriage, errant children, his lack of public spiritedness, and his anti-social bearing have all become public subject matters to be discussed everywhere by the gossip circuits in bars and beer parlours.

Culturally, it is not strange or untoward in these parts to discuss or, in fact, pillory alleged waywardness, anti-social behaviour, etc. of members of society in songs, dances and drama which scorn, ridicule or abuse the character. In Ibani land (that luscious space of human settlement encompassing Bonny Island, Peterside, Opobo, Finima, Oloma, etc. in Rivers State every end of year is an opportunity to cite for remonstration or objection many of the observed infractions or violations of the community’s norms committed by erring “free borns”. The Nwaotam festival is a fitting ceremony at the end of the year with all the accoutrement of the masquerade of that name and of clubs or “gangs” of various hues and blee celebrating in songs and dances denouncing misdeeds, mis-steps and outright abuses of citizenship privileges, etc. Any subject matter is game. Many of the songs rendered in this season find their way into the community’s stock of songs and are excitedly sung throughout the year as community anthem. This Nwaotam ceremony is replicated in various variants throughout the Nigerian landscape with varying local adaptations and peculiar creativity.

Among the Ijebu of the South-west zone, the Apepe music produced with bamboo planks and accompanied with sonorous songs to denounce social vices is a feature of the cultural life of the people. Get-rich-quick tendencies, lazy or indolent approach to the performance of roles or vocations, indecent dressing, conspicuous consumption, greed or avarice are among the many bad habits that are decried in songs and dances at such communal occasions. No errant person is picked upon out of spite or partiality. The substance of the observation in the songs may not be validly challenged as it is factual. So much latitude is culturally permitted for substantiating the claims in the songs through direct reference to or name-calling of the wayward. It is traditional society’s way of purging itself and of aspiring towards a re-birth of its processes.

It is not the case that our cultural values abhorr the investigation of the fitness of persons aspiring for public positions. Public accountability was key to traditional society. It is so required today. Our taboos around certain issues curiously do not obviate the responsibility to adjudge the fitness of the leader.

He is not relieved of his responsibilities to perform his physical and spiritual roles. It is no wonder therefore, that infirmities, physical disability and any form of physical or health challenges are considered disentitling enough to sidetrack or refuse a candidate for Obaship or for any important office of the Oba’s council. Why are we then falling back on a non-existent cultural rule to avoid the asking of critical questions respecting the health status of aspiring persons to important offices of the modern state?

The proper question to pose in our circumstance is whether given his health condition, Tinubu can withstand the rigour and weight of the responsibilities of the office he seeks. The physical or medical status of a leader is ultimately a reflection of the health of the people he leads. It should not be considered unwise for people to speak up now especially when the candidate’s health challenges are visibly obvious.

We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to a presidential candidate’s health status. In the event that such a candidate wins and becomes the president, his tenure is bound to be haunted by the algebraic calculations of those who are waiting in the wings for the decisive moment to pounce to advance their cause or to achieve their pre-planned agenda.

The uneasiness surrounding the song about Tinubu’s health challenges is dubious. Tinubu himself will be scandalised by his supporters’ muscular objection to reference to the old age or infirmity of a candidate even as no name was mentioned. In 2012, Tinubu made derisive public reference to Chief Tony Anenih’s age and physical weakness as disentitling him without more to hold the office of Chairman, Nigerian Ports Authority. His audience applauded his submission approvingly as he regaled them with a medley of bombastic epithets in reference to Anenih’s old age incapability.

The same Tinubu and his horde of irritable supporters cannot be heard to denounce as unethical a factual reference to Tinubu’s senescence or infirmity. It is ill in their mouth so to do.

This time, the mode of the expression of our angst or anxiety should be understood as an acceptable medium of critiquing power and those who occupy it on behalf of the people. The burlesque medium which the Pyrates employed has drawn more attention than tons and tons of published works on the same subject matter. The sonorous and danceable Emi l’o kan song is a fitting denouement to a subject matter that has strangely drawn the ire of political jobbers seeking to pull the wool over our eyes.
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote vide lawgravitas@gmail.com