Tribute to Augustus Olatunji Olufemi Vidal @ 80
Professor Augustus Olatunji Vidal is a Professor of Music and Musicology. He was an alumnus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and was for many years, the Head of Department (HOD) of the Department of Music at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife. He was also a former Dean of the Faculty of Arts, OAU.
We, his students, call him Major G, Oluaye, Iroko and so on. Professor Vidal is a man of keen and farsighted penetration and judgement. Oluaye is a shrewd, sagacious, perspicacious and astute scholar. Major G is a man, whose acuteness of mental discernment and soundness of judgement, is non-negotiable. We thank God for giving him to humanity and academia, as an unquantifiable gift. His research, especially on Oriki in traditional Yoruba music, speaks volume of the atypical academic he is. His works, such as: “The Tonemic and Melodic Character and Yoruba Principal Chants”, “The Role and Function of Music in Yoruba festivals”, “The Arts Complex as a Communicative System in an Oral Society” among so many others, are classical works.
His inaugural lecture in 2002 titled, “Institutionalisation of Western Musical Culture and Search for National Identity”, was classical in its delivery at the Oduduwa Hall, University of Ife.
Professor Augustus Vidal started as a choir boy at St. John’s Anglican Church Aroloya, Lagos under Kreppy and Hector Labinjo and at the same time trained under the great T.K.E. Phillips at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina, Lagos. I count it a rare privilege to have been a student under his tutelage. As a thorough teacher that he is, he always prophesies into the lives of all his students, even when he doesn’t know that he is doing so and those things do come to pass.
When I was admitted to the Department of Music in OAU, Ife was a direct entry student and when I heard the name Vidal, I thought of him as a white man. However, our seniors in the Department were referring to the same man as Oluaye, Major G, Basso Continuo, Basso Profundo and Iroko among his many nicknames that he is called after him. I so much looked forward to meeting this man, whose brilliance has been mentioned to us by the old students. Unfortunately for my class, Prof. Vidal became the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and he did not take the 200 level students in that academic session. The first thing I noticed about him is that he carried so many books at the same time from his car into his office in the morning and from his office into his car in the evening. I begin to wonder if he reads all the books overnight (but now, I understand as an academic myself.
He consults those books for literature review.) Professor Vidal would never allow any student to help him with his loads of books to the extent that, anytime he is coming, students would just be going about their normal routine and he doesn’t bother anybody. I was so elated when in our year three, Prof. took us a course on Research Methodology and field work. That made us understand how a simple man he is and at the same time, how accessible he is. He would answer questions freely, outside of the class and he likes to engage his students in discussions, in ways that show intellectual depth.
Professor Vidal doesn’t like timid individuals and I guess that was the point that our path crossed, as I would always engage him in and outside the class and at any time. Anytime we start a topic, we may be on it for over an hour and he would expect you to disagree with him willy nilly. By the time we got to year four, Prof. took us in Acoustic of Music, Music and The Technical Media and other courses. I don’t like mathematics at all, but when Professor Vidal took us on acoustics, I got a B (Merit), because of the way he explained the course and the formulae to us. He was a total teacher. Acoustic of Music is pure Physics and you must understand the workings to get the answers. He simplified the course so well and up till today, I still remember words such as transient and formant in Pipe Organ, overtones and harmonics, amplitude, sound waves and waves resonances. f = 440 htz (fundamental overtones) et al. We were so close in my final year that I would engage Prof. on any topic and it was always a pleasure for him to respond to questions and queries. Anytime we have any unfinished discussion in the Department, he would drive me to the staff club, where he would order for his bottle of beer and instruct the bartender to serve me Ginger-Ale or a bottle of coke. And when we are done, he would then drive me back to the academic area.
He encouraged me to work on the comparative analysis of the musical components of Egungun Eyo in Lagos and Egungun Aladoko in Ado-Ekiti for my Masters programme. He provided me with materials and was indeed patient with me over the phone with guidance and suggestions to make the work excellent. He listens to the Radio Programme, Hymns inspired that I present on the then Radio Continental, up now Max 102.3 FM. He would always put a call through after each show to share his observations with me. He encouraged me to put in for my Ph.d programme, after my Master’s degree and that I should go back to the Church, as it’s my natural turf. By the time I started my Ph.D., he had retired and had taken up an appointment at LASU.
Professor Olatunji Vidal is a Musicologist of a great enterprise. His contributions in the documents and accessibility of Nigerian music are highly commendable. His intellectual proficiency is also of great value in academia, and as an erudite scholar of great repute. Professor Tunji Vidal studied over two hundred and fifty (250) indigenous music in Nigeria (North, West, East and South). Apart from his academic accolade, he is a well experienced participant of indigenous music, music production and theater practice.
Born on February 20, 1942 at Doherty Hospital, Idumagbo Avenue in Lagos Island, Augustus Olatunji Olufemi Ayinde Vidal is the first child of Mr. and Mrs. Josaiah Ekundayo Vidal. His parents got married in December,1940 but had to wait for two years before they were blessed with Olatunji, hence he was called Ayinde O! Omo tí a yìn yìn yìn kó tó de (i.e. A child that was praised severally before he could come). He also became the first grandson of his grandparents – both from his father and mother sides. He was not only so much loved by his parents, but also by his maternal and paternal grandparents. He was closer to his maternal grandmother, Late Mrs. Elfrida Adeyemi Thomas, who was from the Ajose-Akodu of the Ologunkutere royal family of Lagos. Late Mrs. Thomas had a strong passion for traditional Yoruba history and oral literature – so much of these virtues rubbed on little Augustus from his childhood. Augustus could trace his genealogy to Mr. Owen’s Vidal who, at baptism in Abeokuta, adopted the names of the then Bishop Vidal of Abeokuta.
The former was the father of Emmanuel (fondly called Emman) Vidal. History has it that Emman Vidal was the third son of Mr. Owens Vidal, who migrated to Lagos in the late 19th century from the Itoko area of Abeokuta and together with the missionaries, brought Christianity to Lagos. Emman became a member of the Parochial Church Council (PCC) of St. John’s Anglican Church, Aroloya Lagos, was in fact the father of Josiah Ekundayo Vidal (Augustus’ father).
As a little boy, he used to watch Kobina W. Crepphy, popularly known in Lagos as “Papa Crepphy”, a Ghanian musician anytime he played Organ voluntarily at the end of divine services at St. John’s Aroloya, Lagos and he was so impressed with Crepphy’s foot-works on the pedals. Little Vidal would then go home after Church services to try to simulate what he had seen at church services with the pipe organ, on the piano in their living room or any available structure.
Augustus’ musical career began in 1951, when he was nine years old.
At such a young age, he became a member of the Church choir, attending choir practices every week and singing the soprano part with the choir of St. John’s Anglican Church, Aroloya, Lagos at divine services every Sunday. However, he had his first stage experience at the age of seven, when he acted in a short drama sketch, based on Yoruba alphabets at the end of the year theatrical entertainment of the Church’s Sunday school presentation. As a member of the Choir, he learnt the rudiments of Music, Ear and Vocal training and developed musical memory, which is an essential requirement for any member of the choir.
He started to receive his piano training at the age of fourteen, from Messrs. Kobina Crepphy and Hector Labinjo, both of whom were at one time or the other renowned Organists of St. John’s Church Aroloya, Lagos. He later enrolled at Major Allen, a retired army officer and Labour officer for his advanced studies on the piano. As a student in Methodist Boys’ High School, Broad Street Lagos, he was the school pianist from 1957 – 1959, during which he played hymns and marches every morning for morning assembly.
From a choirboy at St. John’s Anglican Church Aroloya, Lagos he rose to the position of Assistant Organist from 1961-1964. After he left the secondary school in 1959, he worked at the Ministry of Establishment for five years and he rose to Grade one Officer, before he left the service. In 1964, he got admission to study music at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) on a Federal Government Scholarship, but in 1966, he transferred his study to University of California, Los Angelis, USA in his third year, because of the civil war at that time. Olatunji Vidal gained Western Nigerian Regions Government Scholarship for both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. He secured University of California’s scholarship in the form of Graduate Assistantship. He also got University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) scholarship from 1970 to 1971 and a Research Grant from the same University in 1970.
Vidal studied composition with Professor Vincent, Orchestration with Professor Kremenlieu, African Music with Professor J.H.K Nketia, Klaus Wachsmann and Ethnomusicology with Professor Mantle Hood, Nketia and David Morton. (My generation only read about these great Ethnomusicologists in books, especially Nketia, Wachsmann, Hood and Morton).
Immediately he finished his undergraduate programme in UCLA in 1968, he was admitted for his postgraduate programme, which he finished in 1971. While on his M.A programme, he got a part time job at California State University v Sonoma and was appointed Graduate Assistant by University of California. When he finished his M.A programme in 1971, University of California appointed him as an Assistant Professor. He was happy for the job, because his aim at that time was to gain experience in the academic profession, which the University usually provides for its graduates. At the same time, he got another part time job as visiting Professor at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California from 1972 to 1973. When he left the job, he was appointed Associate Professor (Music) by California State University, Sonoma from 1974 to 1977.
While in the U.S., he met Professor Banji Akintoye, late Professor Babatunde Fafunwa (Former Minister of Education) and Late Professor Adeagbo Akinjogbin of History Department, University of Ife (Now Obafemi Awolowo University), who had seen his works in the United State and persuaded him to return home and help develop music programme in Nigeria. He returned to Nigeria in 1977 and was offered two appointments and there was contemplation, on which one to accept between University of Lagos and University of Ife. But Late Professor Akin Euba requested that he come to University of Ife, because it is a new department that requires an experienced person like him. Meanwhile, he had already taken his decision to go to University of Ife, considering the scholarship and research grant he got from it. Olatunji Vidal became a pioneer staff of Music Department, University of Ife, where he rose from lecturer 1 to professorial position. He is an internationally acclaimed Professor of Music and Musicology.
Prof. Vidal held various positions within and outside the University system. First, he was appointed Head of Department in acting capacity from 1979 to 1985 and also in 1990, which lasted till 1995. He was elected Vice Dean, Faculty of Arts and at the same time l, appointed as Chairman Postgraduate Committee from 1983 to 1985. He was appointed substantive Head of Department from 1998 to 2001 and Dean, Faculty of Arts between 2001 and 2003. His enormous contributions to the University speak for itself. Prof. Vidal retired from Obafemi Awolowo University in 2007, but before he left. He gave his inaugural lecture in 2002.
After his retirement, he took a contract appointment at the Department of Theater Arts and Music, Lagos State University, Ojo in 2007. In 2012, he gave a distinguished lecture at Lagos State University, Ojo. Professor Tunji Vidal is a man of many parts, as his faith in God is undeniable. A whole lot of people misconstrued his person, but for those of us who understand him, he has been an immeasurable blessing to us. Thank you Prof. for being YOU and for looking after us as a mother would her child. Happy birthday once again, Prof. You are indeed a father “Major G”. Professor Augustus Olatunji Olufemi Vidal celebrated his 80th birthday on Sunday 20th of February, 2022 in Ile-Ife, Osun State. Professor Vidal now resides in his house in Ile-Ife, Osun State. “Man makes Music, history documents it.”
Happy birthday to an erudite scholar, a typical academic, who is a worthy mentor, a stickler for intellectualism and sound ideological depth. With lots of love from your mentee and former student.
Dr. Asaolu is of the Department of Performing Arts (Music Unit), Olabisi Onabanjo University Ago-Iwoye.