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Preserving Traditional Hausa Musical Heritage

Started by Abdalla, October 12, 2009, 07:12:10 PM

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Jama'a, Sallama

It's been quite a while since I appeared on the board -- and as regulars would note, my musings are mainly about the muse in Hausa popular arts. I am afraid all the other "big" topics are way beyond my ken, so I prefer something less cerebral!

I have just returned from Abu Dhabi, UAE, where I participated in an expert's  meeting on Why Preserve our Musical Heritage for the Future? The  meeting was at the instance of Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage,  ADACH, and mediated by Maison des Cultures du Monde of Paris. It is the first  of a series of start-up activities that will eventually lead to the establishment of the Ai Ain Center for the Study of Music in the World of Islam. The Center will serve as an international repository of musics from different parts of the Islamic world.

Perhaps I should point out that an earlier meeting to establish the Center in Assilah, Morocco in 2006, and of which I was also a participant, established  right away that the focus of the Center will not be on the theological debates  about the position of music in Islam. Suffice to say that Muslims perform  musics, even if unintentionally, e.g. when doing the call to the prayer, or  reciting the Qur'an in a melodious manner. What is the timber, quality, pitch  of these "performances", how does the idea of Muslim identity shape these  unintended performances? Further, the Center is not intended to be a place to  study only Islamic musical performances -- e.g. Sufi bandir (frame drum)  performances. So long as you are a Muslim and engage in music or performance within the  social space of your culture, your activity becomes a focus of the  Center.  With a proviso -- it must be heritage music; i.e. traditional. So hip-hop,  Nanaye (Hausa Technopop), disco etc, even if performed by Muslims, is out of  the purview of the center.  

As a result of the Morocco meeting, in July 2008 a group of seven experts were  convened at Al Ain, a beautiful city about 150 km away from Abu Dhabi to brainstorm and come up with a master plan for the Center. It was held in Abu  Dhabi because the emirate has agreed to establish the center as part of its  long-range plans of engagement in cultural discourse, which was signaled by  the establishment of Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH).  I was one of the seven, and we had a thoroughly engaging time and came up with  a blueprint after two days. The recent meeting at Abu Dhabi on 3rd and 4th October  2009 is the first in a series of start-up activities to actualize the center,  which will open in Abu Dhabi in 2011. It is therefore critical that the first  item on its agenda is to question its own existence -- why preserve our  musical heritage?

A total of 19 papers were presented from various parts of a large swathe of the Muslim world. Mine was the only from Africa. The core of my presentation revolves around the fact that traditional musics  all over the world are in danger -- and more so in Hausa societies where the  encroachment of transnational musics -- rap, disco, reggae, Black  electrotechno, etc -- sees the acquisition of Yamaha series of soft- synthesizers by Hausa "musicians" who doodle out tunes to the voices of boys  and girls patterned around Hindi film soundtrack singers. Most of the old  classical traditional Hausa musicians are dead -- Jankidi, Narambada, Dan  Anace, Shata etc. Most of the living -- e.g. Gambu, Wayam, Dan Indo, Ahmadu  Doka, etc -- don't want their children to succeed them, or they have  "repented" (Gambu and Doka) from music altogether because they consider it  bad. The new transnational Hausa sound, "Nanaye" or Hausa Technopop with its  girl-choir and Indian superstructure is fine and good. It is simply another one  of the evolving genres of music in developing countries. I state this in case  someone would consider me a boring old fogey interested only in kalangu, and therfore "not modern". I  have extremely eclectic musical tastes -- and have a 180 GB collection of  musics from all over the world and in all genres (I particularly love rap!).  

However, it is this eclecticism that drove me into the traditional musical  heritage lane. Our music is dying and is being replaced by non-music; for no  matter how hard you try to justify it, Nanaye is not music, but just doodling;  it is not based on any specified musical theory or direction. But since they  are set on it and see it as "modernity", fine, it can be continued, for I care  less about it -- and not because it is a threat to the traditional musics, but  simply because it is horribly composed and for the most part, tuneless. Again regulars to this board will remember how the British Council enabled me to experiment with fusion music – often combining Hausa rap lyrics with traditional ensemble. We did that with Amada Ra (Barmani Choge), Kukuma Rap (Arewa) and Pulaar Rap (Naziru Hausawa). The purpose was to show that modern and traditional can co-exist.

My argument for the preservation of Hausa traditional musics therefore  revolved around the strategy of transforming the genre. By "transforming" I  mean dislocating it from its standard perception of "roko" praise-singing, and  elevating it to a start of artistic expression. Doing this requires  a  revolutionary approach that needs a whole range of skills. I created a  blueprint for this. But I went one step further by actually forming a  traditional band, and RECORDING their music. The band is called "Gari Ya Waye"  (start of new day), while the first album, which we recorded last year, is  called "Alfijir" (dawn) -- both the names were written in Ajami and English on  the cover of the CD. Sorry, but for some bizarre reason, I can't post the CD covers with this post. In fact the whole posting kept jiggling up and down and it is tough enough to get a word in edgeways. Sigh.

Alfijir, the CD, is a the first in an anticipated series  of improvisations in Hausa Traditional Music. Volume Two will feature the  solos of the instruments used in Volume One (Alfijir).  

Alfijir is made up of four tracks. These are: Alfijir (15.11), Karen Mota  (14.33), Arziki (14.39) and Shauki (3.00). Three soloists were combined  together in a single performance. These are Suleiman (flute), Auwalu (duman  girke bongo drums) and Aliyu (gurmi, long-necked lute). I hope to upload a  small sampler of the CD (containing the first five minutes each of the main  tracks) to YouTube (check under my alias, zoborodo, and see what else I have  uploaded!). But this will be, insha Allah, next month (November) when I hope  to be in Cologne, Germany, and where the bandwidth is faster. When I do the  upload, I will post in this forum. Sorry, but I can't upload the Emirate or  Shantu CDs (see below) because they are copyrighted. But as I said, you can purchase them  online, and at Amazon you can actually purchase selected MP3 tracks only.  

The performances on this CD are revolutionary for three reasons: first,  instruments not used to being in concert with others (except perhaps the duman  girke) are combined together. I was a bit nervous initially because I insisted  that each instrument should be recorded ALONE. It was only later that we mixed  the three recordings together into the finished tracks (with of course makes  it possible to produce a second CD containing the original solo performances).  We deliberately did not want the musicians to be affected by the performances  of one another -- thus they were recorded individually. They were a bit  unsettled themselves because they are used to hearing each other -- so alone,  with only a headphone and being asked to play for as long as they can was new  to them. Thanks to Naziru Hausawa of Golden Goose Studios, Kano, Nigeria, for  this revolutionary strategy!

Secondly, the tracks are long - the main tracks lasting more than 14 minutes.  We stopped at 15 minutes simply because the recording studio was HOT! There  was no AC or fan! Otherwise my intention was to record each track for 35  minutes. This differs from the three to four minute track length of  traditional Hausa musics (with of course few exceptions either Bakandamiya or  some of Shata's longer expositions of on one person -- e.g. Habu Na Habu).  

Thirdly, there are no vocals at all on any of the tracks - unusual feat in  Hausa music which is vocal-focused; in fact Hausa music does not really exist  as such, it is more of Hausa poetry or vocal performance. Can anyone recall  the music or its significance in any of Shata's composition? Few, probably.  But everyone remembers the SONGS because of their poetic quality and  excellence. Well in Gari Ya Waye -- indicating a new direction for Hausa music  -- our focus is on showcasing the playing instruments and their harmony,  rather than the singing of anyone or what they will say in the songs.  

I presented this CD at the end of my presentation as an example of a proactive  strategy to preserve and SUSTAIN Hausa music -- I also played exercepts. I  went with 10 copies thinking maybe three or four people might be interested. I  was literally mobbed for all the 10, with more people asking for their copies!  Most of the audience have never heard music from Africa in this format! I also advocated another strategy of sustenance of Hausa traditional musics,  this is reproduction. Often you hear critics of Hausa traditional musics  saying that "it is dead" because the practitioners are dead. So are Beethoven, Mozart, Mahler, Bach, Stravinsky, Chopin and whole host of other classical composers. Yet their CDs are being produced every day -- CDs of the same symphonies, concertos, sonatas, etc. We could do the same with Jankidi's music -- reproducing it with young traditional musicians (who exist -- just attend the Wedding Fatiha of any "big man" in Kano, and you will see them). That way, we keep Jankidi forever in people's memory, just like Beethoven's Fifth Symphony remains everlasting in Europe.  

In order to be provide an institutional backing for all these proactive  measures, I also formed an NGO, Foundation for Hausa Performance Arts, which  hopefully will serve as an Africa nucleus of the Center for the Study of Music in the World Islam. I avoided government because I know I would be wasting my time. The NGO is composed of many local ethnomusicologists and researchers with a practical focus to solving community problems.  In additional to Alfijir CD, there are other exciting recordings that showcase the preservation of Hausa traditional musics. The first is a CD titled Nigéria. musique haoussa, traditions de l'Emirate de Kano, which was recorded in France after a festival, and features Nasiru Garba Supa, Dankaka Rogo, and women shantu musicians. It is available at Amazon for less than eight dollars.

The CD was a joint venture between Maison des Cultures du Monde and the Alliance Francaise, Kano. Ironic -- despite our resources, we had to rely on outsiders to preserve our heritage.  

The second CD is even more experimental than Alfijir. It is a FUSION music CD  -- the first in traditional music history. Some of you might remember a Music  Festival held December 2007, at Alliance Francaise, Kano, Nigeria. Well one of  the bands that performed that night was Mezcal Jazz Unit. This is a group of  four French jazz musicians who came for the festival, and later recorded a CD  with Shantu musicians. Shantu music is a female music performance using an  aerophone (shantu) made from a gourds. It is dying performance -- but thanks  to the Kano State History and Culture Bureau, it is kept alive in  international performances (alas, not national due to the various problems  that relate to public performances of music, especially by women). Here is the  description of the CD:

"Following their first meeting during the Nigerian Festival of Kano, the Kamfest 2008, French jazz group Mezcal Jazz Unit and traditional hausa group  Shantu met again in Kano for a joint project of musical creation. This creation  must be seen as a real bridge between the two cultures via both authentic and  peaceful exchanges, through music. Two cultures, two countries, one music! Mezcal Jazz Unit, whose identity is maintained by regular confrontation with  musical groups from all horizons, is one of the rare groups capable of  engaging in artistic collaborations so smooth and fluid that they appear  spontaneous. Their quartet is based on the clearly established principle of  openness, allowing for a continuous invitation of "jazz" and "non jazz"  artists. Shantu draw his inspiration from everyday life, aware of the  important role music plays in hausa society, where they often bring popular  aspirations before an enlarged audience. Consequently, they celebrate, turn by  turn, the big and the small events. To give rhythm to their words, they sit  right on the ground close to one another in a crescent, tapping long and  strange hollowed out and decorated calabashes called "shantus". In their songs,  the tone of the voice, in accordance with the themes and the target, conserves  its natural accent. Yet the two groups drink from the same spring of melodies, sometimes simple sometimes sophisticated, fragrance of past songs, melodies of  yesterday. "

Thus Shantu (the CD) provides a gender balance by addressing music performance  of women, and for women (men allowed, though!) -- a rare feat in traditional  society, especially considering that only Barmani Choge is still chugging it  out. It is available all over the place, but mainly at CDUniverse at about  $17, but at Amazon it is about $19. . You can actually watch some of the festival fusion 12 minute performance at Mezcal Jazz Unit invites SHANTU , or

These same Shantu musicians were actually invited to play at the Emirates  Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi on 1st October 2009 in preparation to the conference on  preservation of musical heritage. I was with them backstage and did some video  recordings as well as extensive interviews with them -- and Nasiru Garba Supa,  who also performed. I am planning to produce a short documentary on  preservation of traditional musical heritage through my production company,  Visually Ethnographic Productions. So watch this space!



Wa'alaika salam,

Welcome back aboard, Professor. I was under an impression or K-Onliners angered you and hence decided to leave us that way. Why? I think you'd been off board for nearly a year—in fact since get-2-gether. Any way, welcome back once again.

I read your well-written piece, though quite hastily but I grasped a lot; and learned huge. I am stunned especially at what transpired in U.A.E. That, alone, tells me there is still aesthetic taste and quality in our cultural inheritance.

That beside, I kind of feel displeased at your mentioning that the present sort of music we are jumping at listening to is not music; I then wonder what it is? And, I think Prof., you are among the supporters of those musician as you once said you very much liked particularly Billy-O's recordings, right? I would like to know what makes it doodling and not music?

And to the old-timers music, e.g. Shata, Jankidi, Choge and the rest; their being dead is rather ineluctable as they do not rhyme with nowadays people's interests and wants. Why? They are out-dated. And moreover, their artistic quality is mostly disregarded as out people nowadays usually care to understand whats being said in a song, while those contain praises and begging and worst using archaic diction. But with some sort of "resurrections", modernization and metamorphosis; this thing would once again be relived and even much better than before. Well regarding this, I see Prof. is doing a good job. More grease to your elbow.

I hope my reply makes sense. ::) Thanks ;D
Get to know [and remember] Allah in prosperity & He will know  [and remember] you in adversity.



Of course you make sense! The whole idea behind the posting is to generate discussion-whether on or offline,  and I am very happy you have started the trend. The issue of "modern" versus "old" or as you stated, "outdated" is rather complicated. But you seem to miss a vital point--wished you had read the whole posting more thoroughly, rather than "hastily" as you put it. Let me quickly rehash. Ludwig van Beethoven was born in December 1770 and died March 1827. He was a classical composer and one of the best the world has ever known. In all he composed nine symphonies, plus many other sonatas and concertos. His records are still being sold now, despite being dead for 182 years. His music -- and others like him -- are considered heritage not just of European civilisation, but of human race. Closer home to Africa, you cn see how even modern heritage musicians could survive in their works long after they are dead. Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Ali Farka Toure spring to mind. Heritage, Muhsin, is not about being dead or old or outdated. It is about preservation of encoded values. So sure, Jankidi and Shata and others are, to people of your perception outdated; but they are not useless because they encode a whole range of linguistic, cultural and performative aspects of community identities. They may not rhyme with today's teen brigade -- but try to accept the fact that there are quite a few human beings aged 30 and above, and many would probably prefer these dead and outdated musicians.

Hausa Modern music -- the fiyano synthesizer music so loved by Hausa youngsters -- is not music, but doodling of sound samples without any recourse to paritcular rules of composition. Its derivative roots in an alien (specifically Indian) culture could not give it the community responsibility the "outdated" music of Ali Makaho and others has.  Do you recall Raining Season by Billy-O? Well not many people do now -- it has already faded from memory, simply because it is not a music form meant to last, but meant to serve a particular aural pleasure and fade away. But no worry, the same thing happens to European pop music too -- unless it is seen as encoding a particular tradition, e.g. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones who refused to go away.

You raised the point of my relationship to modern musicians. Not being its fan does not mean I have to hate it!The scholar in me recognizes its significance as a contemporary phenomena. Don't forget, I am a media anthropologist -- so anything the Hausa do with media is of immense interest to me. So let me put it this way. I collect Nanaye as a preservative action -- for one day it will just disappear to be replaced by new forms. I made this mistake when the Hausa video film started. I ignored it to my cost, because we don't have the early tapes now to analyze the trend and see how it started. However, I don't listen to Nanaye as a matter of routine, not because it is not nice (there are very few instrumentalists among them who know the rules of composition and produce good output,e.g. Paul Eni and Naziru Hausawa) but because it is simply not music -- it is too vocalized; the instruments follow the melody of the voice, which is simply redundant -- a process called heterophony. But it is an opinion, and a matter of taste. If you like it and think it is the best, fine. Just don't force any genre down anyone's throat -- as Nanaye musicians are trying to do from the various interviews they have been giving. I for one would never insist that we should all listen to the dead and outdated musicians. I got this from my dad. When I was child we used to go to Musa Zamani Record store in Fagge, Kano, Nigeria, and purchase records. He would buy Narambada for himself, and James Brown for me. No hassle, no wahala!

If you noticed, I encouraged only modern musicians who can FUSE with traditional artists. There are many I did not even bother to contact during the various concerts with the British Council. And even then, including the modern musicians in my conerts was a way of acknowledging diversity in musical tastes and therefore appealing to younger ones --BUT showing them their heritage by marrying the modern sounds with traditional instruments. This has worked well in our experiments. As I said in the post Mezcal Jazz Unit of France has also done this with Shantu.

Thanks for the views, and keep them coming!



Quote from: Muhsin on October 13, 2009, 03:49:15 PM
And to the old-timers music, e.g. Shata, Jankidi, Choge and the rest; their being dead is rather ineluctable as they do not rhyme with nowadays people's interests and wants. Why? They are out-dated. And moreover, their artistic quality is mostly disregarded as out people nowadays usually care to understand whats being said in a song, while those contain praises and begging and worst using archaic diction. But with some sort of "resurrections", modernization and metamorphosis; this thing would once again be relived and even much better than before. Well regarding this, I see Prof. is doing a good job. More grease to your elbow.

I think Professor has not taken note of that bolded portion in Muhsin's post. I am too interested to hear what u have to say there. I kinda also assume may at times, those "out-dated" singers are like singing in undecipherable language.
Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if he or she were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness, and understanding you can muster, and do so with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.
— Og Mandino (Motivational Author & Speaker)


Thank you GoodFella for your observations also.

I thought I did answer Muhsin's observation -- by referring to the fact that I am focused on preservation of heritage. Ever wonder why people still bother to preserve ancient Egyptian writing? If we have discarded it as useless because no one understands it, then we would not have a civilization to refer to, would we? Ever wonder why Abubakar Imam's translations and rendering of Arabian and European literary texts into Magana Jari Ce still remains classical -- because the Hausa used in the translations reflect heritage Hausa-- and even if we don't understand it now, we would not want it to disappear in the clouds of literary modernity of GSM urbanized Hausa. A people without heritage are no-people. Heritage is not about being "hip" and "cool". It is not about azz-down hip hop trousers and 2Pac. It is not about hugging your iPod and miming to Beyonce. It is about identity. Whilst living in London ages ago, I have attended a Heavy Metal concert at Hammersmith Odeaon (Thin Lizzy), as well as a rendition of Beethoven's 5th Symphony at Chelsea Town Hall. Opposite ends of the musical divide -- but still co-existing. That is why I am trying to get at.

I did agree to the problem of praise-singing in traditional Hausa music, and it is for this reason that I formed Gari Ya Waye Ensemble -- three soloists performing instrumental music without any vocal -- whether praising or condemning. Just plain beautiful music. That is why I call it Improvisations in Hausa ART Music -- reflecting a changing perception that would see the musician as an artist, and more universal. Go to the World Music catalog of Amazon or CDUniverse and you will see where my experiments with Hausa traditional musics could fit in.

As said earlier, Beethoven has been dead -- and you can't be more outdated than dead! -- for more than 180 years; yet his music lives on. Why? Because it is heritage. It lives alongside Heavy Metal, Jazz, Hip Hop, Progressive Rock, Country, Reggae, etc. The stand taken by Muhsin, which reflects the increasing tendency in the north of Nigeria, is that the old musicians are dead -- let's bury them. The new musics are better than the old. If we go along this direction, we will end up with darkness behind us, without any reference point. So keep your Nanaye, glorify it, excel in it -- but be aware that it is just ONE genre out of many possible genres; our modern "musicians" (praise singers themselves mainly -- note the most outstanding of them are those who praise one politician or other; or condemn one politician or other) would seem to prefer us to to obliterate our past simply because it is gone.




These are very prompt and fascinating replies, Professor. My hat is off to you.

Well, saying my stand is akin to those who believe our music is dead and should be consigned into trash or even buried is quite a misinterpretation. And even if that is what it reflects, as you put it, is not actually what I am insinuating. I rather mean to say; although this sort of music is unfortunately fading away--almost dead--because of some immutable and ineluctable factors, for example its mainly composed using a terribly old-fashioned diction, it contains beggary and praising expressions, etc; Prof. gets lot to do to "reincarnate" it thus it'll fit and suit populace at least of this generation like myself.

But in doing that (above observation), one or two thing arise(s): first, are these old songs going to be re-sang by another singer, for instance Nasiru Garba Super to re-sing his father's songs using a different diction; or secondly the old records be re-recorded using modern instruments and facilities and if possible giving the old background music--Kalangu/shantu/kwarya/etc--a piano-synchronized one. I don't know how this could work-out . . . am just "thinking".

I also don't fancy Nanaye music very much. Just a few of these I like and appreciate listening to. The scenario of Billy-O's Rainy Season you gave aptly typified and summarized everything. But in either way, Professor, and I suppose you know; no matter how little there is taste and vitality therein those records--a few of them, at least. I in particular like Sadi Sidi Sharifai's songs--am afraid he too sings in Indian style but he gets voice, very crispy and tantalising. More-over, I agree that some of those dudes--Nanaye singers--are also transforming to praise-singing in rather stylish manner, for example Danladi Kima.

Lastly, I would really like to listen to your "improvised Hausa art music" sample. Thereafter I could understand what you are saying more and in a more practical situation.
Get to know [and remember] Allah in prosperity & He will know  [and remember] you in adversity.


Salam, particularly to Prof.
Your efforts are quite appreciateable and only posterity can tell the good things you have started. You have taken for yourself a giant work and a difficult one as I understand from the following quotation from your writing:

My argument for the preservation of Hausa traditional musics therefore  revolved around the strategy of transforming the genre. By "transforming" I  mean dislocating it from its standard perception of "roko" praise-singing, and  elevating it to a start of artistic expression. Doing this requires  a  revolutionary approach that needs a whole range of skills.

...there are no vocals at all on any of the tracks - unusual feat in  Hausa music which is vocal-focused; in fact Hausa music does not really exist  as such, it is more of Hausa poetry or vocal performance. Can anyone recall  the music or its significance in any of Shata's composition? Few, probably.  But everyone remembers the SONGS because of their poetic quality and  excellence. Well in Gari Ya Waye -- indicating a new direction for Hausa music  -- our focus is on showcasing the playing instruments and their harmony,  rather than the singing of anyone or what they will say in the songs.

The probem is attitudinal and it will be a long range of battles to be able to change the attitude of our people, particularly with  alot of religious perceptions, squabble and wrangling like the Boko Haram and a lot more others. The love for musical tones per se has not been institutionalised in our mindset and so its composition. The ones that are accidental might as well die out, even the palace music may gradually and eventually go with time. What we endear is the vocal aspect of it as you stated above... music is not revered in our culture but the vocal aspect. To change the mindset of our people is not a simple revolutionary task and nor is it a easy evolutionary task either. No one, even among the Old Brigade will listen to a traditional music only for the love of it without the vocal text for thirty minutes, no matter how appealing it is. For example Shata's songs are loved for the vocal texts not for their musical quality and in fact there has never been a performance where his Kalangu artist play the sound of the Kalangu for its quality of to five minutes without the Shata's vocal text. What we appreciate is only the text of the songs. To make a Hausa man create a niche for music alone is to change him from what he is if it would, it will be another paradigm in the History of Hausa people.Nevertheless it is worth trying at least some percentage of the Hausa population will appreciate it.
A lazy youth is definitely a begging adult! Bata hankalin Dare ka yi suna!: Fas'alu ahalil zikri, inkuntum la ta'alamun!