The last two decades of 20th century Lagos were adventurous, enlightening and entertaining. On television: the Bar Beach Show with Art Alade; the Village Headmaster with Kabiyesi, Chief Eleyinmi, Amebo, Sisi Clara, and my personal favourite, Bassey Okon (chai chai chai) JAB Adu; the ground breaking Winds Against my Soul, Cockrow At Dawn and Checkmate; while Icheoku, Samanja and Masquerade further enriched our viewing experience all on the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA – “Africa’s largest television network”.
Not even the rainbow bars could hold us back; we would start ‘watching’ those bars until the programmes started at 4p.m. with the national anthem which also ended transmission at midnight. Sesame Street, Love Boat, Space 1999 and Soul Train with Don Cornelius. Then came the great game changer: Lagos Television, LTV, with its pioneering round the clock broadcasting on weekends and its Chariots of Fire signature tune – what a wonderful time.
The music scene was no different either with many a superstar and mega hit: the old brigade of Fela, Obey, Sunny, Okosun, Uwaifo, d Coque; the new army of Bright Chimezie, Kris Okotie, Jide Obi, Dizzy K Falola, Onyeka Onwenu, Alex O, Majek Fashek, Evi Edna Ogholi, Blackky, Mike Okri, and Christy-Essien Igbokwe; and the choral groups such as Steve Rhodes Voices, the (Prof.) Laz Ekwueme Chorale among others – the list was virtually endless. This was a period of quality music with opening, heart and ending; strong chorus lines and great live performances; positive values-laden lyrics and compelling stories.
A few nights ago, our sixteen year old son asked why Asa’s music was always a favourite of music reality show contestants but without a matching visibility and commercial success. I pointed him to a few others like Timi Dakolo whose music may, ironically, outlive the more commercially successful. Our society prefers the commonplace temporary euphoria – a reflection of our state of being. And someone will rightly point to the chicken and egg debate: should our Art point us out of our doldrums or should our doldrums define (imprison) our Art?
The story tellers, in spinning their tales from the past, create new vistas for the future. The creative power that comes with and from the Arts in many instances laid the foundations for science. Ideas from writers’ imaginations provide the impetus for the scientists’ realities. Imagination becomes reality or at least imagination creates reality, ‘it could be’ turns to ‘it is’; and ‘why not’ to ‘how’. This interplay has continually been the path for many breakthroughs in history. Think about it: what you see in books and dramas presage reality.
The Arts, both performing and literary, have always been reflective of civilization. In other words, the quality of life and development of any society can be predicated on and predicted by its production of, appreciation for, and consumption of that which is called the ‘finer art of living’.
Whether it is the Ottoman, Persian, Byzantine, Mongolian, Roman, Babylonian or the more recent English empire, society’s integral core has always revolved around the art of investigating, communicating, mirroring, celebrating, and correcting society through the Arts including music, literature and drama. Progressive societies have the wisdom to protect and empower the Arts in keeping in touch with the conscience and thus helping keep their heads above water for a better tomorrow.
And this is where, as a society, we seem to have lost focus or even total direction. The Arts, literature and theatre, have detoured to the banal and popular than the edifying and enriching. If it is not scantily-clad young women, it is the substance-abusing punk culture and the wealth-by-all-means mania. The media is awash with sex, overt and direct; the sensational and the controversial and very little of the educative and enlightening. Just take a look at the front page stories of our “News” papers. Everywhere you turn, it is to the pedestrian, vulgar and destructive that we are summoned.
In this putrid atmosphere, the recent news of the Sir Emeka Nwokedi-led Lagos City Chorale winning three gold medals at the International Music Festival and Competition in Magdeburg, Germany is heart-warming. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Competing with choirs from thirty-five countries across the five continents, the Lagos City Chorale brought to the global platform some of our positives – dress culture, music, and folklore. This feat ought to be celebrated and utilized as a touchstone of sorts to galvanise us forward as a society the way only the Arts can. It is a call for us all to touch base with the finer aspects of life and living and flee the banal and destructive, both to the individual as much as the society.
Institutional and personal brands that care about our continuous descent into the negatives need to help us celebrate this positive – and indeed all positives. This is especially so now that we are in an oasis in the desert situation, a ‘water everywhere but none healthy enough to drink’ environment. Out of the plenty rubbish, we must aggressively identify and isolate the decent and thereby rebuild our communal consciences and consciousness. We must engineer a change in our attitudes and life choices to see the Change we desire.
In concluding, I find myself ruminating over “what is Lagos about Lagos City Chorale”? Indeed, what is it about Lagos that produces many excellent things? Is it the name, the people, the population, the mix, the structures, or…? There is a documentary titled “Lagos, Hub of Music” produced by The Spirit of Lagos initiative which shows that many who have made a major mark in music both in Nigeria and West Africa have been impacted by Lagos. Most likely, this is also true for the Arts generally. Prof. Oko Obono of the University of Ibadan has also done some research on Lagos and Lagosians which should be utilized to further build the true ‘Spirit of Lagos’. We need to articulate that attitude which enables so many great people and ventures out of Lagos. Lagos has a ‘soul’ and ‘heart’. When we mine and mind the city’s essence we can then consciously fan them so Lagos, and by extension Nigeria, produces, consistently, world beaters.