Saturday, October 27, 2007

The 85th good thing about Lagos: A cultural experience with music and dance from the Kanuri tribe

Last night's performance at the Muson Centre was a big contrast to the performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony the night before. For this evening of "Indigenous Social Music" they brought down some musicians and dancers from the Kanuri tribe which is the dominant ethnic group of Bornu state in northeastern Nigeria. For this event, the hall was set up with tables and when we arrived, on each chair were 2 tote bags with cans of evaporated milk -- a gift from the sponsor of the event -- an unexpected bonus to our evening. While waiting for the event to begin (things there seem to always start a half hour late) we had a nice chat with the chairman of the Muson board. The program had some interesting background information on the Kanuri tribe. The Kanuri are Muslim and they do have their own language, though most also speak Hausa, which is the most common language spoken in northern Nigeria. They are "sedentary hoe agriculturalists. " Millet is the staple food crop, followed by guinea corn (sorghum). Ground nuts (peanuts) are grown for sale. "Social relations in Kanuri society are generally patterned upon those of the idealized family, the most common being the father-son/superior-subordinate relation. A man's prestige is based on the size of his household and the number of his patron-client relationships." The paragraph that got my attention was this: "The preferred marriage for a man is to a young virgin, 10-14 years of age. But this is a very expensive form of marriage, and most men cannot afford it as a first marriage when they are themselves usually in their late teens to mid-twenties. The more common first marriage is to a divorcee, for whom the bride wealth payments are much lower. Marriage between cousins also reduces the required bride-price. In case of divorce, children stay with the father." Remember, Muslims can have more than one wife. This doesn't sound like my idea of the "idealized family!" I'm glad I'm not a female in this ethnic group!

The music consisted of a man playing the "algaita" which they call a flute. It sounded like it had a reed, but I'm not exactly sure exactly how the sound was produced. The guy playing it was amazing because he had a circular breathing kind of technique and he could keep the sound going continuously for a really long time -- like 10 minutes without a break! I wish I had timed his first set. He puffed out his cheeks like Dizzy Gillespie. The second set had some elements that sounded kind of jazz-like. He was accompanied by four drummers who beat on their drums with sticks. Each music bit went on a bit longer than my ears would have chosen, but it was interesting to hear this native music. In between sets, the waiters brought us out drinks: a rich milk drink, bottled water, and a fruit juice drink that was very different. They also brought some native food -- fried plantain and yam and potato. We all tried it, but it was so heavily fried that a taste was enough. The dancers in the second half were performing "Maliki dance," which is a popular dance style of the Kanuri people. The program said, "It was performed by princes and princesses of Kanem Borno Empire but today, it has become more universal in terms of people who perform it. It still retains elements of royalty as demonstrated by the measured movements of the dancers. Originally the dance was performed during social occasions like installation and turbaning ceremonies of traditional rulers." The dances were not complicated or really energetic, but the dancers really seemed to be having fun. They all had big smiles on while they were dancing.

A really interesting part of the evening involved 3 tables of men in the audience that were obviously from the Kanuri tribe. In the first set, the flutist came off stage and played in front of them and several of these men responded by tucking large stacks of money inside his costume. In the second half, when the dancers were on the stage, a number of these men came up on the stage and, after waving a kind of blessing to the performers, they went around the stage dropping money around each of them. They would touch the bill to the performer's foreheard and then let the money drop to the floor. They were shelling out a LOT of money, which was then gathered up by some stage hand. I hope I'll be able to upload a video of that here. We didn't bring stacks of money to give to the performers, but we did give them lots of applause. It would have been even better to see the performance in a real-life setting in a village, but these musicians and dancers traveled for 2 days to Lagos to perform for us, so I'm glad that they were willing to face the hazards of the road. For our 500 naira entrance fee ($4) we got 24 cans of evaporated milk, (some of which we gave to our driver), food and drink, and a cultural experience.

I love how my camera responded to the low light levels in the room and these photos came out looking like paintings.

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

Wow! What an interesting concert! I love the videos too- thanks for sharing them with us. I enjoyed hearing your take on the orchestra concert too. It's true, music is a powerful thing. Last night's stake conference had a musical number after every speaker and it really brought the Spirit into the meeting. I hope we get to talk sometime today!