Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The 238th good thing about Lagos: once in a while, some great musical performances

When we lived in Houston, I was enjoyed participating in the musical culture of the city and would frequently attend concerts, as well as performing with the Houston Symphony Chorus.  That is one of the things I miss most about my life in Houston.  But sometimes there are opportunities here to attend performances that compare to the best of what I've heard in the States. 

The Musical Centre of Nigeria (the Muson Centre) is usually the venue for artists that are sponsored by some business or embassy and the concerts are usually free or at very low cost -- less than $13.  They do need to improve their PR, because the concerts are really poorly publicized and, therefore, usually poorly attended.  Recently I went to a concert there which had been advertised as a string quartet from South Africa.  I went, expecting classical music.  But I was equally pleased to hear a really great jazz quartet:  piano, violin, percussion and a vocalist.  Singing was Melanie Scholtz with the Buskaid Soweto String Project.  They were really wonderful!  I've included some clips so you can hear a bit.

Melanie has a smoky, velvety voice and each instrument did some killer improvisations.

They played some original music and also some classics, like "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess.

Tonight was a thrilling performance by the 24 year old Czech pianist Lukas Vondracek.  He was one of the most talented pianists I have ever heard perform live.  He played one of the pieces which he had performed last year for the Van Cliburn Competition, where he received a Jury Discretionary Award.  He recently won the Hilton Head International Piano Competition in the US, and will perform a concert in Carnegie Hall next month as part of his award.  It was such a shame that his appearance here was so poorly publicized.  When the concert started there were only a handful of people there.  More trickled in during the performance, but there were still less than 50 by the time he finished.  And it was a free performance -- I'm sure that won't be the case in Carnegie Hall next month!  I felt badly that he had such a small audience, but it was kind of nice that it was so intimate. 

You can listen to a good recording of some of the Smetana Czech Dances that he played by following the link to the Van Cliburn Competition above.  Below is a bit of the Rachmaninoff he played.

He was joined by "his partner," a Taiwanese pianist who is also studying at the New England Conservatory of Music.  Yu-Chien Shih played a Chopin piece and also joined him playing some of the Dvorak Slavonic Dances for 4 hands. 

I left the concert with my musical soul purring with contentment.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The 237th good thing about Lagos: the American School celebrates Nigeria's culture

It was Nigerian Cultural Day at the American School this week and I stopped over there for some culture and to do a little shopping because there are great prices from the vendors they allow to come there.
 They had a beautiful cake on display celebrating the anniversary.

And they had lots of displays of traditional Nigerian food.  I had a sampling of roasted yam for the first time (those are their big yams in the basket in the picture on the right).  It was palatable, though as bland as I had expected it to be.

 And there were tables with women explaining the different Nigerian foods, which was very helpful.
 The kola nut is used ceremonially as the traditional offering to a chief, but it has also been used in many West African cultures medicinally and to ease hunger pangs, because it has a high caffeine content.

Palm oil was the biggest Nigerian export and source of income before the discovery of oil here. 
I had seen the fruit before,

but I found it interesting to see the plant that the palm kernels come from.
 This young woman was dressed as a bride from Cross River State.

These girls were dressed for a festival in Calabar.

And, of course, it's impossible to have a celebration of Nigerian culture without some drumming and dancing!

The 236th good thing about Lagos: 50 years of independence and 50 years of American women

Happy Nigerian Independence Day!  It's been 50 years since the British handed  the country's rule back to the Nigerians.  When I was asking my driver what kind of official activities were planned for today, he said that many people felt that there shouldn't be any celebrating because the country has not improved in 50 years.  Sadly, some militants agreed violently with this, as there were car bombs set off today in Abuja, the capital, near the official celebrations attended by Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria's president.  8 people were killed and 21 injured.  In a CNN report on today's violence, Nigeria's Information minister said that "whatever happened, we were able to have a successful celebration."  I kind of wonder how many would have to have been killed to make the celebration unsuccessful.  But we had fireworks visible from our balcony at midnight last night ushering in the holiday, and there's been more fireworks tonight and I hear partying going on outside.  So some Nigerians are managing to celebrate despite their country's failings. We gave our driver the day off to celebrate with his family, so we've had a quiet day at home.

This last week there was celebrating with the American Women's Club.  We had our annual membership tea, where we celebrated the beginning of the 50th year of the club in Lagos.  We had balloons celebrating the years....
A Navy band -- a quartet of saxophonists played some background music...
And I accompanied on piano a duo of cellists playing the US and Nigerian National anthems.  It's wonderful to have two great American cellists here -- and hearing the National Anthem on the cello was a new experience for me.
There was food and visiting among the women present at the garden party.
I neglected to get a picture of our new US Consul General's wife, Kathleen.  It was a pleasure to meet her and her husband, Joe Stafford.  They will both be a great asset to the American community here in Lagos.  She gave a very interesting introduction to her husband before he spoke to the women present, telling about their experiences together in the US Foreign Service. 

 I was fascinated to hear that his first assignment with the Foreign Service was in Iran and they were there in 1979 when the embassy was taken over.  They were able to escape with a few other American diplomats and were hidden by the Canadians for several months before they were able to secretly escape from Iran.  I found this interesting article online telling how the Canadians helped the US diplomats through this trial.  I can't imagine what a tense time that would have been!  Hopefully their experiences in Nigeria won't remind them of those months of hiding.  The planned National Day celebrations at the American Club here in Lagos tonight were cancelled out of caution after the Abuja bombings earlier in the day and Americans in the country were urged to stay home.  Let's hope for progress for Nigeria in the next 50 years and a lot less violence!