Made in Nigeria, Certified in the West
Following a question I posed to Tunde Jegede, composer and Musical Director of the MUSON Centre, Lagos, after his mini concert accompanying the screening of Art and Truth, I couldn’t help but replay his answer over and over again in my head. During the question and answer session, a previous query had prompted him to tell us about his audition at the Royal College of Music in England, where he played the kora to the astonishment of the judges. They referred to the instrument as a ‘thing’ and would not accept it because it was not recognized by their standards. He was urged to present himself as a cellist and to regard the kora as an instrument he only played for fun as a hobby. His refusal to accept this position cost him the admission.
I then went on to ask him why the West often shunned African artistic achievements, or regarded us as somewhat second class in that regard. His answer was simple. In a nutshell, he was of the opinion that this is often the case because Africans have failed to put a value to their own arts and culture, so they should not expect others to value them favorably, compared to theirs.
On our artistic landscape, though we have the AMAA awards and the Etisalat Prize for literature, they are relatively recent and pale in comparison to more prestigious international awards like the Oscars for film, the Grammys for music, and the Man Booker for literature. This is probably why, even after winning some of our domestic awards, Nigerian artists and writers still remain largely ignored domestically until they achieve international acclaim.
Our attitude of apathy towards the intellectual achievements of our artists and writers has left us seemingly in shortage of great minds while we constantly wait on the West to decide which of them is valuable to our culture. One can only imagine what platform Wole Soyinka or Chimamanda Adiche would have to speak on, if not for their international accolades. Artists like the late Ben Enwonwu and Bruce Onobrakpeya, without a doubt compete with the best of their foreign counterparts, but in Africa their names and achievements are limited to a smaller circle of enthusiasts.
If Africa is to stand any chance of being seen as a serious contender in the culture market place, we must first attach more value to our culture that doesn’t require foreign approval to be appreciated domestically. This means we need to invest heavily in the arts and artists to make the field attractive and widely respectable. It may not be a coincidence that Far East Asia, the Middle East, India, and the West (America and Europe) appear to be somewhat culturally superior on a global scale, because domestically, each region pays the utmost respect to their thinkers and artists from as early as they have been known to exist.
From the treatment of African ancestral religions as present day idolatry, we can start to see how disconnected the average African is from appreciating his history. There is a need for the African continent to review her history and cultural contribution to enable her people adopt a mindset that rejects the notion that they are somehow placed in an inferior cultural position, in need of foreign certification or approval.
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