©Fred Onovwerosuoke, August 1998. All rights reserved.

AFRICAN MUSIC: FAQS AND MYTHS
Lessons learned from the African Tour
(concluding page)

Why do you let white people sing in your choir?

Wynton Marsalis, Awadagin Pratt, Kathleen Battle, Marian Anderson, Jersey Norman, Grace Bumbry, Yo Yo Ma, Christopher Oyesiku, Midori,... the list is long! Any of these names familiar? Most of them have to be! They all are non-white, world-class, musicians who have earned international respect and made outstanding gains in classical music.

I think it is a philosopher who said that knowledge and shared experiences lead to mutual understanding. People will continue to perpetuate their stereotypes about you, if you exclude them from participating in those cultural activities that elucidate your uniqueness. Let white, green, yellow, red people participate freely in African and African-derived art forms; in fact, go out of your way to invite non-Africans to take part in your programs. Their appreciation of who you are, and of your cultural heritage will increase tremendously. On a lighter note, if you debar non-Africans from participating in your art forms, some of them will steal it, anyway, and will eventually write thesis and volumes to prove that it is theirs!

Lemma

The gains and entertainment derived from African influences, though grossly unacknowledged and often mis-credited, are apparent in every facet of American, European and neo-European life styles and industry. The Voice of African Music believes that the aesthetic values and moral messages learned from African music and art forms can enrich our urban communities.

Perhaps, if we all (teachers, administrators, policy makers, entertainers, presenters, etc.) could help design a fair system that preserves, nurtures, accentuates, and acknowledges the rich components of our individual contributions to the cultural mix, we would be helping future generations to build a better society. Our children and their children’s children will be more cognizant, appreciative and receptive of each other’s cultural heritage.

I theorize that Euro-American and neo-European thought dominate modern thought, not only because of the overwhelming number of writers and volumes of literature from this part of the world, but also, because of the intentional and unintentional perpetuation of ideologies aimed at maintaining the dominance of one group’s culture at the expense of the continued enslavement or eradication of others.

Of course, we all share the blame for the current imbalance. Inaction, passivity, or conformity by many African and Diaspora-African academia and artists contribute to our travails. Not to talk of those Africans and Afro-Americans who, in blind obeisance, willingly subject themselves to total acculturation or cultural assimilation.

As a result, books on balancing ideologies have either been too few, inexhaustibly researched, uncompelling, or have been totally ignored or suppressed by the highly suffocating air of today’s organized market forces.

School administrators and teachers in America are still oblivious about how to define African art forms; so rather than expose their ignorance by trying to teach them, they are excluded from our curriculum or, at best, glossed over in our classrooms. (Occasionally, some resources are allocated to promote African American events, as if by so doing they would have filled this invaluable void.)

In public and private institutions that fund arts and cultural programs, many administrators have no plans in place to research or educate themselves about how best to support minority arts. They will readily dole out big cash to support organizations that repeatedly perform art forms that continue to emphasize neo-European lifestyles and cultures. But when it comes to funding minority arts, excuses and questions abound! Are this organization’s programs worthwhile? What benefit are they to the community? Is the organization relevant to our society? Why do they want so much money? Their budget is unrealistic! Why should we allocate so much money to Organization ‘X’ when it is doing the ‘same thing’ as Organization ‘Y’? Questions, excuses and more questions!

Is it ignorance, or deliberate plan to maintain the status quo? Is it lack of understanding or continued perpetuation of the cultural dominance of one group over others? -F.O.

Footnotes & Bibliography

1. Richard Watermann, African Influence on the Music of the Americas
2. Grout & Palisca, A History of Western Music, 5th Ed., Norton & Co., Inc., 1996
3. Gioseffo Zarlino, a 16th Century Venetian composer who established the Diatonic Scale
4. Pythagoras experimented with intervals in about 6th Century B.C.
5. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Decolonizing the Mind, Heinemann Educational Books, 1986
6. Ashenafi Kebede, Roots of Black Music, African World Press, Inc., 1995

©Fred Onovwerosuoke, August 1998. All rights reserved.

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