UNITED WE STAND 
by Akin Euba

October 2000. All rights reserved

After reading the article "Classical Music No Longer Fits Into a Profit Driven, Cynical Record Industry" by John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune Music Critic, and the article, "Keeping Score" by Bradley Bambarger, which was kindly sent to Fred Onovwerosuoke and me by Jill Richards, I was inclined to write to all Consortium members to address some of the issues raised in these two publications.

The bleak picture painted by von Rhein is a useful lesson to us in this Consortium.

1. His article is a reminder that there is no one out there to help us and that we can only survive by our own efforts. Our individual efforts, when combined and coordinated, can become a powerful force to reckon with in the music industry. The power of the musicians of Africa and the Diaspora to determine their own future can simply never be overestimated. We need to remember how strong we are, not only because it will help us to avoid intimidation but also to have the courage and confidence to confront and explore the unknown. We have the brains and the talents necessary to extend the boundaries of creative, performance and scholarly achievement in music but if we lack the will, confidence and courage necessary, we will never be able to realize our potential.

I stress the exploration of the unknown because this is partly where power lies. By this I do not mean the power to control and dominate others, but the power to make our own choices and to build up our own resources and make them available to fellow musicians on an equitable basis. Exploring the unknown includes not only writing new music that is better and more original than that written by those whom we today recognize as the great masters (be they African, Asian, European or American) but also by doing down-to-earth chores such as finding marketing channels for our own products, even when all the traditional channels are either inaccesible or blocked. We need to develop the kind of imagination and creativity that enables us to succeed in gaining access even when the traditional approaches fail.

2. ICMAD was initiated at the right time and not a moment too soon. The challenges facing us demand the kind of formidable resources that ICMAD can command, if we are prepared to give it our commitment and energy.

3. I would like us to concentrate at this point on maximizing our grassroots potentials, while aspiring towards building superstructures in future. We cannot afford to wait until superstructures are in place before we compete for our rightful space in the music industry. From this perspective, the achievement of the St Louis African Chorus in staging the American premiere of CHAKA should be seen as a major milestone. We did it! We did it !! We managed to stage an opera without having even the basic resources that opera companies take for granted !!!

4. We must remember that our primary audience are the people of Africa and the Diaspora and we need to engage the interest of this audience. This we cannot do unless we use a language that they understand. I know that some of you my fellow composers may disagree with this because some of us seem to have adopted the absolutely unrealistic attitude of our Western colleagues by writing music that is not audience-friendly. (I must admit that I am also guilty of this by the way, but am very much committed to working to develop a language of composition that will make my music accessible to audiences in Africa and the Diaspora.) Music needs to communicate and a GOOD composer should be able to communicate in any idiom, whether popular or unpopular. I do not subscribe to the idea that only music in a difficult idiom can be lofty. By the way, it was only comparatively recently that composers in the West became detached from their audiences. The music of Bach was quite accessible to the average German church goer and he used the chorale as an effective means of mobilizing popular support for his music. Furthermore, Mozart and Haydn two of the pillars of the classical era, wrote music that average persons could understand.

Think of the potential income that the huge populations of Africa and the Diaspora could generate for our musicians, if only we are ready to address these populations !

Please bear in mind also that the big names in the Western musical avant-garde have managed to finance their projects not through people power but through grants. Many of these projects are unviable without grants. Since we do not have access to these grants (and let's face it, we do not) we need to turn to the people for support.

5. The successes of the symposium on African pianism (which took place in Pittsburgh in October 1999), of the CIMA symposium in London in April this year, and of the American premiere of CHAKA in St Louis in May have been possible only through your commitment and support and demonstrate that even greater things are possible in the future if we maximize our efforts and potential. In view of this, I would urge that we rally round the FESAAM 2001 project, the Namibia project and all other projects lined up through the year 2006. Let us give every single event, project or idea our full support and encouragement.

6. Our frustrations are apparent. In spite of energetic efforts, the establishment continues to ignore us. But we can and should always counter it by counting our blessings. We have indeed made great strides in the last few years in the promotion of the composers of Africa and the Diaspora. The pace of this development is indeed marvelous and things are happening today that I did not dream would happen so soon. I have always believed that our time will come, basing my predictions on the history of the literature of Africa and the Diaspora. For example, in the 1960s, English departments in African universities had time only for Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare etc. They had no space for important, up-and-coming African writers, even of the caliber of Wole Soyinka. The whole picture changed through the efforts of dedicated workers (such as, I am proud to say, exist in ICMAD) and suddenly there was a boom. In Africa, the major publishing houses created special series for African writers, a number of Western scholars who had previously regarded modern African writers with contempt suddenly became professors of African literature overnight. The rest is history and today there are no less than four African Nobel laureates.

When I feel frustrated, I only need to remember the history of modern African literature and once again I regain a positive attitude with renewed conviction that, sooner or later, the composers will achieve the same kind of recognition as the writers.


Akin Euba is Andrew Mellon Professor of
Music at the University of Pittsburgh, PA.

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