By Osa Amadi, Arts Editor
Nigeria’s Super Eagles last week Friday gave the Nigerian Arts and Culture Corps in Russia the much awaited confidence to swing into full action doing what they are in Russia to do – promotion of the winning spirit inherent in the Nigerian culture.
Although full support and motivation by the arts and culture troupes for the boys who had lost to Croatia in their opening match had continued underground, the arts and culture corps being more calculating and not pedestrian in character, had been restraining in fully launching their campaign to avoid making much ado about nothing and embarrassing the country in the event that the boys lost to Iceland. But now that the Nigerian boys have testified to that culture of winning spirit built into the Nigerian culture, the Nigerian arts and culture corps in Russia 2018 have set up their tools and are already at work.
And it could not have been otherwise. In all Public Relations efforts, good performance by the company has always been the raw material PR managers need to promote the image of that company otherwise the PR efforts degenerate to propaganda. The Super Eagles have provided that needed raw material for the culture and arts gurus, and now the campaign is on.
For the arts and culture corps, it does not matter whether the Super Eagles beat Argentina or not (although we hope and pray they win). Even the best team can lose. The Super Eagles have already showcased the persevering spirit of Nigerians, and that’s what the arts and culture corps need for their job in Russia 2018.
Thanks, Super Eagles for making our journey from home to Russia a worthwhile endeavour. Thanks for making us stand tall and proud before our fellow arts and culture intellectuals from other countries as we meet and work with them.
The role of arts and culture in Russia 2018
Different people are here in Russia for different reasons. Some came to see good football. Some came with the teams of their countries and with high expectations to win. Some are here for business, while some are here for pleasure. Still, there is a category that came to meet people, and whenever people meet at an international event like the FIFA World Cup, it is also a meeting of arts and culture.
Blessed are those who came to Russia to see good football, meet people and interact with their cultures for they shall find pleasure and perhaps even happiness.
Unfortunately, out of those who came to Russia with restless hopes of winning the cup, only a few, very few shall be satisfied, because there will be only one winner of the cup.
Some people have asked me about the relevance of arts and culture to football. First, arts and culture provides the music of the tournament, and arts and culture writers like us provide the intellectual powerhouse needed in giving definitions, articulations, and meanings to the global event beyond football. Football, besides being a game, is also an ideological tool that can shape economy, politics, and culture.
Traditionally, and even in modern day soldiering, warriors in battlefields cannot do without songs and singers that “make them mad and turn their bodies to steel.” In many African cultures, especially among Igbos, warriors go to battles with master singers and griots. The moment the master singers begin certain songs, the songs will trigger emotions that cause the warriors to foam in the mouth. At that point, the warriors are no longer ‘humans’; the songs transform them into spirits and banish all fears in them.
The legendary Enugu Rangers International FC knew about this psycho-spiritual strategy and exploited it to the fullest. “The moving traditional Igbo songs we sang before a match,” recounted Dominic Nwobodo, former Rangers Int’l FC player, “with either Okwodibia or Anaedobe (master singers) leading those motivating sublime songs, the players are transformed at that point from mere human beings to assume the overwhelming performances of the gods. Adorned in immaculate white, the Rangers FC dancing squad is ready to battle, Win or Die!”
Another former Rangers International, Luke Okpala (Jazz Bukana) corroborates Dominic’s testimony regarding the magic and efficacy of songs in football tournaments: “It was through songs by Joe Aniedobe that I knew why some soldiers go to the warfront and fight as if their bodies were bullet-proofed. When Joe sang for us inside our bus on our way to the football field, players came out from the bus fully charged and roaring to go.”
Moreover, Clemens Westerhof, arguably the best national coach of Super Eagles ever, had associated the football prowess of Igbo boys to their skills in dancing Atilogwu, Eji-Onu and Nkpokiti traditional music. “Those boys are natural football players,” said Westerhof, for it is in their culture. The way they dance Atilogwu, Eji-Onu, and Nkpokiti is the way they play football.
At international level, the close affinity between arts, culture and football is also recognised. Arwa Haider, writing about this relationship says “the Beautiful Game traditionally has a song in its heart. Football and music summon a combined power that heightens the senses, creates tribal identities, and flaunts theatricality and wit.”
On the other hand, Craig G Pennington, creative fanzine editor, and curator of the new multi-media exhibition, The Art of Football, also observes that “football and music are completely entrenched in a sense of place and subculture. Communal singing definitely plays a role in bringing large groups of people together. There’s also a unique cultural and sporting history in a city like Liverpool, which is completely immersed in football and music.”
Arwa Haider recognises that the primal force of communal singing applies to the players as well as the fans. He cites a study recently published in the European Journal of Sport Science which suggests that footballers who ardently sing their national anthems are more likely to win matches. The researcher, Matthew Slater, in that study argues that “it is what passionate renditions represent that is crucial – the strength of connection with and enthusiasm for the group.”
Perhaps there is no confirmation of the relationship between music and football stronger than that proffered by Professor Steven Mithen, author of The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body: “Football chants are a very sophisticated activity. They come from a point in our evolutionary past before language when we used music and chanting and dance to bond as social groups.”
There is also folklore at play in football songs, says UK Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion. “Football chanting is a kind of animal, impulsive instinct… chanting is a reminder of a basic pleasure from childhood: that of rhyme and repeating words in a playground. But there’s also a sense that chants can make you powerful, can make you sort of neuter the opposition.”
Think about it, writes Haider, “The FIFA World Cup has produced at least one official anthem for each tournament since 1962; the inaugural track came from Chilean band, The Ramblers, playing the jaunty rock’n’roll groove of El Rock del Mundial. English has generally tended to be the lingua franca of football songs (and arguably the most enduringly cool World Cup hit single remains New Order’s England squad song for Italia ’90, (World In Motion) – although there are increasingly multi-lingual exceptions in the digital era.”
The closest example of this relationship in discourse is Nigeria’s Olamide and Phyno on their Super Eagles theme, Road 2 Russia (Dem Go Hear Am).
Music is key to the art of football, says Pennington. He refers to the exhibition in Brazil titled Disco Socrates, named after the legendary Brazilian attacking midfielder, not the ancient Greek philosopher. “We have Nigeria, France, Egypt and Iran represented in artists and DJs,” says Pennington. “It’s taking a look at the power that music and football have to effect change and be a force for good.”
All these show the close affinity football has with arts and culture. Stay tuned to Vanguard’s Arts & Reviews as we continue to bring to you, direct from Russia, the best arts and cultural aspects of Russia 2018.