By Osa Mbonu, Arts Editor
An international symposium and concert in honour of Professor Akin Euba was held from January 16–18, 2019. It was jointly sponsored by the Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos and The Musical Society of Nigeria, MUSON. The symposium which witnessed series of paper presentations and panel discussions took place near the University of Lagos while the concert was at the Agip Recital Hall, MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos.
It was all in celebration of Professor Akin Euba’s contribution to Africanist music scholarship and growth of African art. He introduced the concept of African Pianism to theorize the ways in which composers could use the Western pianoforte compositionally to reinterpret the structural and performance features of African music. He also coined and popularized the term, creative ethnomusicology, to conceptualise the relationship between ethnographic research and musical composition.
For many years, Akin Euba edited a newsletter, directed a research centre, and organised an inter-continental symposium series to explore the significance of interculturalism in musical composition and performance. His works include numerous academic publications and compositions such as his book, Yoruba Drumming and Chaka, an opera in two chants which was recorded by the City of Birmingham Touring Opera in UK and conducted by Simon Halsey in 1999.
Professor Akin Euba, who retired in 2011, lives in the United States where he has continued to be active. In 2014, his latest book, J.H. Kwabena Nketia – Bridging Musicology and Composition – A Study in Creative Musicology, was published by the Music Research Institute.
This special event in honour of Professor Akin Euba was conceived to celebrate the remarkable achievements of a man who has mentored many scholars and musicians within and outside Africa, and whose works are invaluable academic and creative resources for students, scholars and composers.
The three-day symposium and concert attracted scholars and lovers of art music from U.S, UK, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria and other countries. Keynote speakers included Professor Kofi Agawu, a Hughes-Rogers professor of music, Princeton University, USA. His paper was: On the interrogative potential of (African) art music; George Worlasi Kwasi Dor, who presented a paper titled: Transformative power in Akin Euba’s ‘creative ethnomusicology’ paradigm for African art music” is a McDonnell-Barksdale chair of ethnomusicology, professor of music, University of Mississippi, USA; Meki Nzewi, University of Port-Harcourt, Nigeria, presented a paper titled: Purge the imposed terminological dyspepsia, and capably ingest the unique humanning logics that underpin the genius of African indigenous musical arts motherhood; and Tunji Vidal, Emeritus Professor of Music and Musicology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria, who presented a paper titled: From Robert Coker to Akinwande Euba: 150 years of art music in Nigeria.
Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, represented by Mr. Steve Ayorinde, Lagos State Commissioner for Arts, Tourism & Culture, said “the achievements of Prof. Akin Euba in the field of classical music are legendary. He sits comfortably among his contemporaries including Prof. Laz Ekwueme who has (now) taken the role of a traditional ruler, Prof. Sam Akpabot of blessed memory, and many others who had domesticated the rules guiding the rendition of African music to accommodate our traditional tunes.”
Earlier, Dr. Stephen Olusoji of University of Lagos, in welcoming guests and participants to the symposium on behalf of the LOC, said: “We have made adequate preparations to make your stay comfortable. And if you need anything, just let us know. We have worked, despite that there is (ASUU) strike. We have done our best. I want to thank all my colleagues for doing a marvelous job.”
Professor Bode Omojola thanked the University of Lagos, saying the symposium wouldn’t have been possible without the “strong show of support” and contributions made by the institution. He also extended his gratitude to the MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos, “for collaborating with UNILAG” on the symposium and concert.
Narrating how the idea of the symposium and concert to honour Akin Euba was conceived and made a reality, Omojola said it all started with a conference they held five or six years ago in a university in the Caribbean which was also attended by Professor Akin Euba. On one of the evenings, they were driving to where they had a dinner and Professor Akin Euba saw a neighborhood which he said reminded him of Lagos. “So at that point, we said: ‘Prof. you know, you should come to Nigeria; you should come home. You’ve not been there for a very long time. So that informal discussion would then transform into something more formal – we decided we were going to organise this conference so that he will come home.
“Akin Euba has this model of symposia that he was organising all over the world; he would have a scholarly session and then complement it with a performance. So we decided we were going to use that model for this conference. We unanimously appointed the late Professor Obidike to be the chairperson, and she started doing a great job, mobilising people and support for this conference. But unfortunately, as we all know, she passed on.
“When she passed on, I went to meet Professor Akin Euba and told him I would like to continue (from where Prof. Obidike stopped) if he would give me the blessing. He did. And the rest, as they say, is history. I got in touch with UNILAG, ANIM (Association of Nigerian Musicologists). ANIM has been a wonderful support.
“Then we got in touch with the Creative Arts Department. People decided that Dr. Olusoji Stephen will be the chairperson. I have never seen a group of committed, hardworking and industrious group of lecturers as we have at UNILAG. They are truly wonderful. We also got in touch with MUSON asking them to partner with us. When I spoke with the director of MUSON I said: ‘Could you sponsor the musical part of this event?’ He wrote back and said: ‘Well, we will not only sponsor the musical part, we will also sponsor the symposium.’”
Also speaking at the symposium, Professor Ovaborhene Idamoyibo of the Department of Music, Delta State University, Abraka who is also the National President of the Association of Nigerian Musicologists, urged the Federal Government to recognise Professor Akin Euba by giving him a national award.