Bankole… Birthday Concert For The Ethnomusicologist
THE spirit of the late great ethnomusicologist Ayo Bankole came alive last week Sunday with a grand concert performance of his numerous, groundbreaking compositions.
The venue was the newly established Ayo Bankole Centre for Arts and Cultural Expression, a destination that is currently enjoying considerable patronage on 32, Yesufu Sanusi Street, Surulere, Lagos.
The object of the concert was to celebrate the prolific composer, organist and pianist who should have been 80 if he was still alive.
Coordinated by his son, Ayo Bankole Jr, who is also a virtuoso pianist, the concert was attended by family members, admirers, well wishers and friends of the late ethnomusicologist – among them Igwe (Professor Emeritus) Lazarus Ekwueme who, in paying glowing tributes to the late music legend, went down memory lane to their student days in London in the 60s as well as the good times they had together as colleagues at the University of Lagos in the 70s. Also present were former Communications Minister, Engineer Olawale Ige, Mr. and Mrs. Femi Lijadu, Mr. and Mrs. Akpata among others.
The concert took the form of solo performances where soprano and bass voices demonstrated professional skills in terms of voice range and projection. Also featured were group – vocal configurations from which choral music was heard at its very best.
Classical music, they say, is the composer’s art – unlike jazz which is the performers.’ Notwithstanding, the performers on this occasion gave expression to all the departments of the music with so much artistic confidence and finesse that it seemed as though the songs belonged to them. And of course, all the compositions which were the ethnomusicologist’s craft were resplendent with the finest of harmony, form and melodic inventiveness – ingredients which inspired the performers in the articulation of all the nuances and intricacies of the various musical works.
Of particular attraction to the appreciative audience was the rendition of Ojo maro, a fine example of modern African art music and one of Ayo Bankole’s popular compositions; and Iya – which the composer originally dedicated to his mother, but was now rearranged and refashioned as tribute to his own mother on this occasion by Ayo Bankole Junior on piano – with a performance of breathtaking virtuosity that added something new and fresh to the music. However, even though the concert fulfilled the purpose for which it was intended, the event deserved better attendance and in fact a more prestigious venue, considering the huge artistic stature and greatness of the late Ayo Bankole.
Comparable to revolutionary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker and even the great trumpeter Clifford Brown, Bankole died young, at the peak of his career, leaving behind a legacy of brilliant compositions, a whole body of work, for posterity. And, following on the heels of his predecessor and mentor, Fela Sowande who is reputed for articulating the pioneering processes of modern African art music, Bankole should have taken this natural convergence of European and African musical cultures to the limit by now, if untimely death had not cut short his brilliant career.
From 1957 when Ayo Bankole began to study music at the Guildhall School of Music, London on a Federal Government Scholarship, his career did not only blossom, his ingenuity and professional competence shone brightly, sticking out like the sore thumb – at every point:
On arrival at Guildhall, for example, he was appointed to the position of organist and choir master at St James –the-Less, a position he held until his graduation in 1961. Needless to say that he perfected the study of composition, organ, harmony and counterpoint, eventually experimenting with 20th century compositional devices such as Three Yoruba Songs for voice and piano in 1959 and The Toccata and Fugue for organ in 1960.This period marked the genesis of Bankole’s creative career that was to lead to a very personal style of inter–cultural compositions – the synthesis of Nigerian and Western idioms.
Upon graduation from the Guildhall School of Music where he came out tops, he proceeded to University of Cambridge, London and obtained his first degree, the Bachelor of Arts degree in Music in 1964 – an intellectual feat which automatically translated to Master of Arts three years later. While still at Cambridge as an organ scholar, Bankole sat for the external examination and obtained the prestigious Fellowship of the Royal College of Organists (FRCO), becoming the second and last Nigerian to receive this British highest diploma in organ playing.
By this achievement, he attained a feat for which his mentor, Fela Sowande set the pace (as the first Nigerian, and indeed the first African to clinch) in 1943; and became the second and the last Nigerian to earn the FRCO diploma. A tremendous amount of music was composed for organ and piano during this period. He also wrote some choral and orchestral works mainly for European audiences.
Upon completing his Bachelor’s degree at Cambridge in 1964, Bankole got a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship to study ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles and as usual, he took full advantage of the opportunity. As a result of this new training intervention, Bankole developed keen interest in music from other cultures. The new experience enabled him to evolve a personal style that was founded on African traditional music principles – even going further by composing inter- cultural works that use non-African resources such as his Ethno phony. This new experiment resulted in the consolidation and deepening of Bankole’s experience in ethnomusicology even as he now introduced his own creative principles and approaches to the mix.
On return to Nigeria in 1966, he was employment at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation as Senior Producer Music, but it was not challenging enough; his capacity was much bigger than the work available. Always evolving and reaching out to higher levels of creativity, he accepted the position of Lecturer in Music at the University of Lagos, a job which, among other assignments, gave him ample chance to research into Nigerian indigenous music in 1969. Pioneering what would later become a common trend among Nigerian professional musicians – the art of embracing all arms of music discipline – he became a music educator, composer, performer and ethnomusicologist. He founded many choral groups and nurtured them to professional level.
Bankole was energetic, passionate about his music, friendly and humorous. A prolific composer and organist, he contributed immensely to the development of modern art music in Nigeria. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to witness the fruits of his labour.
Born in 1935 to a music family where his father, mother and grandfather were accomplished musicians, he died on November 6, 1976 at the prime age of 41.
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