Nigeria: African Drum Festival on its way to becoming one of the country’s biggest tourism events

“There is nowhere that you don’t have drums in Africa,” said Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka in an address at the African Drum Festival. “If we are to revive our ideals and ideas as a continent, we must start with a culture, like drumming, that cuts across.”

The African Drum Festival held in Abeokuta, Ogun state, Nigeria, from Thursday 19th April through Saturday 21st April. It served as an avenue to highlight the state’s readiness and commitment in promoting tourism for its socioeconomic development, not only in Nigeria but also in Africa.

This third edition of the festival, which was started in April 2016 in Ogun State under the leadership of Senator Ibikunle Amosun, was more spectacular than the previous editions. It featured conferences, workshops and exhibitions, and a line up of distinguished speakers which included Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed; the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III; Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka; Legendary Music Producer, Laolu Akintobi and Veteran African drummer, Bakossa Cocou Armel.

African Drum Festival Ogun state. Courtesy: Nigerian Tribune

The theme for this year’s festival was “Drumming for Advancement” with the sub-theme “Drumming for Socio-Economic Development”. The theme resonated through the festival, which is on its way to becoming one of the biggest tourism events in the country. No fewer than 15 African countries—including Cameroon, Ghana, Republic of Benin, Congo Brazzaville, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Togo, Cote D’Ivoire—as well as over 80 troupes were in attendance according to the Nigerian Tribune.

The African drum has been described as one of the best means of communication before the era of the telephone. According to Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, the Alaafin of Oyo, every morning at 5am, drums also wake up Yoruba kings to remind them of the oaths they took to serve their people. In his words, “we need drums to wake our leaders and policy makers in Nigeria.”

Welcoming the audience to the festivities, the state Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Chief Muyiwa Oladipo was quoted saying, “It is better to learn the importance of the drum to us as individuals and Africans, thus the African Drum Festival is the best place on the African continent and indeed in the world to learn about what the drum stands for and the potentials that can be derived from it.

“We are drumming to advance the cause of art and towards revitalization of socio-cultural education, economic growth, human development and integration.”

African drum festival 2017

The audience included young and old who could not hide their joy watching the various performances as they were etertained by various drum enthusiasts with different sounds. Troupes from Kwara and Katsina states opened this year’s event as the consultant to the festival, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, commended governor Amosun for the initiative which, according to him, brought another glory to the state.

Governor Amosun, who was the chief host, noted to the Nigerian Tribune that the festival was not peculiar to Ogun State, but “it is about developing and preserving our culture.”

“For us in Ogun State, this annual drum festival is our own contribution to cultural quest. As we move into the fourth year, the event will be majorly private sector driven. As government, we will continue to create the enabling environment,” he said while expressing delight at the emergence of female drummers who equaled the drumming prowess of their male counterparts.

Various exhibitions were mounted on the famous Olumo Rock as different speakers stressed the reasons drums should be valued. Drums “are an integral part of African culture,” was the cornerstone of many addresses just as Professor Soyinka added that “drum entertainment is best enjoyed when various indigenous musical instruments are played together.”

Governor Amosun at the African Drums Festival. Courtesy: ThisDay

Governor Amosun commended the drummers for igniting the spirit of the audience and he spoke especially of the efforts of 91-year-old Mr. Tony Odili for consistently drumming for 70 years. He mentioned that drum education would produce a culturally informed Africa as the governor climbed the rock with other dignitaries to behold a gallery of young and adult drummers on exhibition. He also promised that his administration would build a 20,000-capacity amphitheater for the annual festival.

The audience was thrilled as Kwara, Enugu and Ogun won 1st, 2nd and 3rd positions respectively in the state category of the drumming competition held at the event. The troupes went home with N2m; N1m and N500, 000 respectively. In addition, there were the private troupes’ category, the foreign troupes’ category where Congo Brazzaville won the first prize of $5,000, the best African Drummer Individual Category won by Slyvanus Kuwor of Ghana ($3,000); Individual Performance Female Category won by Ayanyinka Olowogangan (N1m) while the Individual Performance Male category was won by Lewis Ndlovu from Zimbabwe ($1,000).

Winners on the Special Recognition Category included Anthony Odili, Pa. Adewole Oniluola, Ogun State Cultural Troupe among others who won N500, 000 cash prizes with plaques, and the Best Nigerian Upcoming Performing Troupe category with Ijo Easy troupe coming first.

To Mr. Sylvanus Kuwor, a master drummer, drum and dance scholar at the University of Ghana, “words are stored in drums,” and Africa’s forefathers stored their experiences in drum beats. “Every drum beat represent words,” he said.