Our Society Needs Cultural Re-awakening

Our Society Needs Cultural Re-awakening

Sunday, May 11, 2014 3:32 pm

Mrs. Rhoda Omosunlola Johnston-Smith, an 87-year-old prolific writer who is still interested in inculcating moral values in younger ones, and Mrs. Folake Ademiluyi, an educationist, collaborate to document Yoruba folksongs and Ewi into audio CD. The CD, launched recently, is titled Odu Orin. The two women speak to FUNSHO AROGUNDADE about the joint project and the need to inculcate the essence of Omoluabi in Yoruba children

Q: How did this folktale CD project come to be?

Mrs. Rhoda Omosunlola Johnston-Smith and Mrs. Folake Ademiluyi

Mrs. Rhoda Omosunlola Johnston-Smith and Mrs. Folake Ademiluyi

Mrs. Johnston-Smith (Mama): The whole idea came through a daughter of my friend, Efiom Asuquo. During the memorial service in honour of her late mom, she gave us a gift. And as souvenir, she gave us this compilation CD. When I listened to it, I was impressed and asked her who did it for her. It was then she told me that a friend of hers, Mrs. Ademiluyi, worked on it and presented it. That was how I got to meet her. It was at this point she also got to know about my book, The Folktale Songs, Lullabies and Lyrics, which I wrote some 22 years ago as a booklet for school children.

She went through the book and asked if she could use the songs and lullabies in an audio compilation CD. Naturally, I agreed with her, knowing full well that what is produced as audio will interest more people as they will listen instead of a booklet. Only the teachers who know some of these old songs would be able to sing and teach the children. But if they have the opportunity and advantage of listening, it will certainly be better than just reading. I encouraged her and she has done wonderful works with it and I hope people will like it.

How would you describe your experience working with Mama on this project?

Mrs. Ademiluyi: My experience working with Mama has been an interesting one. The old part of Mama that you saw was when she was trying to get up from the seat. I always tell Mama that she is 25 years old because of the way she thinks and her abilities to relate with current experiences and presentation. She is just as young as any young person. There are so many old people that when you sit with them, in your mind you will definitely agree that they are old. But each time she tells me that ‘Haa, mo ti n’dagba’, I always say to her, ‘No, don’t say that, you are still like a 35-year-old person.’ So, working with her has been a wonderful experience because she allows you to do what you want to do and just chips in very nicely. Even if she wants to sway you to her side, she will ultimately get you to her side but not with a hard hand. She would suggest to you, reason with you, and make you see the reason why you should believe in what she believes in. Mama is the real initiator of this project. She provided the finance to start the project.

Tell us more about the CD?

Ademiluyi: The title of the CD is Odu Orin. We have as the lead vocalist in the CD a very good singer by name Jumoke Oke. I had got in contact with her and briefed her about the idea I had in mind. Meanwhile, Mama’s idea was that of a sing-along but she didn’t come out categorically to tell us. She just said she wanted to document her book through the CD. Given that the book targets young school children, I was thinking of capturing those songs in such a way that adults can also relate to those songs considering the fact that the children nowadays have practically lost touch with the content of the book as in the booklet.

So I discussed with Jumoke and we came to the conclusion that it would be better for the CD to be targeted at adults of our age, slightly younger, and older people who knew these songs when they were younger. If they buy the CD and play those songs, their grandchildren could learn these songs afresh and by that, gradually there would be implantation of the values in the songs and gaps would be closed. We went to the studio and recorded those songs while I was left with the editing. We were on this for over two years.

During this time, Mama was away abroad to see her children. When she came back, she was very pleased with the production but said it was not what she exactly thought it would be. I had to explain to her that if done the way she wanted it to be, the target she had in mind may not appreciate it because what they listen to now is the music of the likes of Tuface, Wizkid and Davido.

Mama: The songs in my booklet are about 90 but what you will be listening to in the CD are about 70. The singer and others have enhanced the work by adding their own to the music, the drumming and other instrumentation that you would be listening to. Through this CD, our effort is to recapture and inculcate the essence of Omoluabi (a person with a worthy character) in the present generation of Yoruba children, as well as appeal to and bring reminisces of yesteryear to the middle-aged and elderly.

What inspired the writing of the book in the first place?

Mama: I collected all these songs from the time I was young. Right from what we were taught at school, what I have heard on the street, what my mother and my father taught me, in the church, during the Sunday school and everywhere. Fortunately I will say, we are a singing nation. The Yoruba people like songs. Even when a baby is born, the mother is holding the baby and singing for the baby. At age one, as soon as the child can listen and hear, she is already being fed with good songs. Call it lullaby. At school and everywhere, she is fed with songs. And those children as they grow up will listen to more and more music. Even at my age, I still love music. If I listen to something new, I enjoy it. I always tell people I can’t sing well but I enjoy listening to good music. There is not a day I sleep at night without listening to something interesting.

With the coming of the audio CD, what will now happen to the hard copy of your book?

On the day of the public presentation of the CD, a new revised edition of my book was also made available to everyone. The content is still the same, but there is a new cover.

What would you say is responsible for the loss of moral values in our present society?

Mama: I would say technology. But technology has two sides: the good and the bad sides. But we have to value good things. Unfortunately some people waste their talent and time on the negatives. In our younger days, Yoruba culture and values were enjoyed. Our parents made us enjoy them. Along the line, parents were becoming too busy and did not notice that they were making the children lose what should be gained.

Let’s take the language for example. Why should Yoruba parents insist that their children speak a foreign language at home? Is it not from home that we have to bring our children to love what is our own that is good? Some parents will insist that it has to be English language; don’t speak Yoruba. Why? Have they not learnt the values and the beautiful things in Yoruba culture? If they haven’t, then what have they got to teach the children?

In my own time, people around me were respectful. It didn’t matter how rich you were, it was not the value of money. People respect themselves, expect you to respect them and you must also respect yourself. That is very important. I keep asking, why should anyone be taught now to help others? Is that not part of the training we should have from the beginning? Why are we to be kind to animals? Are animals not living creatures? Why should you be taught now the values of environmental and personal cleanliness? Why should anyone be taught the control of tongue and words? What to say and not to say?

All these things had always been there; let us not make any mistake that we are just putting them in the pamphlet that I authored. I have just done this because I want young ones to appreciate and value what had been so that we don’t lose them. This is what I hope to achieve when the CDs are out; that people will see and gain from them.

Ademiluyi: I would say parents of nowadays are so engrossed with our daily activities that we did not pass on to our children what was passed to us. And the result is that we have created a lacuna that the youth of today are trying to fill by reaching out to the outside world to look for materials that they can now use to develop their own culture. That break is what we are seeing now in the manifestation of the different attitudinal presentation of the young people. Perhaps if we had been a little bit more mindful of the consequences of not passing on all these songs, maybe some of the things that we see today would have been different. Because these songs, if from an early age you imbibe the lessons, they grow with you, stay with you and they become your shadow.

Even when your parents are not there or your village where you come from is not there, or your extended family is not there, you still carry those good moral values on your shoulder and represent them. This is different from representing only yourself as we are seeing now. The youth nowadays represent only themselves and that is why they can’t think anything about doing anything. In our own days, you didn’t represent only yourself, you represented the people that own you. You know that some people own you. You are aware that your village and community own you. Because of that, you wouldn’t do anything that would cast some aspersion and stains on those people. As it is now, because of the gap, the youth are representing themselves and they are not carrying the other people along because they have lost them.

Mama: The parents and elders should continuously work toward getting the young ones to value the good things that we have. There are many good things all over the world but they should also understand that we have our own. And our own should not die. We should keep them alive. Also, we change fashion, we change clothes, but what we inherit that we can call our own, which I keep on saying: positive things should remain with us. I hope our various families and the country as a whole and not just the Yoruba people should maintain them.

What are your plans to make the CD available to Nigerians and those in the Diaspora?

Ademiluyi: Presently we are trying to explore different platforms on the internet that make music available to people. We are also trying to see if we would be able to find universities here and abroad that would see this as a document and not just ordinary compilation of songs. The project is actually a document that captures the essence of a people. If you actually sit down and take the CD as a literary material, you would be able to say this is how these people are, these are their values when it comes to relating with an Oba, when a person dies, when a child is born. This is the concept of their expectation.

In our culture, a person does not just get married because he wants to be married only. From an early age, your parents are telling you that you are their investment. They will say: the way I gave birth to you, you too will give birth to children; which means that they are hoping that the children that you gave birth to will now be compensation for all their own effort on you. You then find out that a Yoruba or an African child is not thinking of going into marriage because he is in love with his partner, he is thinking of going into marriage as bringing joy to his parents, as fulfilling the desire and aspiration of other people different from his. Apart from that, some of the songs in the CD teach you the value of family life or respect to elders and love for parents and siblings. You find out that if you take a mother in the African context, it is so difficult to go into very depth of what a mother stands for. It is big and very huge. The father too is there, but the mother touches the very essence of a child. That is why so many songs are rendered to eulogise the mother.

Mama: What I think about the sale of the CD is to target the parents who were brought up to respect the Yoruba culture. The adults, parents and grandparents, they will enjoy it but their children may not because they know little about this. But when we get the parents and those outside the country who are rarely interested in Yoruba language and culture, once they listen and enjoy, it will provoke some nostalgia and they would remember what they have gained. They will be able to pass it on to the younger ones. Also, I wish the ministries of information, culture, women affairs and education in most states would know about this CD and help promote it. They can get them into our schools and put them in the music libraries. In fact, many of the schools now have ‘Music Days’ and ‘Cultural Days’ and I am happy about that development as it means that many of them are beginning to teach the kids the values of our culture.

Ademiluyi: I quite agree with Mama because getting the government to be interested in having these CDs in schools will be one of the ways by which ultimately we would have a renaissance of some sort to bring back the values we seem to have thrown away. They are not lost; if we really want those values, we can always have them back.

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