These are the breaks for pioneering spirits

Comments: 0

I have shared my thoughts about the creative output of pioneering African composers before. In the era of colonial rule, it made sense for ambitious creative spirits to want to experience life at the heart of where decisions were being made. Most of the artists who have left bodies of work that can be found nowadays came to London to attend one conservatoire, university or the other. When the African nations were given independence (mainly in the late 1950s and the early 1960s), the artists returned to their countries of origin with hopes of creating new work, new audiences and new art music traditions.

Were the artists able to make these dreams come true? The jury is still out on that front. Several of them eventually left those African countries again and moved on to live in nations such as the USA, where they were given better paid jobs in well resourced academic institutions.

On a surface level, it was useful for the composers to touch base with their African roots. They had access to the instruments and performing traditions of their forbears in those countries and they were able to do fieldwork research which provided source material for a lot of written material which is of great help to generations who have come after them. What did life in the land of origin do for their creativity?

There was probably too much work to be done in setting up infrastructures where these artists could simply be creative. Audiences were not ready for the ideas that were being expressed, so the composers festered away in jobs that didn’t give them much time to make new work, unless if they went down the route of performing popular music, as one celebrated artist chose to do.

In conclusion, it seems like a prudent choice to live in more culturally sympathetic climes if one aims to be a successful African composer. Will there be a time when conditions might become conducive for the work to flourish in Africa? All we can do is watch this space.