Five Times Classical Music Coloured Nigerian Culture

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Classical music has just about every quality that disqualifies it from wide Nigerian acceptance. It’s thin on percussion and its rhythms are often slow-moving and reflective, traits that make it the perfect white noise for study sessions, but keep it out of dance halls. As we know, a genre is only as popular with the Nigerian mass as its ability to have people swaying their hips. Classical music has you sitting still, feet tethered to the earth. Nigerians want to gbese.

There are certain Nigerians, of course, who begin their day with a cup of tea and a blast of Bach or Paganini. Usually they are of two categories: those who sincerely enjoy Bach; those who feign an interest in Bach because it makes them appear cultured. The pretender class are the temperamental siblings of that racist, slave master character, Calvin Candie, which Leonardo DiCaprio plays in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Candie pretends to enjoy all the fine points of French high culture, he wants to be perceived as refined. Yet for all his phrenological put-downs of the black race, he doesn’t even know that the French novelist Alexandre Dumas, whom he pretends to respect and to have read, is of African descent.

What does it matter? Combined, the true Nigerian lovers of classical music and the fakers are of such a sparse number you could fit them all in a motel room and still have enough width for three snooker tables.

Though many shirk classical music, many at one point or the other have had their day coloured by Beethoven or some other great German composer without even knowing it. It’s not hypnosis, it’s human nature: you can only recall what you can recognise, and you can only recognise what you know. Case in point: if you don’t know what the Darwin fish looks like, you won’t recognise it when you see one, say, at the mall. Days later, if you are asked if you’ve ever seen a Darwin fish, you’d say no and it would only be a partial lie. 

Classical music may not be mainstream, but it most certainly is part of Nigerian culture. It’s there, though rarely noticed. Overworked interns the world over can relate to this.


Access Bank Samples Rossini

Access Bank Plc has two well-known tunes. The first one, “One Day You Go Make Am” is what you hear when you withdraw money from an Access Bank ATM. Surely Access Bank must see how a customer with only scant cash to his name must feel about their little concert. You withdraw your last penny then Access Bank plays you a number that sounds like upliftment and derision at the same time. 

The second tune is what you hear as you exit the mantrap and step into the bank hall. The tune is culled from the classical composition La Gazza Ladra, an opera semiseria by the Italian composer Gioachio Rossini. The piece was first performed on 31 May 1817, at La Scala, Milan.

Nigerian fans of the BBC Sherlock series would remember hearing the tune in that scene where Andrew Scott, playing a gum-chewing Jim Moriarty, steals the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. The tune’s playfully mischievous tone fits Moriarty’s purpose, and so does its title: La Gazza Ladra translates in English to The Thieving Magpie.

Given all the cash it keeps and moves, you have to wonder if settling for the song is a kind of Access Bank inside joke. 

(The snippet that Access Bank Plc uses starts from 4:10 of the video.)


Mozart Meets Yinka Ayefele

An obligatory presence at Yoruba weddings and naming ceremonies, Yinka Ayefele’s songs, high on pentecostal energy, will have you shuffling your feet in ways the gospel singer is himself incapable of doing. He is something of a magpie, too, borrowing rhythms from everywhere. He takes a small piece from Sunny Nneji’s Tolotolo, then pinches a little from Kabir Alayande’s Ere Asalaatu. In the opening minutes of his 2005 album Fulfilment, he samples (or steals) “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”, originally composed in 1787 by Salburg’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. 

One person thinks Ayefele’s version is a tortured dream. And that’s the Nigerian multi-instrumentalist Peter King, founder of Peter King College of Music, of which the singer-songwriter Asa is an alumna. King said, “if Mozart was alive today, maybe Yinka would be in jail. Not just for stealing it. Not doing it the right way is also an offence.”

Certainly Mr King knows that when you’re at a Yoruba owambe, turning and turning in the widening gyre of merriment, no one cares a lick if you’ve hit a few wrong notes on the piano. 


Ice Cream Man and Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Für Elise is a tune many Nigerians must have heard somewhere (in Nas’s “I Can” perhaps?). It’s certainly a tune familiar to Nigerians who, when they were children, liked ice cream. That’s probably every kid. Those movable ice cream trucks, when not playing Los Kjarkas’s “Llorando Se Fue”, played “Für Elise”, whetting the greed of every child within earshot. The Beethoven tune was discovered in 1867, 40 years after the composer’s death. 

Playing music to lure children is a trick as old as time. Just ask the people of Lower Saxony and they’ll tell you about The Pied Piper of Hamelin.


The Iconic Nokia Ringtone 

Back in the days, when your Nokia phone rang your nerves took a whacking, the ringtone’s screech better suited for the role of a fire alarm. Yet the original version leaves a soothing effect. The ringtone comes from the guitar solo composition “Gran Vals”, by the Spanish classical guitarist Francisco Tárrega. Nokia opted for the ringtone because Tárrega had been long dead and they didn’t have to contend with copyright issues.


Ckay flirts with Beethoven 

Ckay samples a slice of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Op. 67 in his 2019 single Way, featuring DJ Lambo. The symphony was written between 1804 and 1808, and was first performed in Vienna’s Theater an der Wien in 1808. 

As if to tell us he was deliberate about the choice he made, we see three vixens in the song’s music video who are pretending to play violins, given it’s a music instrument common to classical music. Pretending because they are obviously holding the violins wrongly. One of them snobs the chin pad and lays her head flat on the violin’s body, possibly covering up some acres of the fingerboard as well. But the major concern is how perilously she’s angled her head. As you listen to Ckay, you also worry and hope that the poor vixen doesn’t fracture her neck. 


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