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The Aesthetics of Performance and Orality in Na’Allah’s Dadakuada

By Toyin Falola

The aesthetics of performance as a dynamic process has proven its ability to create, re-create, reflect, refract, and re-present the sociocultural identities of the society. It cannot be detached from society because it concerns itself with the politics and other realities inside or within societies. It is a gigantic force that towers above religion, culture, or traditions. In Na’Allah’s Dadakuada: Ilorin Art History, he addresses the aesthetic complexities and dynamics with particular reference to performance. As employed by the author and through the methods he adopted in the analysis of artists who are actively engaged in the oral poetic forms, the performance of Dadakuada, an oral poetry form, can be considered to be aesthetically pleasing.

Broadly speaking, the book’s examination of the aesthetics of performance shows that language, space symbols, religious forms, and most importantly, the nexus between public and private lives is a divergent and multicultural atmosphere that human experience, especially the people of Ilorin, a Muslim-dominated locale. Hence, it can be deduced that reading the book through the lens of performance aesthetics helps readers to understand the geography, culture, and politics of the city the author grew up in.

In summary, this book unearths and uncovers the history and performer’s vision of Dadakuada, and examines how interesting it is as a form of art and as the most popular traditional Yoruba oral art form in Islamic Africa. Na’Allah has illuminated and pictured the role of Dadakuada in Ilorin, the city where he grew up. Essentially, the book covers the cultural identity, performance aesthetics, language, and the most delicate and important part, Dadakuada’s relationship with Islam. It is surprising to note and critically analyze how Na’Allah carefully describes this relationship and discusses how the performers, through their songs and dramatic nodes, are able to successfully accommodate the tenets of Islam in ways that have cemented the necessary survival of Dadakuada as a traditional African art form in a predominantly Muslim community like Ilorin. Thus, the importance of traditional cultures, aesthetics, arts, and communication known to the people cannot be dismissed in an attempt to understand the phenomena of the existence of the people before the invasion of colonialists with their religion, which proves that most African countries host a large diversity of ethnicities and cultures.

The African space has been a site of and for orality, and the production and consumption of African arts and music are dependent on the sensibilities of the people. Debatably, the oral aspect of African aesthetics is the most talked about and researched aspect of African culture and aesthetics. Basically, the origin of all literature is an oral medium that functioned as a repository for people to preserve their ancient experiences and beliefs. Through this book, Na’Allah has heightened the interest of scholars, students, cultural curators, and music enthusiasts in the aesthetics of traditional African culture, African art history, performance studies, and Islam in Africa.

The introductory chapter of the book, which discusses the geography and culture of the Ilorin people, is paramount as it introduces us to the different perspectives of knowledge that a human community transmits. In the book, the cultural identity of the Ilorin people can be deduced and verified as an expressive one even amidst variant cultures. As highlighted by Na’Allah, the community where he grew up has different nodes of knowledge—from the traditional Ilorin community to the Islamic constituents, the coexistence of these contrastive perspectives between multiple knowledges is being constructed and imbibed freely amongst individuals from communities in the state.

It is necessary to take into account that discussing, examining, and experimenting with the various knowledge is the premise of the concept of culture. In other words, there is a strong relationship between variant knowledge and cultures from the lens of social, political, and the didactic nature of Dadakuada, which Na’Allah seeks to expose in the book, and how it creates and builds the multi/transcultural city of Ilorin. Hence, Na’Allah concludes that “Ilorin presents very interesting cultural and social opportunities for both indigenes and non-indigenes.” There is a convergence of Islamic cultural activities, multilingual opportunities, and the traditions and cultures brought by the new immigrants from all parts of Nigeria, which has ultimately brought steady development to the state, such as a tertiary institution and the establishment of a teaching hospital. This created a sense of performance in both indigenes and immigrants, and has brought a great thrill to families and individuals. In addition, apart from the ethnic, artistic forms, and performances generated from the society, Islamic tenets have brought a different kind of color and fame to the city, which has ultimately set the standard for the propagation of the Dadakuada oral performance.

Considering these multicultural approaches, Na’Allah advocates that we must put ourselves and others in mind when planning to analyze the cultural patterns of a society. If this is practically carried out, the idea of having mono or ethnocultural bias will be avoided, which can greatly affect co-habitation in a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria. As a result, performing a well-thought-out and particular nodes of knowledge in different forms should be extolled as they are invariably part of the human experience.

The re-examination of the concept of orality by Na’Allah is important to perfectly understand the background and the context of the performance of Dadakuada. Based on the definitions and opinions of oral literature scholars like Ong, Finnegan, Okpewho, Na’Allah states that orality is usually defined as the thoughts and verbal expressions in those societies where writing skills have not been developed. The essence is to maintain that orality should not be ignorantly perceived as oral tradition. Oral tradition describes a long-established action or pattern of behavior in a community or group of people, which, more often than not, has been handed down from one generation to another. It is a set of customs, behavior, practices, and beliefs lived and valued by a culture.

Most Africans have robust oral traditions that existed and continue to exist as one of the ways through which African value systems are passed down to the upcoming members of a community. These belief systems, attitudes, modes of worship, traditional mores, communal expectations, and cultural affinity are orally transmitted through traditional methods like storytelling and other kinds of ritual recourse. Various elements of orality echo in the performance poetry, which Na’Allah illustrates with examples of Omokuekue, Odolaye Aremu, and the likes in the book. Clearly, the performance is not majorly postmodern as it originates from pre-literate societies. However, this does not equate to illiteracy, as there is always confusion between ignorance and illiteracy.

The verbal communication in the Dadakuada performance is transmitted orally from performer to performer and is constructed using literary devices such as allusion, metaphor, repetition, consonance, alliteration, and rhyme. Most importantly, it is constructed through didactic representations, for which most artists employ the technique of repetition of key phrases to aid memory and recollection. More often than not, the performer’s recitation is usually from memory, basically from a variant that they had learned consciously or unconsciously. However, there is a technique of performer’s license that allows the reciter to add their own details to further embellish the recitation for aesthetic purpose, or to foreground the current situation when they are performing, which is often the case.

The major significance of this is that Na’Allah has re-awakened the notion that the verbalization of thought contents through language is essential for major cultural development, as the constraint which users of language face in navigating from inarticulate to articulate formations are drastically reduced in the oral environment in which the performers are. It is also important to state that the orality feature in Dadakuada promotes communicative understanding when listened to, and it helps to understand and build the concept of the self, watering down notions of individualism and greatly enhancing the basic element of communal stance in almost every interaction the performers find themselves.

Furthermore, the description of the developmental stages and the performance techniques of Dadakuada by Na’Allah is well espoused through categorization into how it explicates the Ilorin poetry and the great influence of the Islamic society of the state. This inextricably linked nexus between the human experience of the Ilorin populace and the religious feature, which is a predominant characteristic, has helped readers to understand the technique, performance, and function of the Dadakuada. Na’Allah illustrates this with various artists or Dadakuada performers in Ilorin such as Odolaye Aremu, Aremu Ose, Jaigbade Alao, Omoekee Amao, and the delivery of their topics or subject matter, the effect of drums, audience appeal and participation, the method of apprenticeship, and, most importantly, the didactic dimensions of the performance.

Overall, from the topicality of Aremu Ose to the politics of Odolaye Aremu to the didactic dimensions of Alao and Omoekee, it is evident that the rendition of the performance in orality does not require only one statement and it is necessary for the speakers and the audience to communicate and interact as committed orators and willing audiences. Accepting this is important because the performer will continue to push for success if the message to the audience is well received, which is usually based on trust. Also, the speakers’ confidence increases if they tag along with the message and they employ gestures to further embellish the topics. Similarly, the act of communication that the speakers and performers display is usually nurtured by dance and traditional oral culture skills. The performers are emotionally tied to their subjects or topics to the point of living in their performance, as this ensures they introduce a specific style to assume a sort of “on-stage originality.” In relation to this, the element of crafting an original mood in orality must be dynamic and have the element of freestyling.

These performers are also invested in examining the question of socio-political commitment, which involves pondering the very nature of commitment. Commitment refers to the artist’s dedication to his duty as the voice of his people. It is the interest a writer or artist takes in the happenings around him in the creation of a literary avenue and how he chooses to respond to these issues, whether by simply portraying them in his work or by proffering solutions to the problems bedeviling the society he finds himself in. For instance, Na’Allah uses some of Ose’s topical songs about social reality. He is not afraid to address any social or political persons. Even when, like Odolaye Aremu, Ose is not a politically partisan poet, he is the singer of engagement in all its ramifications as he is well versed and he talks about people, the government, and the solutions they can present to the Nigerian nation through the community and religious aesthetics, which has made him an important figure in the Ilorin community.

In conclusion, Na’Allah argues that the culture of primary orality should be encouraged. He has used the Dadakuada mode to inform people about the need to see familiar reality because the cultivation of communal passions is essentially a form of education. Also, it would appear that the task of communication, as espoused by Dadakuada, and how the performer embellishes it with verbal cues, has helped to identify and interpret the sociocultural realities of the Ilorin people, extending to the Nigerian society as well.

[This is the fourth and last written as part of the events marking the public presentation, on June 30, of Professor Na’Allah’s three new books: Seriya, Baba Omokewu, and Dadakuada: Ilorin Art History]

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