Ayoade Oyewale - Yoruba musician and pastor
Black British African
ResearcherRachel Beckles Willson
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Ayoade is a Nigerian and British musician and pastor. Trained originally as a Baptist pastor, he has also studied in universities of Nigeria, Australia (Brisbane) and the UK (Universities of Manchester and of Salford) in specialisms of divinity, theology, church music and composition. He is currently completing his PhD in Composition at the University of Salford, with a focus on Yoruba music as collaboration.
The work of a musical pastor
Although Ayoade has studied extensively in the UK, studying was not his reason for coming. Rather, he came for his work, although this has been quite radically transformed by the Covid-19 situation.
”I did not come to the UK to study. That wasn’t my intention. That’s just by the way. I came to Manchester, the UK as a pastor. I came as a minister of religion. I came with the intention to convert the whole of the UK which I haven’t yet!" "Most of what we do however is online. The last time we met as a church was in March last year. So sometimes you may see me preaching online. Or teaching online, or just singing online. I, so we have the Bible study online. But also I tell Bible stories in Pidgin English. My Pidgin English is not as polished as… um how some people will say it but at least it’s good enough, it’s good enough at least to do what I want to do. If I’m not too busy I try to do that once a week. And I have people from everywhere that Nigerians are. Because it is Nigerian pidgin English.“
Ayoade’s music-making is integrated into his life with the church, including his composing and his teaching. His family is also closely connected.
”When we arrived I was not just the pastor, I was also the resident musician for the church. I was preaching and I was on the piano. So I was always on the piano and I was giving free piano classes. I gave free classes for almost 3 years, in fact 5 years." "I don’t play piano now in our services myself, my children do everything … because you know it’s better. I’ve left in fact I’ve left that for them. I have three children. They are playing alongside with me as a minister. … most of the musical instruments that accompanies my preaching, teaching or whatever or even recording me. Everything is handled by my children. They are the ones supporting me. As a church musician from Nigeria, I never stopped composing. I never stopped arranging, even to do that mostly for private use. But when we came to Manchester, most of the works I do, aside from the games we play, they are used in the church. They are used in our services even to now. “
Living with the racism of Manchester
Ayoade has very mixed experiences of life in Manchester. Good times have been interspersed with very bad times, and even while he feels the majority of people are good, the violent ones have had a profound effect on his life.
”Most of our time in Manchester has been pleasant. But weave experienced racism, serious racism. We were targeted by um people who probably can't tolerate our colour. They threw fire to our house, they broke our van (our church van), they broke my car, I mean the windscreen, on several occasions. They cut the tyres on several occasions, they wrote graffiti, graffiti on our house. So we moved away from that place, to another area where we thought would be a bit peaceful, but in fact, it was like going from frying pan to fire. That place was even worse, they tried to even introduce my children to drugs. But they resisted."
"Sometimes they would be making monkey noises. They barricaded the road. They’d be looking out for me to come out. They would throw stones on me. They tried to beat me up on a few occasions. I was rescued by police and some other good people on several occasions. At the end the police, the local Council, and Mayor, everyone they relocated us. To Bury, in a hotel paid by the local Council. Later they relocated us again to somewhere around Sale, to a safe house owned by the local… by Salford. After that, they gave us this house where we are now. But God helping us, since we are in this place, there hasn't been any trouble. And that's about five years ago." "We are in Higher Broughton now. And here is, here is… I want to believe that it is God, from a religious point of view, it is God that is protecting us anyway. During those troubled times, too, because God protected us, not the police. Because on several occasions they threw fire to us, they threw fire to my car, they threw fire to the house, but it did not burn. It did not go beyond what we can... you know, take out. Or sometimes we would just see the scar on the door. But at that time the fire people, the firefighters, they gave us some things we can use on our door. And, in fact, at that time, the fire people always come to our house to make sure that we comply with the rules of safety. So that even at the back, there's a way we have to put our bin. So that they don't use the bin to cause fire for us. So we don’t put it close to the wall, never. We put it away from the wall.“
Ayoade did not submit to the violence, but attempted to make it known to the wider population within Manchester and beyond. He did not find it easy to make his voice heard, even when he recorded events on camera.
”ITV came to interview me. ITV, because at that time I was writing all the counsellors whether in my area are not in or generally Manchester. I wrote a litany of everything with dates, with events, with some footage, because at that time, I…. Those people attacking us don't know that I was always on camera. So there was there was a camera at my front. There was a camera at my back always. So I was always on camera so that all these kinds of evidence, which I showed today, I spoke with the police commissioner on several occasions, which then I thought the police commissioner then was rubbish. And for most of these situations, I also think that the police, Greater Manchester Police, were selective in their response and if not for God, something bad would have happened to me or to my children. And ah, the Mayor of Salford, they really don't care, but because I was making a lot of noise, I even wrote Cameron. You know, I wrote to Cameron to let him know that this is what has been happening. But we thank God, we thank God we are safe." "But there are good people also. And I must say that there are they were good people… that never knew us from Adam. They are not of my colour, but they are wonderful people. They are not of my religion. They are not they are just kind hearted people. Some of them that came to our defence, some of them that came to consult with us. Some of them that came to warn us. You know, some of them that spoke to police favourably on our behalf. No, some of them that prayed with us. No. So the people that attacked us then, we are just few.“
Composing to develop the traditions of Yoruba music
Ayoade’s compositional work builds on Yoruba traditions of collaboration. Rather than starting from a position of ultimate authority as a composer, he shares responsibility with participants at all stages of the music-making. This is the case even with a structured work such as the opera on which he is working. It leads to a particular conceptualisation of music, which Ayoade calls ‘liquidity’.
”So, you know, when you play it, for instance, Hallelujah Chorus… if you play it in Manchester or you play it in Berlin or you play it in New York or you play it in Lagos. Even in my village, it will still be the same. You can't change it. But Yoruba composition doesn't work like that… Yoruba work doesn't belong to a single person." "Following the Western, whatever … I'm the composer. But in the performance, in the recording, in everything, it is the work of many people. And so we now use that method to show that we can still have a big project, and I'm not the real owner, yet I'm one of the owners. And each of the performers, they have the right to review what they are doing at the same time. And so that itself leads us to the liquidity of Yoruba music. And what I mean by liquidity of Yoruba music?" "If you want to follow the western method or mould it be confusing to you, you say, ‘no but this is not a performance’, ‘you said this is this but is different? These are not exactly….’ It must be different! It will be different depending on the dexterity of the performers. The performers, they have the right to continue to review the song again and again and again and again. And yet it is the song because the community can identify it, the community they can identify: ‘yes, that's the song’ [laughter]. But people coming from the Western mentality will say ‘it’s not the song’. But yes it is. You can't argue with the community. If the community say, ‘yes’, that is the song. The community themself can change it again, you know, and yet it is the song, it is the music. It is it. So that's why I've identified that as the liquidity, of liquidity, of your bulwarks of music. “
Ayoade is also challenging Yoruba traditions, nevertheless. It is claimed that Yoruba rhythms cannot be notated, and that the tradition must remain oral. However, he is working to extend western notation systems. This is not without precedents, and not without challenges.
”There have been others that have tried to write for the drums, notation to notate the drums, but most of them abandoned it. Or, or they used the Western notation, which is not congruent. I, part of my argument is that the western notation is not congruent. The Western notation was not meant for anything outside the western kind of music is actually meant for, with five lines and four spaces now are drawn. Our drums… the sound of drums is not well tempered. The piano is well tempered. So even a particular note in Manchester, though judged to be the same in London, is different. So how do you write that on the five lines and four spaces? “
In order that to relate to the complexity and multiplicity of the sounds of Yoruba music, notation must take on board the techniques that make particular sounds, the different roles of players, and of course the liquidity of the tradition.
”You know, the challenge for most Western people, they are immediately they start hearing your percussion, African percussion, they are confused about what to notate, how do you know what to notate? How do you begin to notate? How do you approach it? From a Yoruba perspective, there's always a metronomic drum. But the function of that metronomic drum is not only to count the time. As much as it is metronomic, it can also focus on different areas too. There is also one that is stable, it has only one tone. But even with that one tone, the in the hocketing the tone with others, it will still confuse you as if it is with many tones. The way it hockets, the undulation, and the way it goes with in and out." "And there is the one that will always be talking and will be dictating the main rhythm. So the one that will be dictating the main rhythm will throw the main rhythm once to the other ensemble and immediately they will pick it and immediately they pick it up, they vary it they, like invent it, like invention on the spot, improvisation, you know. So so it will always confuse the western mind. And how do you then notate … because it's never the same a performance, a performance ensemble performance is never the same, is expected to be never the same. It will not be the same. “
Ayoade’s major project recently has been a street opera based on the Biblical story of the prodigal son, and a revisiting of the role of ancient Carthage Libya in the Greek Odyssey of Homer. A Nigerian boy longs to travel, but while crossing the Sahara desert gets trapped by slave traders. An extract from the opera, 'Alaba in London', can be heard above. Unfortunately the restrictions of Covid-19 have scuppered the original plans for performing the work.
”It is supposed to be a street opera, because we composed with the mind that it be performed both within the university premises and on the stage? Also because it came from also from the street opera tradition in Nigeria. We were planning to stage some of it in different parts of the university, you know, and eventually the later part within the same work, the same project in the in the hall on stage. We were planning big. We were planning to showcase something at the University of Salford that would invite people from all around the North West, you know. It would have involved university students that were not from Yoruba that don’t speak Yoruba."
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Ayoade Oyewale - Yoruba musician and pastor
Black British African
ResearcherRachel Beckles Willson
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