Vocalized Solidarity: King Sunny Ade and the Pursuit for Peace in Nigeria
Femi Omotoyinbo and Gloria Adiche, Queen’s University Belfast
Vocalized Solidarity: King Sunny Ade and the Pursuit for Peace in Nigeria: 'The moment you hear the music; the music can heal you' – King Sunny Ade
Art, a spellbinding dynamism appealing to both the upper-class and lower-class sets of people, have remained what may be called a 'cross-cultural unifier'. Often, music has served as a powerful weapon for peacebuilding and as a formidable device of segregation (Hintiens & Ubaldo, 2019) which connotes the ambivalence of music in peacebuilding. This presentation investigates the shared interconnection between music, a genre of public art and Nigeria, as discomfited by ethnoreligious conflict, by exploring the processes by which King Sunny Ade, popularly known as the juju musician in Nigeria and beyond, uses music as a tool for peacebuilding and reconciliation in Nigeria. It focuses on Sunny Ade's famous song, titled Lift Up Nigeria, released around the late 1980s, described by many Nigerians as the rendition of the country’s 'We are the World'.
The music aims to break the fetters of irreconciliation, ethnic and religious animosities among the three prime ethnic groups in Nigeria – Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. Over the years, the clashes among these ethnic groups have escalated, taking diverse dimensions ranging from tribal, religious to territorial conflicts. The question then is, did/has the song and Sunny Ade's musical activities curtail the conflict among ethnic groups in Nigeria? The presentation posits that Sunny Ade and his juju music exhibit unique features like the talking drums, pedal steel guitar, clarinet, the wah-wah pedal inherent in revitalizing the spirit of oneness that possesses therapeutic traits of which we argue that these characteristics are fading away in modern Nigerian music.
Femi and Gloria propose an alternative analysis of Sunny Ade's musical performances in the contemporary social context. Therefore, using Sunny Ade's vocalized call for solidarity in a divided country such as Nigeria, they argue that the effectiveness of musical sounds in expressing ideas, especially in conflict discourses, rely upon the political, social, cultural, religious and economic frameworks upon which it is built. The interconnectedness between the vocalized sound and the audience should not be isolated from the political and social contexts.
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The Conference was organised as part of the AHRC/ESRC funded Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security Research project Sounding Conflict: From Resistance to Reconciliation 2017-2021.