Omojola Examines Yorùbá Music New and Old

Ethnomusicologist Bode Omojola

Ethnomusicologist Bode Omojola’s latest book, Yorùbá Music in the Twentieth Century: Identity, Agency, and Performance Practice, focuses on the music of one of the major ethnic groups in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.

The Five College associate professor of music poured two decades of research into this broad and deep study of traditional and contemporary genres of Yorùbá musical practice.

“Indigenous musical traditions continue to adapt to modern changes in the society, while new musical traditions continue to draw on indigenous musical practices. So there is a constant process of engagement between indigenous and modern traditions,” Omojola said. This cross-fertilization of ideas produces music that is constantly evolving yet still rooted in age-old traditions.

Yorùbá music has long been shaped by individual performers—drummers, dancers, singers, and chanters—and Omojola’s book looks at “how musical performances reflect a process of identity construction that speaks to the experiences of the performers themselves.”

He also addresses modern influences on Yorùbá music such as the Internet and major recording companies, arguing that these “provide new resources through which musicians examine their musical material and come up with new experimental sounds.”

Taken as a whole, Yorùbá musical identity “reflects the conflicts, the competitions, even the contradictions that typify modern Yorùbá society in the postcolonial era,” Omojola said. By exploring the roles that performers and performing groups play in creating these traditions, he contributes to ongoing scholarship about African music that emphasizes individual creativity within a larger social network.

—By Emily Harrison Weir