By Anote Ajeluorou
IBADAN played host to two cultural events on Sunday and Monday that will reshape the cultural landscape of Ibadan, where Nigeria’s modern-day cultural reawakening started with Mbari Club where pioneers like Chinua Achebe, JP Clark, Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okigbo, Demas Nwoko, among others, received mentorship from German’s Ulli Beier to birth what is today Afriva’s global powerhouse of artistic and cultural creativity.
First was the performance of America’s Pauline Yang who is on a 3-city working visit to Abuja, Lagos and Ibadan to teach and mentor young musicians who are perfecting their art in the classical music tradition. It is part of the U.S. Mission to Nigeria’s educational opportunity being offered to youngsters to broaden their skill in classical music.
But last Sunday at Manhattan Centre, Magazine Road, Jericho, Ibadan, Yang entertained Ibadan cultural enthusiasts to a superb performance that had guests inside the huge hall standing up to give her ovation. From Chopin to Mendel and a range of classical masters from Europe to America and the Americas, Yang’s dexterity on the piano was unmistakably grand, as her nimble fingers danced on the keyboard to produce sublime music that filled the hall and the minds and soul of her audience to swelling points. What came through was a masterful display of years and years of learning and practice, having started out at age seven and going on to study classical music at the feet of masters across the world to a Masters degree level.
Although Yang was the main act, the American Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard was on hand to lend flute accompaniment to Yang for the opening and closing acts. Ambassador Leonard, an accomplished flutist, also performed Nigeria’s national Anthem on her flute with so much gusto to the admiration of the audience.
A grateful Ibadan audience, largely made up of its eminent elite, applauded petite Yang and Initiative for Information Arts and Cultural Development in Nigeria (IACD) for the opportunity to witness such soul-stirring performance that held them spellbound for about two hours. Although Manhattan Hall was not purpose-built in theatre-like fashion for such performance, but it served well to project Yang’s superlative performance to an audience that applauded Yang after every piece.
Before each piece she performed, Yang took time to explain who the composer is, why he composed and the intricacy of the composition, its impact on audiences worldwide and how she is personally invested as a performer. This brought added intimacy among the audience, the composer and Yang who was mediating as performer-priestess of high art. Indeed, Yang knew how to woo her audience with her ready, wide, warm smile that framed a petite face and regale steps as she walked back to her stool before the grand piano, where she meditatively pauses, her fingers delicately poised above the black and white chords in fleeting moments before she plunges in and works musical magic with her fingers.
When Yang ended her performance, President of IACD, Dr. Kolade Mosuro, presented her and Ambassador Leonard with two talking drums each, as symbols of the musical heritage of Ibadan and Yoruba people. Indeed, it was the height of cultural exchange for the gift of classical performance Yang rendered, and having to leave with a memento of Yoruba musical craft of such rare value.
Dignitaries present to savour Yang’s classical offerings included His Excellency Gen. Oluwole Rotimi, His Excellency (Dr.) V.O.S. Olunloyo, Professors Kayode Oyediran, Dele Falase, Idowu Olayinka, Femi Osofisan and his wife, Gabriel Ogunmola, Jide Owoeye, Tolu Owaje, and Kunle Odumosu. Others were Ogie Alakija, Chief Joop Berkhout, Mrs. Tayo Morgan, Dr. Pat Oyelola, Alhaji Gani Oladimeji, and Pastor Olubi Johnson.
NEXT day, Monday, March 21, 2022, the cultural train moved to IACD, again with the AMERICAN Ambassador Leonard declaring open the newly renovated IACD facility on the same Magazine Road, Jericho, Ibadan, next door to The Booksellers Ltd, a one-stop bookshop that services the entire Ibadan metropolis. Ambassador Leonard cut the tape to open the cultural centre that accommodates the American Corner and activities of IACD that are youth-focused, cultural and educational.
That much the Senior Assistant to Oyo State Governor on Youths and Sports, Hon. Kazeem Bolarinwa, acknowledged when he said he was a beneficiary of the activities of the centre that caters to the development needs of the youth constituency that he oversees. He urged more activities from the centre to help galvanise the youth segment in terms of education and opportunities, saying government could not do it alone. Governor Seyi Makinde did not attend either of the two events, prompting a prominent citizen of the state to remark that the state governor missed the opportunity to meet America’s president who visited his state, since a country’s ambassador is equivalent of its president.
While welcoming guests, Dr. Mosuro enumerated the activities that the centre engages in and the personalities and institutions that support it to actualise it projects. He also used the opportunity to appreciate Yang for her performance the day before.
According to Mosuro, “We do engage in a variety of educational programmes and extend them to private and public schools and under-served areas of the state. I am certain that in the days and months ahead, we will find a number of educational programmes in which we can collaborate.
“I will be remiss in my welcome if I do not acknowledge and welcome Pauline Yang. Yesterday’s performance with Ambassador Leonard was sublime and exquisite. You both gave us a very delightful evening and expanded for us what to listen for in music. You may well consider a talking drum to your repertoire and you will be all the more dazzling. Pauline, in your case, your welcome is not just to this Centre, your welcome is to Nigeria. Welcome to a cultural ambassador, and thank you!
“Our centre is first a space. To shelter men and women to discourse. To provide a space for intellectual and cultural enquiries. To hold our books and resources for repetitive use. To raise a community of readers.”
Dr. Mosuro reiterated IACD’s focus on youths and how they could discover themselves using the centre’s resources to improve themselves since it started 19 years ago. He also stressed the art projects that centre engages in to broaden the cultural landscape of Ibadan community.
“We are here to organize programmes for youths to discover themselves, showcase their talents, and build confidence and aim to the sky,” eh said. “Our activities cut across all ages and broad interests, for people to mingle in thoughts and ultimately to collaborate in action. We are here to promote arts and culture, including scientific culture, and through thick and thin, we have managed to do this for the past 19 years.”
Dr. Mosuro, an avid booklover, restated the centre’s focus on books and libraries and the enlightenment they bring, adding, “I am very sentimental about books, and about libraries being captivating, even being romantic. Being here, you need not look any further. We have the ambience to achieve rigorous scholarly works and one that is equally suitable for fun. Thank you all for making it happen. It makes my welcome fulsome. And on that, I welcome you all, once again, to our new Resource Centre.”
For Amb. Leonard, The United States Government pledged its commitment to expanding its engagement, educational outreach, and empowerment of the citizens of Nigeria through its network of American spaces in Nigeria. Ambassador Leonard stated this while opening the renovated American Corner in Ibadan during a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Oyo State Government officials, U.S. Government exchange alumni, American Fulbright scholars, teachers and students.
In her opening remarks, Ambassador Leonard expressed delight that the revitalized American Corner will offer even more opportunities to residents of Ibadan and beyond to discover the United States as they prepare for their futures. She explained that the American Corner will continue to serve as a venue for young people to develop their ideas, as well as their leadership and entrepreneurship skills through programmes and workshops designed for them, often led by United States government exchange alumni.
“To the emerging leaders, this corner is designed to help you gain skills and broaden your contact with Americans. Please, take advantage of all that this space has to offer,” Amb. Leonard said.
There are 18 American spaces in Nigeria.