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A Political Economy of Lifestyle and Aesthetics: Yorùbá Artists Produce and Transform Popular Culture


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This article celebrates and pays tribute to the work of Karin Barber by joining analyses of the history of political and economic conditions with analyses of the relationship between people's lifestyles and aesthetic forms of production. This paper analyzes a Yorùbá alárìnjó (traditional singing, dancing, drumming, and masquerade) performance and a recent Yorùbá film by Túndé Kelani to illustrate the interconnections between “lifestyle” and aesthetics (Bourdieu, Distinction). This article concludes that a local performing troupe produced an aesthetics of liminality that emerged from its immersion in local and global markets of the 1990s, while the Kelani film produces an aesthetics of ambivalence, exploring relationships between traditional and modern cultural politics in the early 2000s. Grounded in long-term fieldwork in southwestern Nigeria, this piece illustrates Barber's insight that cultural preservation requires innovation and argues further that popular culture is an important part of this process (Anthropology of Texts).
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RESEARCH IN AFRICAN LITERATURES, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Winter 2012). © 2012
A Political Economy of Lifestyle and
Aesthetics: Yorùbá Artists Produce and
Transform Popular Culture
Gavilan College
This article celebrates and pays tribute to the work of Karin Barber by
joining analyses of the history of political and economic conditions with
analyses of the relationship between people’s lifestyles and aesthetic forms
of production. This paper analyzes a Yorùbá alárìnjó (traditional singing,
dancing, drumming, and masquerade) performance and a recent Yorùbá
lm by Túndé Kelani to illustrate the interconnections between “lifestyle”
and aesthetics (Bourdieu, Distinction). This article concludes that a local
performing troupe produced an aesthetics of liminality that emerged from
its immersion in local and global markets of the 1990s, while the Kelani lm
produces an aesthetics of ambivalence, exploring relationships between
traditional and modern cultural politics in the early 2000s. Grounded in
long-term eldwork in southwestern Nigeria, this piece illustrates Barbers
insight that cultural preservation requires innovation and argues further
that popular culture is an important part of this process (Anthropology of
Grounded in her expansive knowledge and experience of the aesthetics of
Yobá culture in southwestern Nigeria, Karin Barber’s texts bring Yorùbá
popular culture to life by effortlessly emulating the tenor and cadence of
the artful performances” captured in Yorùbá dialogue and consciousness (The
Generation of Plays 266). Barber’s monumental historical and ethnographic analyses
of Yorùbá praise singing (1991) and Yorùbá popular theater (2000) not only answer
her own shout-out for scholarly attention to African popular culture (1987) but
provide models for how to theorize and critique popular cultural forms while
celebrating their specicity and creativity. In its attention to cultural interpretat ion
and social theory, Barber’s canon illustrates how popular culture aesthetics have
emerged from the material conditions of their production. This paper builds on
Barber’s analyses of Yorùbá popular culture by examining the aesthetics and
production of an alárìnjó—traditional singing, dancing, and masquerade—per-
formance in the late nineties and a recent lm by a popular Yorùbá lmmaker,
Túndé Kelani.1
I suggest a political economy of lifestyle and aesthetics approach that joins analy-
ses of the history of political and economic conditions that have shaped and been
shaped by cultural forms of expression and analyses of the relationship between
people’s lifestyles and aesthetic forms of production. Following Bourdieu, I use
the concept of “lifestyle” to refer to specic preferences emerging from the rela-
tionship between habitus and class positioning, played out through the material
and symbolic terrain of the body, language, possessions, artistic production, etc.
This approach, in order to resonate and matter, must be informed by
the analyst’s best attempts to understand the culture from within. Barber’s work
emphasizes and models the need for long-term, ethnographic language and eld
study. There are no short cuts.3
Armed with copies of my ethnography, to distribute among the artists who
had collaborated in the making of our twelve-year project on Yorùbá Bàtá, I
returned to Èrìn-Òsun during the summer of 2010. Eager to begin a new project
and show off our book, the symbolic representation of our collective labors over
the years, I looked forward to an eventful re-immersion. It was a challenging visit.
I found myself jolted, yet again, into a critique of why ethnographic work is at once
so fraught yet so necessary. To my surprise, several of the artists questioned my
representations of them in the book, which led to a series of strained discussions
with the king and the artists, and my good friend and collaborator consistently
expressed his disappointment—in social settings—that our work together has
failed to generate any substantive funds. I was also called upon by friends to make
peace (an impossible charge) between one of my closest friends and his estranged
junior wife, also my good friend; two weeks into my stay, my friends revealed to
me that I had been bewitched and would have to take measures to break the spell
if I wanted my bad luck to end; and then when I returned back to the U.S. I discov-
ered that my email account had been hijacked, complete with a nearly believable
narrative about my kidnapping followed by an urgent plea for money. Otherwise,
it was wonderful to be back in Nigeria: my language skills had improved, my
good friends were healthy and as hospitable as ever, a colleague helped set up my
new research afliation, and I was forced to remember that although every day of
eldwork feels like a month, that kind of experiential knowledge is invaluable. In
order to analyze and theorize the historically, socially, and culturally produced
realm of practices and aesthetics that comprise “popular culture,” anthropologists
must engage in dialogue with people as they debate the events of their everyday
lives and hopes for their futures.
The Generation of Plays, Barber’s latest ethnography, brilliantly realizes and exem-
plies her own suggestions for how to approach a study of African popular culture.
Thus, I take this signicant work as a point of inspiration. The Generation of Plays
emerged out of Barber’s eldwork with the Oyin Adéjobí Theater Company from
1981 to 1984. Situating the proliferation of Yorùbá language popular culture genres
in Òsogbo’s history of literacy and education in the 1950s,4 Barber categorizes the
theater company members as “clerkly artisans,” members of an intermediate class
with some primary and/or secondary school education along with training as
apprentices in particular trades.5 While most had limited literacy in the English
language, many spoke some English while others were nearly uent. Although
their audience members ranged in class, most had at least enough disposable
income to pay for the ticket. Popular theater, argues Barber, followed by televi-
sion and video, signicantly spoke to and helped create a new kind of audience:
an anonymous public whom the artists did not know personally. Rather than rely
on their expert knowledge of particular individuals’ personal, family, and town
histories (as in praise poetry), the theater’s task was to craft plays that would speak
to a broad Yorùbá-speaking public.
If the theater company members were clerkly artisans, then drummers and
masquerade dancers from Èrìn-Òsun are strictly artisans, members of a lower,
working class. In addition to their lineage-based apprenticeships with professional
family members, most bàtá and alárìnjó artists also pursue apprenticeships in
other trades, such as taxi driving, furniture making, and barbering. Unlike the
Òsogbo-based collective, the four generations with whom I have worked have
had little or no primary and/or secondary school training and thus have limited
literacy in the Yorùbá language and very limited facility in English. Although
with each generation, the amount of time children remain in school has increased.
While these class distinctions are useful, I will suggest that the categories of class
and status in Yorùbá culture are also uid and exible as are the categories of
traditional and popular arts. Èrìn-Òsun artists’ lives as locally rooted and glob-
ally prolic traveling performers exemplify some of this complexity and uidity.
For example, I have argued in Yorùbá Bàtá Goes Global that these artists produce
a genre called pop tradition. Though they are not literate, Èrìn-Òsun artists are
more worldly and well-traveled than most members of the Yorùbá intermediate
class. These artists’ lifestyles—dened by travel between traditional and popular
genres and lower and middle classes—are reected in their artistic production.
While the Adéjobí company was still ourishing as a live theater troupe dur-
ing the eighties (before it turned to video in the early nineties), many other popular
theater groups, as well as lineage-trained artists, were also performing widely and
building new networks. In the eighties, Èrìn-Òsun artists were peaking in their
careers as professional representatives of traditional Yorùbá performance in local,
national, and overseas venues. From the vantage of the nineties—shaped by two
oppressive military dictatorships and the dramatic devaluation of the náírà—the
eighties quickly became a storied reference point for more ush and hopeful times
that were still within reach. Having conducted the bulk of my research in the
nineties, I produced an ethnography that analyzes daily life tensions—between
culture brokers and artists, brothers, husbands, and wives, fake and real artists,
etc. It is little wonder that this book was met with some initial angst: rather than
showcase bàtá and alárìnjó in their aesthetic glory out of context, I argued that the
artists “managed” the realities of their everyday lives by working their strategic
collaborations with culture brokers.6 Following Barber’s approach, I analyzed the
working and living conditions that shaped the artists’ relationships to their art
and communities; it was impossible to separate the aesthetics of artistic production
from everyday life.
Barber argues that the projects and aesthetics of popular culture in south-
western Nigeria have emerged from the material conditions of their production,
a process she calls generative materialism” (The Generation of Plays). Specically,
popular theater performances were activations” of the actors’ potential”; the
actors “lled outeach play during each performance. Rather than representing a
fully scripted story, image, or idea through their plays, the artists constantly drew
on and then acted out their potential on stage. Each actor’s potential consisted of
life experiences, understandings of the Yorùbá language, interpretations of the
plots, and responses to audiences, etc. As clerkly artisans, the actors drew on their
training as artisans who have mastered a craft as well as the entrepreneurial skills
required to start and maintain a business. School-oriented, they also respected
the literary and educational value of their plays. The intermediate class experi-
ences of these actors produced the aesthetics of popular theater: traveling from
town-to-town on a shoestring, scripted plays but with room for improvisation and
changes (in dialogue, scene emphasis, scene inclusion, etc.), a company structure
based on kinship and professional models, always responding to audiences, two-
dimensional staging, and presenting a moral that served to educate an engaged
audience who sought such a lesson.
The popular theater, as well as other “modern” popular culture forms (songs,
novels, ewì, etc.), addressed the Yorùbá language public as one moral community.
This community included parents, spouses, clients, patrons, friends, etc., and was
invoked at different times as “African, Nigerian, Yorùbá, Òyó, Muslim, Christian,
traditional” (The Generation of Plays 418). One of Barber’s key arguments is that
Yobá people saw themselves as examples of “humanity in its moral dimension
rather than as an exclusive group claiming the only humanity. Yorùbá values . . .
exemplify Nigerian, African, or human values in general” (ibid.). While Barber
maintained that the company was not overtly political, in that it did not openly
critique politics, the company did signicantly help to create a Yorùbá public that
transcended ethnic, race, class, and religious boundaries. One could call this mode
of its production the company’s political project, stemming from specic historical
and social conditions.
In Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, Bourdieu builds on his
theory of habitus to illustrate how, what he calls, “taste” emerges from a particular
“social orientation” shaped by socioeconomic class. Just as our schemes of habi-
tus” express social differences (between classes, genders, age groups, etc.) as if to
appear natural, our taste for aesthetics also appears natural, yet is clearly linked
to our educational level and social origin (466). According to Bourdieu, “Tastes
are predisposed to function as markers of class. . . . Taste classies” (2, 6). Taking
pains to denaturalize taste, specifying how taste worked in France during the
sixties, Bourdieu bases his historical and philosophical critique on his analyses
of the results of a twenty-six question sociological survey administered in Paris,
Lille, and a small provincial town among 1,217 people (13). The survey consists
of questions about preferences for specic books, lms, music genres, songs,
furniture, clothing, activities, interior design, and museums. He delineates three
zones of taste corresponding to education and class: legitimate, middle-brow, and
popular taste.
Over the course of his analysis, Bourdieu argues that taste generates what
he usefully denes as “life-style,” a set of distinctive preferences that become so
due to the “specic logic of each of the symbolic sub-spaces, furniture, clothing,
language, or body hexis” (173). He goes on to offer this example:
An old cabinetmaker’s world view, the way he manages his budget, his time,
or his body, his use of language and choice of clothing are fully present in his
ethic of scrupulous, impeccable craftsmanship and in the aesthetic of work for
work’s sake which leads him to measure the beauty of his products by the care
and patience that have gone into them. (174)
By showing how threads of cultural logic and aesthetic taste help to dene the
lifestyles of particular groups of people, Bourdieu offers some useful tools for
analyzing the aesthetics of everyday life, and perhaps linking aesthetic taste to
people’s production (not just consumption) habitus.
Embedded in his analysis is a critique of bourgeois dominance. Building on
this work, I suggest that because particular lifestyles emerge out of and produce
particular aesthetics, it becomes a political project to advocate for the heterogeneity
and sustainability of lifestyles that challenge modernizing projects that squelch or
deny lifestyles perceived by dominant institutions as not modern or inappropriate.
Bàtá and alárìnjó artists of Èrìn-Òsun, for example, critique the Nigerian state for
claiming to support their aesthetic traditions while devaluing and dismissing their
lineage-based lifestyle, which produces their aesthetics. Bourdieu’s insights into
the connectedness of lifestyle and aesthetics help us to better understand and even
advocate for those who consciously choose against-the-grain lifestyles.
In order to further denaturalize the relationship between class and lifestyle,
Bourdieu explains that each group of people in a class, specied by occupation,
is characterized by a certain conguration of the . . . distribution of economic
and cultural capital among its members . . . to which there corresponds a certain
lifestyle” (Distinction 260). For example, “artistic producers and higher education
teachers” are low in economic capital but high in cultural capital, whereas “com-
mercial employers” are high in economic capital but low in cultural capital (ibid.
262). This insight helps us analyze artists’ struggle: artists produce culture for elite
and popular consumption, yet their class status usually remains low.
While Bourdieu’s classication schema is useful in any analysis of class and
aesthetics, he is critical of the fact that the very acts of classication and being clas-
sied are problematic as they work to reproduce the very categories themselves.
Almost as an aside, however, he reminds us that using this kind of work (the proj-
ect of denaturalizing these categories) to “[transform] the categories of perception
and appreciation of the social world and, through this, the social world itself, [is]
indeed a forgotten dimension of the class struggle” (Distinction 483). The political
economy of lifestyle and aesthetics approach that I am suggesting borrows from
Bourdieu’s analyses of how our production and consumption of aesthetic forms
is shaped by our class position (social origin, educational level, and life trajectory).
And should we choose to challenge or transform the ways in which various aes-
thetics are perceived and valued, we open the possibilities for a redistribution of
economic capital and a widening eld of what counts as cultural capital.
Yorùbá Lifestyle and Aesthetics in an Alárìnjó Performance in Èrìn-Òsun
From the late nineties into the present, I have lived and conducted ethnographic
research with an extended family of bàtá drummers in the medium-sized, semi-
rural town of Èrìn-Òsun.7 Founded by Yorùbá refugees who ed from today’s
Kwara state during the Fulani invasions in the mid-1800s, Èrìn-Òsun in the 2010s
continues to pride itself on its preservation, innovation, and celebration of àsà
ibílè, traditional culture. Nigeria in the nineties was shaped by the military dic-
tatorships of Babangida and Abacha and the dramatic devaluation of Nigeria’s
currency, the náírà (see Guyer, Denzer, and Agbaje). Having come to power by
force in 1993, President Abacha (1993–98) became infamous for killing off his
political rivals, sanctioning the hanging of the “Ogoni nine,” making deals with
international corporations that only beneted the elite, and mismanaging funds
meant for state and local governments. By necessity, Nigerians have imbued their
entrepreneurial culture with heavy doses of innovation and magic in order to
provide for themselves and their families. No steady wages or quality control
at public institutions, no models for honest leadership in politics, no retirement
system—no nation/state-level support.
When I settled down in Èrìn-Òsun in 1996, the artists with whom I worked
had already built an extended overseas network of culture brokers, fans, and sup-
porters. Their foreign network, mostly in Germany and the U.S., were patrons and
clients—their guaranteed, albeit sporadic and contingent, source of income and
livelihood. My presence served as a reminder that there was an overseas market
for their commodity, traditional Yorùbá performance. Over the years, I have expe-
rienced the artists’ endless schemes and cycles of determination and disappoint-
ment to keep their overseas networks alive. The artists’ keen focus on manifesting
overseas opportunities was evidence that their entrepreneurial prowess became
a primary mode of survival.
While Èrìn-Òsun artists regularly performed for audiences overseas during
the nineties, they also continued to perform for local secular venues, primarily
naming parties, funerals, weddings, and political events.
The most common type
of alárìnjó performance ensemble consisted of two to four drummers playing
accompanying rhythms for one or two solo singers/dancers/acrobats and several
backup singers/dancers/acrobats. While audiences always appreciated talented
drummers, they often focused on the words sung by the lead vocalist in the genre
called ewì, “neo-traditional topical and moral poetry” (Barber, The Generation of
Plays 72). Túndé Òjéyemí was one of the most prolic and talented performers in
his town over the course of my research, during which I documented over fty
local performances and participated in many more. The ewì discussed in this
section was representative of the events I had been documenting: Túndé sang for
ninety minutes straight, directly addressing different members of the celebrating
party and their guests. Late scholar of Yorùbá culture Báyò Ògúndíjo transcribed
and translated the entire segment. In my analysis, I connect the aesthetics of this
slice of local performance with its everyday life and political economic context.
It was May 10, 1997, during the height of the masquerade season in Èrìn-
Òsun. Egúngún, masquerades representing ancestors returning to the realm of the
living (ilé ayé) to bless and bring messages to family members and townspeople,
“came out” (jáde) during most weekends, and many weekdays, during the season.
Since Túndé and his ensembles played for most of the egúngún ceremonies, they
squeezed this gig into their schedule. Such local performances are less about mak-
ing money and more about supporting community members who, in this case,
were honoring a deceased family member.
Túndé approached all venues professionally and always wore fashionable
cloth—“mirror,” sat in, pat terned wax, or thick lace styles—sewn into a tradit ional
men’s long-sleeved, roomy shirt over matching pants (see gure 1). The support-
ing ensemble members, however, felt most comfortable wearing baggy jeans and
name brand T-shirts. Visually, this generation went for what they called a “guy”
aesthetic, “a graceful masculinity and showy sexuality” that let their audiences
know that they were successful professionals who had traveled the world, one foot
in their hometown and one foot overseas (Klein 88). This self-positioning through
their visual aesthetic was strategically meant to correct the disparaging images
of lineage-trained artists as poor, uneducated beggars. These artists took pride
in their mastery of their genres and ability to afford beautiful and stylish clothes.
Typical of such venues, this celebration took place outdoors, just outside
the compound of the celebrants. Groups of ve to ten people sat on rented metal
chairs or wooden benches surrounding rented round tables. The women of the
celebrating family served food, sodas, and beer, while the celebrating men and a
few women were treated as guests. It was mid-afternoon, and the sun was strong.
The heavy air was lled with scents of palm oil, cow meat stewing in spicy tomato
sauce, and the distant burning of trash and brush. The soundscape was full of
different styles of percussion and chanting, all competing for the attention of the
celebrants. Each ensemble worked the crowd by roaming from group to group.
In between sets, the hosts offered food and drink to the artists. These conditions
were challenging, though the artists accepted them as part of the nature of their
work. The artists who had performed abroad often talked and sang about their
luxurious overseas venues: they were paid in advance, performed for a circum-
scribed amount of time on a stage, and were always treated with respect. Playing
these local venues, however, gave the artists a chance to reect on their overseas
experiences, often in the musical interludes between the more structured ewì.
Túndé sang twenty different ewì, broken up by thirty-ve choral refrains.
Each ewì segment consisted of all or some of the following: invocations of the
ancestors and/or the òrìsà, Yorùbá gods and goddesses; Túndé’s personal praise
names and/or accomplishments; and the song body. The song body consisted of
a combination of personal oríkì, prayers, incantations, proverbs, and anecdotes.9
Thirty of the choruses were variations of the same theme about these artists’
Figure 1. Túndé Òjéyemí and his brother sing ewì in Èrìn-Òsun. Photo: Debra Klein, 1997.
invention of a fusion genre they called “Bàtá Fújì” (see Klein). That day’s poetic
themes, always directly addressing a specic audience member or group, included
wars that led to the founding of towns, wealth and poverty, women’s indelity,
secrecy, good versus evil, magic, persistence, pregnancy, money, prayers for suc-
cess, town histories, loyalty to the king, praises for òrìsà, praises for bàtá, and
people’s sources of power. Taken together, Túndé’s poems offered his audiences
a series of artfully articulated reections about local histories, morality, and
After paying homage to his father and addressing individual audience mem-
bers, Túndé sang the following poem about the Ìkoyí war because some of the
celebrants were from the Ìkoyí area.
The Ìkoyí war is sweet. War is not sweet.
The warrior killed sixteen, child of Òtúnbà in the house of Olúgbón.
He who cannot be seen in the rain.
He had boasted of war earlier in Ìkoyí long ago.
He who has effective medicine.
He who should not be thinking of women.
It was a woman who killed the rst Olúkòyí.
Èsù said he should never taste palm oil.
They gave him oil to eat, the one who should not eat palm oil.
They gave him palm oil to lick, the one whose house should not be rubbed with
horse’s feces.
They used horses feces to rub his house.
So they cut off the Olúkòyí’s head.
His head rolled as far as Ìbàdàn, Ògbómòsó, Ilé-Ogbo, Kúta.
On the sixteenth day, the head of Mololá rolled back.
Mololá said Sàngó and Sònpònná will kill the father of the thief who cut off his
head. (10 May 1997)
The content of this story reects a Yorùbá sensibility and cosmology. Warriors are
revered as powerful, gifted, and spiritually protected guardians of their town and
its people. In many ewì, and other genres, women are storied as untrustworthy,
conniving, and dangerous to men. In this poem, a woman tricked the warrior by
cooking for him, one of the most common ways women are said to manipulate
men. Even though the god of the crossroads, Èsù, had forewarned him not to taste
palm oil, the warrior succumbed to this woman’s power, shirking his responsibil-
ity to protect his king during wartime. Vulnerable and unprotected, the king was
killed by his enemies. Even though the king’s head rolled far and wide, it magi-
cally rolled home on the sixteenth day. A sacred number in Yorùbá cosmology,
sixteen was invoked twice. The dead king’s message, delivered by his head, was
one of prophetic revenge: two of the most powerful òrìsà, the gods of thunder and
smallpox, would jointly kill his killer’s father. The head (orí), symbolic in Yorùbá
cosmology and philosophy, signies an individual’s destiny, adding symbolic
meaning to the gruesome yet somewhat comical imagery of the king’s rolling
head. The message delivered by the king’s head was that destiny would be taken
as spiritually sanctioned.
One of the many oríkì for the town of Ìkoyí, this poem, and the way Túndé
sang it to the two middle-aged male celebrants, impressed and moved the audi-
ence. When Túndé began to tell this story of Ìkoyí, his two addressees immediately
expressed their elation by smiling, sipping their beers, and tuning in more intently
to hear their story unfold. As the story continued, they dug into their pockets and
pulled out their money to spray” (place on the forehead) Túndé for his skillful
work. Other audience members enjoyed the song but were less attentive to the
details of the poem. Túndé’s father, however, was extremely attentive to his son’s
song because he wanted to be sure he was getting it right, since he was praising
his fathers age mates and because he was proud of his son’s skills. The audience
was impressed and excited by the fact that Túndé was singing ewì in a style they
recognized as “traditional.” They were impressed that a performer from an area
far from Ìkoyí was able to pull their town’s song out of his memorized repertoire,
on the spot. It doesn’t get much better than this: to be called out in praise poetry
is a memorable, joyful, and proud moment.
As soon as Túndé nished his poem, his father beckoned and asked him to
greet some arriving guests. After welcoming three new middle-aged male guests
by name and personal oríkì, Túndé cued his ensemble to perform their signature
fast-paced, galloping, fújì-inspired chorus about the merging of bàtá with the
popular music genre of fújì.10 The ensemble repeated this chorus twenty-nine more
times. Always catchy enough to inspire audience members to dance, this chorus
became the vehicle through which Túndé reminded his audience of his group’s
innovation, uniqueness, worldliness, and rootedness in traditional culture.
Neither Túndé’s ensemble nor the audience members dwelled on the details
of the lyrics for too long, with the exception of gossip, yet they shared in the overall
content and vibe of the performance. Excited by the skillful drumming back ing up
Túndé’s on-point improvisation, proud of their cultural heritage, relaxed as they
engaged with their local entertainers—these were good times for the celebrants. In
the Ìkoyí poem, as in the others, Túndé often invoked or told stories about the òrìsà,
Olórun (God), as well as the powers of nature. Although the majority of people in
Èrìn-Òsun believed that their commitments to their Muslim and Christian paths
did not permit the public acknowledgement of the òrìsà, they whole-heartedly
enjoyed the poems in Túndé’s repertoire. When I asked audience members for their
thoughts about the poems’ spiritual content, they said ewì was beautiful to them;
the poems represented their cultural heritage, which includes the òrìsà, and made
them proud; and the rest of the world also nds beauty in their tradition, made
evident by the fact that their local artists perform all over the world. Performers
and audiences alike easily separated their culture from their religion and/or had
exible spiritual orientations; they did not experience conict when it came to
enjoying or listening to these poems.
Whenever women appeared in the poems, they got themselves and/or men
into trouble due to their dishonest and manipulative nature. Most of my friends
and informants agree that Yorùbá culture is patriarchal, in that men ultimately
set the terms for what is appropriate, yet women are in charge of powerful public
realms, such as the market and trading. This power asymmetry creates problems
and provides the stuff that good stories are made of. Poems composed and sung
from a male perspective tend to reproduce narratives warning men of women’s
duplicitous nature. And because men occupy more public social spaces, they use
these opportunities to joke and commiserate with other men about their trouble
resisting women and tendencies to fall prey to their agendas. When women
sing ewì and are in the audience, however, they turn some of the same stories
around to convey their frustrations with men’s failed promises and tendencies
to depend on them for everything. These poems provide opportunities for com-
munity members to negotiate their gendered relationships, often through gossip
about specic individuals who happen to be present. As the occasional subject
of such gossip, I can attest to the effectiveness of this play to stir things up and
get people talking.
Listening to the content of the poems, we can appreciate how stories of
the past and present are infused with commentary on morality and spirituality.
From illustrating the challenges of being morally appropriate women and men to
acknowledging the omnipresent roles of gods, nature, and destiny in choreograph
ing the paths of our lives, the stories are entertaining. This form of entertainment
still works because it is grounded in the lifestyles of the artists and the audience.
In a community setting, such events inspire animated discussion and debate about
the politics of everyday life in relation to the past, present, and future.
Alárìnjó performance is arguably a dying art: elder artists are dying, children
spend more time in school, and traditional knowledge professions have been
devalued. Túndé and his supporting ensemble spent much of their childhood
studying, performing, and thus mastering their arts alongside their family mem-
bers. The aesthetics of alárìnjó performance have emerged out of particular ways
of training the next generation and living their art in their communities. This
analysis reveals how the artists’ aesthetics are inextricable from their lifestyles.
Building on Bourdieu and the critique of bàtá master Làmídì Àyánkúnlé, we are
left with the task of advocating for the support of lineages and towns committed
to passing along their art. Since they cannot depend on the support of their local
and state governments, one of the elder artists, Rábíù Àyándòkun, has started a
school for the traditional arts on the outskirts of Èrìn-Òsun. Supplementing the
role of lineages, but still close to his town where these arts matter, this school will
employ professional masters to train future generations in the traditional arts.
As the national economy has steadily declined, so have people’s incomes
and the availability of disposable income for entertainment. In the nineties, the
income earned from local performances, once divided among the ensemble mem-
bers, was merely enough to provide one day’s meals for a small family. If the
venue involved travel, the earnings were often spent on transportation. My elder
collaborators often tell stories about how well they were paid for the same work
during the seventies. The most well-traveled elders, in fact, will not play for local
events today because they are insulted by the lack of compensation. These art-
ists have also critiqued national institutions for inviting them to represent the
Yobá arts in festivals but then failing to fulll their contracts to provide daily
stipends, food, and accommodations. In the nineties, the artists did their best to
secure tours and visiting positions overseas so that they could continue earning
livings as professionals. Unfortunately, the global market for world music and
performance was drying up: venues in Germany and the U.S. were not able to
support them for second, third, or fourth visits. Locally, however, the artists were
still able to build on the cultural capital they had rightfully earned by traveling
the globe in decades past.
Yorùbá Lifestyle and Aesthetics in a Túndé Kelani Movie
From July 7 to 10, 2010, I attended a conference about the Nigerian video industry at
KWASU, Kwara State University, on the outskirts of Ìlorin. Entitled “Nollywood: A
National Cinema? An Inter national Workshop,” th is conference was packed full of
presentations, lm screenings, and social events. In addition to bringing together
scholars and lm practitioners from Nigeria, other parts of Africa, Europe, and the
Americas, this conference also intended to bring attention to KWASU’s ambitious
new “Film Village” housed in its School of Performing Arts. Convened by Nigerian
scholars who teach and live in North America and funded by Kwara state public
educational and arts institutions and private banks, this conference provided a
lively venue for discussing and analyzing the third largest cinema industry in the
world (behind Hollywood and Bollywood).
The main event for Saturday night was a screening of Túndé Kelani’s latest
lm, Arugbá (see gure 2). The venue was the charming outdoor courtyard of the
Kwara Hotel. A featured artist, guest, and participant, Kelani was present at all of
the events I attended. A graduate of the London International Film School, Kelani
has been producing and directing feature lms in Nigeria about Nigerian society
since 1993. In 1992, he founded, and continues to manage, Mainframe Film and
Television Productions, a company dedicated to promoting Nigeria’s “rich cultural
heritage and moral values both within the country and the outside world at large,”
“improving the standards of lm production in Nigeria,” and “giving technical
support to other production houses both within and outside Nigeria” (Mainframe).
I met Kelani during the conference and exchanged some emails with him while
writing this paper. A generous artist and colleague, he is dedicated to his work
and the professionalization of Nigeria’s lm industry.
Arugbá was still new in 2010 and had not circulated widely among the general
public. I bought and gifted copies to my friends in Èrìn-Òsun, but they would
probably not have seen the lm just yet. Due to time constraints, I have yet to
conduct audience response interviews about this lm. Like all of Kelani’s work,
Arugbá is a complex lm full of sub-plots, surprising scenes, rich cultural imagery,
Figure 2. Arugbá promotional media. Photo: Mainframe website, 2011.
music, dance, poetry, proverbs, humor, drama, magic, and compelling characters.
An Arugbá is a virgin, chosen by the king and Ifá (òrìsà of divination/oracle), who
carries the ritual calabash down to the Òsun river during the annual festival hon-
oring Òrìsà Òsun (goddess of fertility). For his 1995 documentary about the Òsun
festival in Òsogbo, Kelani interviewed and became inspired by a real Arugbá.
Produced in 2008, Arugbá tracks the journey of its main character, Adetutu, as
she struggles to balance her life and commitments as a university student, leader of
an all-women’s performance troupe, chosen Arugbá for her hometown, object of a
fellow student’s affections, and young woman with special powers to ward off evil
and do good for herself and others. The king of Adetutu’s hometown embodies
all that is corrupt and reprehensible about Nigerian leaders and politics. Power-
hungry and selsh, he constantly ghts with his chiefs, schemes to steal generous
WHO funds granted to manage the HIV epidemic, accuses Adetutu of losing her
virginity while at university, doesn’t care about his town’s poverty, and hoards
his stolen money in foreign bank accounts.
The lm’s brilliance lies in its ability to invoke its metanarratives in the rich
mini-stories of each scene. One of the lm’s metanarratives is about the tensions
between how Nigerians grapple with their nation’s corruption, greed, and lack of
development on the one hand, and how they continue to nd strength and unity
in their unique cultural resources on the other. Another metanarrative is about
the tensions between tradition and modernity. Traditional culture is as beautiful
and inspiring as it is plagued by big man corruption and sexism. Modern culture
is wise in its vision to help women and children out of ignorance, poverty, and
disease, but it is also ambivalent about and often disapproving of tradition. While
there is some resolution in the hope of the young couple’s new relationship and
Adetutu’s decision to start an NGO to serve her community, most themes and
issues remain completely unresolved by the lm’s end.
Building on my earlier analysis of Yorùbá popular culture aesthetics, I will
look at the portrayal of traditional culture and values in the lm. The performing
arts play a central and even framing role in the lm: the young couple, Adetutu
and Makinwa, are both students of theater arts and lead their own performance
groups; the Òsun Òsogbo festival provides the lm’s backdrop; and scenes featur-
ing traditional songs and dances for the òrìsà provide the spiritual structure that
grounds the lm’s main characters.
Both main characterstroupes perform complete pieces, taking up signicant
space toward the beginning and end of the lm. While each act borrows from
ewì and Yorùbá dance traditions, each is notably dominated by a global hip-hop
aesthetic. After some of the Èrìn-Òsun artists watched the lm, they commented
most about these particular performances on the university stage. In sum, they
said that the performances were trying too hard to be “òyìnbó” (foreign) and were
not aesthetically pleasing to them, but were funny.
Adetutu’s performance troupe joins aesthetic genres: lead female vocalist
with back-up singer/dancers choreographed in unison mixed with traditionally
inspired dance moves, occasional drumming, and song content. The group per-
forms on stage to a seated audience in an indoor university theater. While the audi-
ence is very engaged and sometimes claps during exciting dance segments, they
remain in their seats the whole time. The Yorùbá lyrics follow the ewì tradition,
directly engaging the audience in a song about honesty winning out over vanity.
The overall vibe of the piece is reminiscent of female pop singers from the U.S.
and Europe, such as live performances by Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. Throughout
the lm, Ma kinwa pursues training in bàtá drumming and danci ng, collaborati ng
with a bàtá drummer with whom he shares a powerful scene portraying a historic
dance between King Sàngó and his bàtá drummer during the fteenth century.
Makinwa’s nal stage performance, a climactic scene in the lm, contains an open-
ing ewì poem but no drumming. His main act is the male rap/hip-hop equivalent
of Adetutu’s group: a solo rap performance with back-up singers/dancers who
join in for the chorus.
Both group performances borrow from the ewì tradition of telling pointed
stories relevant to the moment and people’s lives. For example, Makinwa’s second
verse (of four) gets us thinking about Nigeria’s corruption in relation to what
counts as “education.”
They equate education to academics.
English is a must for judicious expression.
Listen to what I have to say in our own tongue.
A childhood tale of a certain autocrat.
Bent on self-perpetuation.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Excessive love for power courts disgrace.
Respect begets respect. (Arugbá)
The lm, and Makinwa’s character, questions the relationship between tradition
and modernity: isn’t it also important to be educated in the Yorùbá language
and culture and to perhaps use some of that knowledge to salvage the nation? Is
Nigeria continuing to go astray, becoming more corrupt, as it gets further away
from the wisdom inherent in its cultures? At the very least, can’t we do something
to stop the corruption that is making us starve? Like the performance of Túndé,
this ewì-rap asks its audience to engage in the ideas presented. Unlike the alárìnjó
setting, however, the audience does not have a chance to talk back on the spot, yet
they may talk with each other later. By showcasing th is particular ewì-rap, the lm,
in the ewì spirit, asks its audience to dialogue about these timely issues.
Curious about the lm’s portrayal of bàtá culture, I was struck by the only
scene during which the bàtá master spoke. This brief scene makes a loud statement
about the political economy of lifestyle and aesthetic tensions between tradition
and modernity. Makinwa sits under a tree reading a book when the two drummers
walk by wearing “native” agbáda (a traditional male long robe) and la (traditional
male cap) and carrying their drums. Makinwa wears his hair in dreadlocks, a
modern and controversial hairstyle for men, Western-style trousers, and a button-
down shirt. Aesthetically, the scene allows us to see how the drummers look out
of their element on campus. After the drummers tell Makinwa that his group has
“mastered bàtá drumming” (an impossibility to those who know better), one of
them picks up and starts looking through Makinwa’s book. The drummer asks,
“How can you read a book with no pictures?” to which Makinwa replies, “Pictures
are good. But the knowledge it holds is more important.
As Barber historicizes, Yobá popular theater and video lms emerged out
of traditional performance aesthetics, such as the alárìnjó event I analyzed earlier
in this paper. Popular theater writers/directors/actors intended for their plays to
provide moral lessons for their audiences who, in turn, would attend plays in order
to actively learn. Some of the scenes in Arugbá follow a related performance tradi-
tion of expressly educating the audience about a specic topic. The scene described
above could be interpreted as one such scene, serving to educate an illiterate
viewing public about the value of literacy. However, it might also be interpreted
as reproducing the disparaging stereotype of drummers as uneducated. Given
Kelani’s commitment to preserving and celebrating all forms of Yorùbá culture, I
doubt he would have intended this latter interpretation.
In fact, a few scenes before this one, the opposite lesson is offered, albeit by
the corrupt king. One of the king’s grandchildren visits and greets him without
kneeling and says in English, “Good morning, grandpa. The king is shocked
by such disrespect and asks, “Can’t you speak Yorùbá?” The child replies, “My
teacher forbids speaking that uncivilized language.” The king then turns to the
child’s mother, “Yejide, so you brainwash your kids with foreign culture. They are
even clueless about how to greet in Yorùbá.” The scene goes on to show that indeed
the kids are not uent in Yorùbá. Taken together, these two brief but hard-hitting
scenes illustrate the tensions surrounding the angst and confusion inherent in
the process of modernizing, hanging on to what is important while customizing
a culturally specic brand of modernity.
The lm portrays aesthetic ambivalence when it comes to the dance between
tradition and modernity. The illiterate drummers don’t really have a place in
universities, made evident by the book scene and the sepia-toned, historical
ashback to Sàngó and his drummer. The bàtá drummer is allowed to shine in
the past but is not comfortably invited to be part of the present. The drummers do
not appear in Makinwa’s climactic performance, though a traditionally dressed
male performer sings a brief ewì poem to introduce the featured rap song. While
we might be alarmed by the fact that children are being punished in school for
speaking Yorùbá, the character who expresses concern is the most evil and unlik-
able character in the lm. While the king may care about the persistence and
value of the Yorùbá language, he also inhabits the worst side of big man culture:
self-centered corruption at the expense of other people’s health and happiness.
While traditional aesthetics are portrayed through a sepia-toned lens of nostalgia,
they are also ever-present in the moral-driven, audience-engaging vocal content
of university student productions. While people who inhabit traditional values,
knowledge, and skills are portrayed as illiterate and power-hungry, they make us
think about which aesthetics and institutions to transform and which to phase out.
Analyzing Túndé’s alárìnjó performance in its context, I suggest that this event
embodied an aesthetics of liminality: in between genres and classes, in transition,
in the process of becoming something else, exciting, communal, participatory,
and cathartic. The chorus expressed the ensemble’s liminal status: if the spirits
and forces of nature would permit it, their new aesthetic fusion of traditional and
popular genres would survive. But would it? The young adult generation’s fusion
genre was liminal because it was in the process of creation. The economic and the
political free-for-all of the nineties not only produced this aesthetics of liminality
but made it feel like a permanent state, permanently transitioning. While citizens
and scholars of Nigeria have attributed this state of perpetual ux to Nigeria in
general (the popular slogan painted on buses and taxis, “no condition is perma-
nent,” comes to mind), I suggest that this aesthetics of liminality was particular
to the moment of its production.
We didn’t realize at the time that the global market for the Èrìn-Òsun art-
ists’ commodity was shifting. The artists’ overseas successes became a prominent
feature of their narrative and visual aesthetics; the liminality lay in the fact that
the artists were suddenly having trouble manifesting the same amount of oppor-
tunities for travel as they had throughout the past two decades. “Overseas” was
not only a pervasive character and aesthetic xture during my research, it was the
cause of family tension and intense debate.
Túndé’s poems were classic texts from his lineage-derived oral corpus. Invok-
ing the powers of the Yorùbá spirits and natural forces in the nineties was also
part of this event’s liminality. In Èrìn-Òsun, funeral celebrants were free to express
their rel igious ex ibility and love for their culture in a public social setting. With in
the context of an urbanizing and modernizing Nigeria, this participatory aesthet-
ics was liminal: neither rural nor urban, neither Muslim nor Christian, neither
traditional nor modern. When I observed Túndé and his ensemble performing
at a much larger funeral in 2010, I noted that the aesthetics had indeed changed:
the chorus was different as was the overall feel of the group. But I did not do the
research that would allow me to specify today’s alárìnjó aesthetics.
In 2010, members of the Àyánkúnlé family and their friends were still crazy
about fújì music and its aesthetics: fast-paced drumming, talented and skilled
star vocalists, big venues attracting thousands of fans, and its status as one of the
most popular music genres in Nigeria. During my stay, my friends watched their
favorite music videos in a beer parlor during the evenings. One of their favorites,
Ojó Nlá, is a two-hour video recording of the huge funeral celebration honoring
the deceased mother of fújì star Alhaji Chief Kollington Ayinla. Sponsored by the
Fuji Musicians Association of Nigeria (FUMAN), this event features performances
by many old and young popular musicians. Not only did my friends love the
performances as fans and fellow fújì musicians, but they also loved watching the
last twelve minutes of the video during which Kollington offers his caring advice
to Saheed Osupa, one of today’s most popular young fújì stars.
Most youth gravitate toward particular genres and styles of pop culture
that reect aesthetics that speak to their taste. Not only are aesthetic preferences
dened by their class position, education, and life trajectory, but also by genera-
tion. The ctional university students in Arugbá are inspired by the aesthetics of
a globalized hip-hop and rap culture, while the Èrìn-Òsun young adults identify
with and are inspired by fújì culture. Both groups of Yorùbá young adults are not
only culture consumers, but are also culture producers, in the business of creating
and circulating aesthetic styles that are on the cutting edge. The difference in class
positioning of the university students versus the artisans is notably reected in
these groups’ lifestyle and aesthetic preferences.
When it comes to the business of culture production, the elder generations
are up to something different. Since I have been working with the Èrìn-Òsun art-
ists, elders and brothers Làmídì Àyánkúnlé and Rábíù Àyándòkun have expressed
their frustration and sadness that their sons, who I call the Bàtá Fújì generation,
prefer to listen to and play fújì music over the bàtá classics. Looking through a
political economy of lifestyle and aesthetics lens, I have argued elsewhere that
these elders are not only concerned about the loss of an aesthetic tradition they
love and identify with but are also concerned about the loss of a lifestyle and cul-
ture that produces bàtá and alárìnjó aesthetics. Filmmaker Kelani is also a culture
producing elder concerned about the disappearance of a particular set of cultural
aesthetics, values, worldviews, and traditions that Àyánkúnlé and others call à
ibílè, traditional culture. Driven by a deep passion and sense of urgency, both sets
of elders have dedicated much of their careers to the preservation of their culture,
which they perceive as endangered.
In Arugbá, Kelani portrays traditional Yorùbá aesthetics in a deliberate way.
The scenes in which the òrìsà are invoked as well as the historic bàtá scene are
full of classical singing, dancing, and drumming within natural settings. The
òrìsà worshippers are beautiful women wearing colorful traditional cloth, their
dancing inspired by the spirits of the òrìsà and nature. The bàtá scene revolves
around an embellished ewì for Sàngó, a moving story about the symbiotic relation-
ship between drumming and dancing.11 These scenes stick out because they are
self-contained and separate from the plot (though they enhance it) and the lm’s
ow. These scenes have a timeless feel, reverential of the past—an aesthetics of
nostalgia. This aesthetics of traditional culture is juxtaposed against the rest of the
lm in which the king, chiefs, youth, parents, market women, etc., must grapple
with institutions and cultural values in ux. Overall, I suggest the lm’s statement
is its aesthetic ambivalence. What parts of our culture will we ght to keep alive,
what parts can we let go? It’s up to us to decide so that we resist the temptation to
give up on our country in search of a better life elsewhere.
The elder artists of Èrìn-Òsun have just started a School for the Traditional
Yobá Arts so that they can actively pass along their knowledge, skills, and pas-
sion to future generations. Since their teaching methods hinge on performing with
live audiences on a regular basis, they will make sure their students understand
how these arts are produced in local contexts. In this way, the lifestyle that pro-
duces these aesthetics will become a part of the curriculum. Given the formaliza-
tion and standardization of education that has transformed their world during the
course of their lives, these elders have decided that they need to be in control of
the institutionalization of the traditional Yorùbá arts. And their overseas successes
have provided them with the recognition and income that led to the creation of
their school. They see themselves as the professors with the rights and privileges
to teach the new generations. Collaborating with nearby colleges and universities,
they hope to attract enough students to cover their costs.
In The Anthropology of Texts, Persons, and Publics: Oral and Written Culture in
Africa and Beyond, Barber argues that by creating texts, people are intentionally
“xing” culture, engaging in a process of “making culture stick” (4). Through her
analyses of African oral texts, she illustrates how “preservation and innovation
are inseparable”: because the convention of Yorùbá praise poetry (oríkì) was
established, the neo-traditional genre of ewì emerged (211). Barber argues that
the processes of preservation and innovation are not opposites but rather, are
mutually constitutive.
A political economy of lifestyle and aesthetics mode of analysis has helped to
unravel the meanings of two different popular culture events, an ewì performance
in the nineties and a recent Kelani lm. Emerging from their positions as young
adult artisans from a successful family who has performed all over the world,
the ewì ensemble of Èrìn-Òsun produced an aesthetics of liminality in the nine-
ties. Featuring differently situated characters who move back and forth between
competing institutions, values, and worldviews, Arug produces an aesthetics
of ambivalence about the current state of Nigeria. Rooted in the genres of Yorùbá
oral performance, both events actively recruit their audiences, challenging them
to debate about the past, morality, gender, tradition, modernity, and the future of
their nation. Though these popular culture genres and aesthetics are grounded in
traditional forms, Èrìn-Òsun elders and Kelani are dedicated to the preservation of
traditional aesthetics, knowledge, and skills. Creating his lms, Kelani is at once
preserving and inventing Yorùbá culture. Creating a new institution, outside the
parameters of state funding, Èrìn-Òsun elders are passing along their knowledge
and skills while inventing a new kind of lineage-based training model. Paying
attention to the inextricable connections between lifestyle and aesthetic produc-
tion, we see that elder and youth generations are actively transforming—innovat-
ing and preserving—Yorùbá culture by engaging in the process of creating new
texts and institutions.
Many thanks to Victor Manfredi, Jonathan Haynes, and Andrew Apter for their
comments on early versions of this paper.
Alárìnjó are entertainment masqueraders—also known as agbégijó and apidán.
Alárìnjó masqueraders are born into Òjé families and are often called elégùun òjé.
Alárìnjó performers dance and dance in masks to tell stories about their communities
and life in general. They also sing praise songs, ewì, passed down from generation to
generation. Barber calls the genre of ewì “neo-traditional” since today’s songs probably
only go back to the 1800s. In addition to their roles as entertainers, elégùu n òjé also wor-
ship and bear the sacred masks for the Egúngún (òrìsà of the ancestors). Children born
into an Òjé lineage are given names starting with the Òjé prex and Òjé families work
closely with and at times marry into Àyàn drumming families. Òjé performers dance,
praise-sing, and perform acrobatic and masquerade displays, while Àyàn drummers
provide the accompanying drum rhythms and texts.
2. The body’s reproduction of structures below the level of discourse (Bourdieu,
The Logic of Practice; Distinction).
3. This approach to analyzing popular culture emerges from Marxist and neo-
Marxist analyses of class and capitalist modes of production, Foucauldian analyses of
institutions and the bodies they produce, the Frankfurt school’s analyses of aesthetics
and media, and the genealogies these schools have spawned.
4. After the railway opened in 1905, Òsogbo became a dynamic commercial and
manufacturing town where major international trading companies operated branches.
Between 1911 and 1952, Òsogbo nearly tripled in size, attracting Yorùbá immigrants as
well as smaller populations from other parts of Nigeria. In 1950, a small but growing
educated elite became elected members of town and district councils, alongside tra-
ditional chiefs. The educated elite, not missionaries, built the rst grammar school in
1949 to promote “enlightenment,” development through education. New artisan trades
emerged to support the colonial businesses: transportation, tailoring, printing, shoe
repair, radio repair, etc. According to Barber, “The combination of commercial vigor,
thriving artisanal production, and an active, articulate elite were favorable to new cul-
tural developments” (The Generation of Plays 40). Popular theater companies grew out of
this lively, growing city in the midst of transformation. Òsogbo soon became one of the
th ree, alongside Lagos and Ìbàdàn, major centers for visual and performing arts (ibid.).
5. Using a term that Nigerians use, Barber helpfully denes the Nigerian “inter-
mediate classes” as “mobile, entrepreneurial, urban-oriented, [and] aspiring(The
Generation of Plays 2). Often dened by lists of occupations—tailors, bricklayers, trad-
ers, taxi drivers, etc.—this class is also “dened by what it is not: not illiterate farmers,
on the one hand; not salaried professionals, on the other” (ibid.). People in this class
typically leave primary and/or secondary school to apprentice in skilled trades and
then join the “world of small-scale artisanal production and trade which dominates
the economy of Yorùbá cities and towns” (ibid.).
6. Yorùbá speakers used the English term “manage” to refer to specic strategies
for getting by in daily life. A common response to the greeting, “How are you?” was
“Manage naa ni o” / “I’m managing.” People would always inect this response with
an exasperated tone.
7. Passed down from generation to generation, bàtá is a ve-hundred-year-old
drumming, singing, and masquerade tradition from southwestern Nigeria. The f-
teenth-century reign of Sàngó marks the earliest documented use of bàtá drum
ensembles in royal contexts. Bàtá drums are double-headed, conically shaped drums
played in an ensemble of three drums.
Dating back at least ve hundred years, bàtá and alárìnjó artists have entertained
celebrants of baby naming parties, weddings, funerals, apprenticeship graduations, etc.
Bàtá drummers have also played for seasonal and personal ceremonies in honor of
the òrìsà, Yorùbá gods and goddesses; however, missionization and colonization has
contributed to the steady decline of public òrì worship since the 1950s.
9. A historically and culturally specic Yorùbá genre of praise singing (see Barber,
I Could Speak until Tomorrow).
10. Fújì music grew out of ajísáà music, it is a specic style of vocalization accom-
panied by the harmonica and performed for Muslims during the annual Ramadan
fast. Growing in popularity since the 1970s, fújì music is characterized by heartfelt
vocals and a rich rhythm section of talking drums, claves, bells, sekere, drum set, and
Hawaiian-style guitar, produced and patronized mostly by Muslims and performed
live at parties and secular celebrations. For the past twenty years, since I have been
conducting eldwork in Nigeria, fújì music has steadily grown in popularity and
is one of the most popular musical genres in Yorùbá cities and towns throughout
southwestern Nigeria.
11. Via email, I asked Túndé Kelani if he would explain to me the signicance
of bàtá and ewì in Arugbá. He wrote: “Life to the Yorubas is not complete without
the drums. Theatre without drums and dance is unimaginable. I nd myself inevi-
tably drawn to the cultural elements when I tell a story in lms. I think I am simply
responding to my cultural experience. It is a life time commitment.”
Arugbá. Dir. Túndé Kelan i. Mainframe Film and Telev ision Product ions, 2008. Video CD.
Barber, Karin. The Anthropology of Texts, Persons, and Publics: Oral and Written Culture in
Africa and Beyond. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. Print.
. The Generation of Plays: Yoruba Popular Life in Theater. Bloomington: Indiana UP,
2000. Print.
. I Could Speak until Tomorrow: Oriki, Women, and the Past in a Yoruba Town.
Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991. Print.
. “Popular Arts in Africa.African Studies Review 30.3 (1987): 1–78. Print.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Cambridge:
Harvard UP, 1984. Print.
. The Logic of Practice. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1980. Print.
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... There is much scholarship dedicated to the discussion of the concepts and categories of tradition and modernity in African contexts (Klein 2007;Meyer 2015;Ranger 1983Ranger , 1993). Meyer's discussion about why we must be careful about using these concepts uncritically is worth mentioning: scholarship and African institutions still fail to question the very categories of tradition and modernity that were created through colonialism. ...
... I can't even remember when I first heard the Yorùbá axiom, "Our tradition is a very modern tradition." While Yorùbá popular culture producers continue to regenerate and reinvent traditional culture, Kelani and other culture producers are ever-conscious of the potential loss of traditional knowledge and skills in the face of modernity (Barber 2000(Barber , 2007Haynes 2016;Klein 2007Klein , 2012. Thus, Kelani selfconsciously engages in the process of reimagining and recontextualizing traditional culture, grounded in Yorùbá morality, into new aesthetic formations for present and future audiences. ...
... I can't even remember when I first heard the Yorùbá axiom, "Our tradition is a very modern tradition." While Yorùbá popular culture producers continue to regenerate and reinvent traditional culture, Kelani and other culture producers are ever-conscious of the potential loss of traditional knowledge and skills in the face of modernity (Barber 2000(Barber , 2007Haynes 2016;Klein 2007Klein , 2012. Thus, Kelani selfconsciously engages in the process of reimagining and recontextualizing traditional culture, grounded in Yorùbá morality, into new aesthetic formations for present and future audiences. ...
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This article opens with the suggestion that the art of world-renowned and critically acclaimed Nigerian filmmaker, Tundé Kelani, is analogous to the work of Òrìṣà Èṣù, supernatural trickster who opens the portal to the spirit realm, the past, and the future. Drawing from long-term ethnographic research with Yorùbá performing artists in Òṣun and Kwara states, this article builds on Yeku’s concept of Alter/Native narrative and Meyer’s discussion of aesthetic formation to argue that Kelani’s innovative evocations of Yorùbá traditional culture can be understood as aesthetic formations of a morality for the present and future. Kelani’s films evoke and create aesthetic formations that reimagine and recontextualize Yorùbá traditional culture into new allegories and myths for contemporary audiences. Illustrating how Kelani’s representations of Yorùbá traditional culture and morality are central to his films’ allegorical impact, moral themes in thirteen Kelani films are identified. Through Èṣù-like storytelling, Kelani’s films reimagine tradition and offer new allegories that challenge postcolonial institutions and awaken our spirit and desire to create a more balanced world.
... In a nut shell, Kelani, while disseminating immediate/cogent messages, also transforms culture in manifold ways. Debra Klein (2012), reiterates the idea that Yoruba cultural creators flaunt "popular cultural forms while celebrating their specificity and creativity" (Klein, 128: 2012). Kelani's films resonate with Karin Barber's theories which reveal the impact of "popular cultural aesthetics" on the African text and how it has emerged from the material conditions of its productions. ...
Full-text available
Tunde Kelani, a prominent Nigerian cinematographer who has come to the limelight since 1982, has nineteen (19) films among several collaborations, which underscore the Nigerian leadership question and national transformation. Scholarly reviews on Kelani exclusively focus on cultural aesthetics, storytelling narratives, political themes, didactics, directing, Mise-en-scène. Notwithstanding, the ornate onomastic resources in his film, Saworoide, has been overlooked, particularly the significance of the masculine impression of some of his characters to Nigerian history. An exception is Abiodun Michael (2016), who highlights the sociocultural value and categorisation of Yoruba names in Kelani’s Saworoide but excluded Yoruba masculine names. The evolving field of men and masculinity in Nigeria also generates scholarly discussions, especially in oral literature, literature and youth culture. However, despite these remarkable strides from these masculinity perspectives, there is a lack of attention to the intersection of masculinity and film in Nigeria, especially in the films of Tunde Kelani. Notably, Kelani creates an equilibrium of gender in his characterisation, designating some male characters with nicknames, roles and traits that conspicuously reinforce traditional masculine features, particularly Kangidi (Adamant), Yangi (Flint), Adaripon (Proud), Roboto (Round), Kanjuko (Rigid), Ageku (Half-dead), Gbegilodo (Logger) and Lagata (Third-party) are at the top. Nicknames in Africa are issued when an individual fails to conform to a natal name. Thus, society or audience would study the natural attributes and suggest a new name befitting the bearer’s traits (Izevbaye, 1981). The analysis would reveal that the names are appellative, allegoric, satirical butts and descriptive of the significance of characterisation to the thematic configurations of the film, especially in epitomising history-preservation, socio-political construction and revolution for a better Nigeria. The film, a parody of military administration in Nigeria, equally exemplifies the corruption, embezzlement, assassination, lawlessness, betrayal of former military leaders and others involved in the political theatre.
... Popular culture has a strategic space both in historical and contemporary realities of a society (Parker, 2011;Storch, 2016). Most research on popular culture has been limited to popular music, religion, lifestyles, fashion and aesthetics (see, for example, Klein, 2012;Levine, 1990;Mantie, 2013;Storch, 2016;Wertheimer, 2006). Beyond these mentioned aspects of culture, popular culture permeates every aspect of human life and social relations. ...
The Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria describes children as the heritage of the society because children occupy a special place in societal survival and continuity. Children are esteemed and appreciated. Thus, the embedded culture propagates the essentiality of children, the need for proper socialisation and internalisation to make a responsible being (Omoluabi). Also, children are prioritised above material wealth, and the essentiality of child wellbeing and education is emphasised in aspects of popular culture such as oral poetry, proverbs, local songs and popular music among others. Using extant elements of Yoruba popular culture which have remained dominant, this article contextually examines the value of children among the Yoruba.
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During the 1960s in post-independence Nigeria, Síkírù Àyìndé Barrister (1948-2010) pioneered and coined the term fújì, a Yorùbá genre of popular dance music. While Barrister was a soldier in the Nigerian army in the late 1960s, he transformed wéré/ajísari music, songs performed by and for Muslims during the Ramadan fast, into this new style of dance music. Fújì is characterized by its Islamic-influenced vocal style, Yorùbá praise poetry (oríkì), and driving percussion. Fújì’s popularity hit a peak in Nigeria and on the global stage in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and fújì bands continue to record their music and perform throughout Nigeria and across the globe into the twenty-first century.
This article dispenses with the continuing dialogue on Tunde Kelani, as a filmmaker with a conscience and one who strives at discussing the on-going political quagmires, which have instigated reactionary movements and forces to clamour for an ideal leadership suitable for the appropriate governing of Nigeria. Tunde Kelani’s major works are politically committed and illustrate contemporary issues and politics as well as critique the inevitable conundrum of corruption. In this paper there is an affirmation that with Kelani’s adaptation of Hubert Ogunde’s Yoruba Ronu, the imaginative communication in the context of dance has become a means for him to examine issues with the aid of the visual elements of film. Dance is employed in addressing a faulty political system in Tunde Kelani’s adaptation, Yoruba E Ronu. With music, song, drama, dialogue, mime and poetry and the artistry of dance on screen, Kelani’s postcolonial logic is further buttressed in his tenacity as an auteur filmmaker who is highly concerned about the very nature and consequences of Nigeria’s ossified political system. Keywords: Tunde Kelani, Hubert Ogunde, Yoruba Ronu, Dance, Film, Yoruba E Ronu, Auteurism, Cinema of conscience
The Anthropology of Texts, Persons, and Publics: Oral and Written Culture in Africa and Beyond. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. Print. . The Generation of Plays: Yoruba Popular Life in Theater
  • Karin Barber
Barber, Karin. The Anthropology of Texts, Persons, and Publics: Oral and Written Culture in Africa and Beyond. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. Print. . The Generation of Plays: Yoruba Popular Life in Theater. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2000. Print. . I Could Speak until Tomorrow: Oriki, Women, and the Past in a Yoruba Town.
Yorùbá Bàtá Goes Global: Artists, Culture Brokers, and Fans
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Klein, Debra L. Yorùbá Bàtá Goes Global: Artists, Culture Brokers, and Fans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. Print.
Re: Ewì Sàngó in Arugbá? " Message to the author
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Kelani, Tunde. " Re: Ewì Sàngó in Arugbá? " Message to the author. 22 June 2011. Email.
Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984. Print. . The Logic of Practice
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Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984. Print. . The Logic of Practice. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1980. Print.
Túndé Kelani. Mainframe Film and Television Productions
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Arugbá. Dir. Túndé Kelani. Mainframe Film and Television Productions, 2008. Video CD.
The Anthropology of Texts, Persons, and Publics: Oral and Written Culture in Africa and Beyond. Cambridge: Cambridge UP
  • Karin Barber
Barber, Karin. The Anthropology of Texts, Persons, and Publics: Oral and Written Culture in Africa and Beyond. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. Print.
Re: Ewì Sàngó in Arugbá?
  • Tunde Kelani
Kelani, Tunde. "Re: Ewì Sàngó in Arugbá?" Message to the author. 22 June 2011. Email.