Northeast Nigeria has been devastated by terrorists. For years now, members of the Boko Haram terrorist militia have been attacking village communities and plundering people’s homes. Countless people had to flee and at present there are 1.8 million internally displaced persons in the region, many of whom live in camps.
Very slowly things are returning to normal. “The atmosphere is essentially peaceful,” reports Dr. Christopher Mtaku, an academic at the University of Maiduguri in the city of the same name and guest scholar at the Center for World Music at Universität Hildesheim. “The economy is slowly starting to recover and regions that were dangerous hitherto are now accessible again.” As a result, ins some parts people are returning to their villages and rebuilding them. In this context, the arts, music and film will hopefully assist in the effort. “The task for tomorrow is to recreate communities,” says Professor of Music Raimund Vogels, who since the 1980s has been working together with fellow researchers in Nigeria and is today Director of the Center for World Music. “Music can be one of the lines of identification.”
Impulses from art
One contribution to the reconstruction effort will hopefully be made by the new graduate school for “Performing Sustainability. Cultures and Development in West Africa”. The graduate school supports young academics from Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Niger and South Africa. They will in coming years explore what contribution the arts can make to realizing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in West Africa. The focus will be on sustainable development and topics relating to peace and conflict resolution. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is supporting the graduate school until 2020 through the agency of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
For the post-grad school, the Center for World Music at Universität Hildesheim is collaborating with the University of Maiduguri in Nigeria and the University of Cape Coast in Ghana. Recently, 15 graduates were selected who will take part in the programme.
New cultural identities
In their research projects some of the 15 concern themselves, amongst others, with how theatre in refugee camps could help people work through the traumas of the past. Others explore how film and music can create new cultural identities. In Nigeria, musicians perform among other things at village festivities and weddings. “That is not about pure entertainment,” comments Raimund Vogels. “The musicians also address social grievances. This is why they are not recognized by so many different parts of society.” Music therefore plays no role at school. In one of the research projects, a young academic is currently investigating to what extent the social image of music can be changed – and how it can in the final instance be used in schools to kindle a stronger sense of community.
The music archive of Nigerian music established at the Center for World Music is expected to help in the reconstruction effort. The German-Nigerian research team has assembled among other things 1,000 hours of sound and video recordings as well as 500 documentary images. The sound recordings, video footage and images attest to the diversity of the musical culture of Nigerian musical culture.
Music archive to support memories
The music archive is of great significance for the cultural memory of Nigeria, Christopher Mtaku avers. “In many parts of Nigeria not much gets recorded in writing,” he says. Instead, it falls to musicians to convey a knowledge of history. However, Boko Haram has murdered countless musicians. “The archive may therefore be the only source offering future generations in the Northeast the opportunity to hear the music of former generations,” Mtaku continues.
At present, the researchers are still busy digitizing the music and transcribing texts. They soon want to make the archive accessible to anyone. Then everyone will be able to lock into the musical heritage using a PC or Smartphone. “It is a marvellous opportunity to give the people back the music from their region,” Mtaku emphasizes. And perhaps in this way to also help to promote peace.