Rescue of Endangered Folk Music Heritage of Nigeria: Library of Folk Music of Nigeria Project

Rescue of Endangered Folk Music Heritage of Nigeria:
Library of Folk Music of Nigeria Project

A Proposal/Application for Research Grant




Prof. Christian Onyeji, (Principal Applicant),

Rev. Sr. M.T.O. Keke.

Dr Ikenna Onwuegbuna

Elizabeth Onyeji

Audio/Visual Engineers (to be nominated for the third phase)

MIS Staff (to be nominated for the last phase)



Department of Music,

University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Nigeria










The wake of modernity, urbanization and technological advancements constrained cultural borrowings as well as abandonment that have affected all aspects of Nigeria’s culture and life. Unlike other cultural practices of Nigeria, folk music appears to be endangered in the contemporary scheme of Nigerian affairs. This owes its cause to the overdose of various musical genres and styles that are currently imported into the country. Taste-shift to and psychical tolerance of music of other lands as well as non-chalant attitude of most Nigerians towards the musical heritage of Nigeria have constrained gradual disappearance of folk music of the country due to lack of practice and documentation. The project of the Library of folk music of Nigeria is a long-term, bold attempt to rescue Nigeria’s folk music heritage from total disappearance through field recordings and preservation.


Scholars of African music have variously discussed the place of folk music in the socio-cultural life of Africa, of which Nigeria is a part. All such studies have been unanimous in agreeing that folk music is a significant part of the social, cultural, and religious life of Africa, being effectively employed as an agency for moral, social, religious and general culture education as well as for the negotiation of societal well-being. In a study of folk music in Nigeria in the late 1970s, Nnewi describes it as a communion of both the living and the dead.[1] His study points to folk music as the significant element for societal cohesion as well as social and cultural mobilization in Nigeria. His study also brings to the fore the high value placed on folk music by the traditional societies in Nigeria. In another study of music, which also includes folk music, Mercedes provides an informative study of how human relationships are embedded in the musical elements of pulse, tempo, rhythmicity, contour or shape, duration and intensity, whether of movement, vocal sound, facial expression or gaze.[2] This study, which takes its direction from music therapy, gives both social and clinical assessments of music in the life of any society. Dor shows us that, because of the importance of folk music in Anlo Ewe community in Ghana, it is the community that owns folk music and as such assigns the responsibility of composing such music to a group of composers.[3] According to him this collaborative composition is done during an institutionalized event called Havolu. In Okwuato, a community in Igboland of Nigeria, folk music, beyond its pure entertainment value, uses “lyrics and performance dynamics as means to maintain the moral norms of the community and to discourage crime and social deviance.”[4] Abigbo musicians, talking about their folk music art, say that “they contribute to social order in the community through their music, most explicitly through satirizing and critiquing erring members of the community.”[5]


These overviews give an idea of the perceptions of and significance placed on folk music in different African communities.

The thrust of this research is not the place of folk music in Nigeria, but rather this captures the high value placed on folk music by Nigerian societies and Africa as a background to the critical issues.

The State of Folk Music in Nigeria as an Endangered Art

A Concealed Process of Extinction

During a discussion with Professor Virginia Dike, an American White married to an Igbo man at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, she expressed her concern for the gradual but continuous disappearance of the folk music of Nigeria. She saw that gospel tunes and other popular songs were replacing most of the folk songs she used to hear. The discussion, although not based on folk songs per se, had its theme on cultural erosion and alterations occasioned by technological, social and religious developments and changes.

Professor Dike’s observation encapsulates the concerns and observations of many Nigerians. Extinction of indigenous musical heritage is a natural part of Africa. This comes, in part, from a lack of a lasting means of documentation of musical arts by the practitioners. Oral tradition is the basis for the composition, documentation, dissemination, and retrieval of music in Africa. As such, many folk songs of Nigeria have been lost as a result of a breakdown in oral tradition and the inability of an unreceptive new generation to follow these traditions.

We are witnessing a situation where participation in folk music performance is increasingly seen as an exotic act. There is also a feeling of “otherness” in the performance and participation in folk music presentations. An increasing number of people think or believe that folk-music making is for others, particularly, the villagers and or low-class people. As more and more people aim at belonging to the upper class or at least the middle class, they shift their attention and interest from folk music making to more international musics available in their new social surroundings. The consequence of such social change on music is that so many folk songs that were integral parts of different social situations and ceremonies are rarely performed and, increasingly, are forgotten.


A research survey carried out among my students revealed that about 80% of them have not participated in and do not belong to any traditional music ensembles. These are city dwellers whose parents did not permit such participation in order to show that they are sophisticated people. About 60% of them have watched live performances of traditional ensembles. About 20% have participated in traditional music making. About 30% know a few folk songs and that most of them indicate that they were taught these by their grandmothers. About 50% say they have been made to understand that traditional music has fetish or pagan associations and they do not see anything good about it. About 60% of the students came in contact with traditional music at the University.

The survey reveals a critical situation in modern-day knowledge, appreciation and practice of traditional/folk music by Nigerians. There is a gradual but consistent swing away from traditional music.

The Present State of Music Library in University of Nigeria.

At the moment, there are precisely 282 long-playing (LP) records in the music library of the Department of Music, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) where the writer works. Of these 282 recordings, 264 are LP records of Western art music and the rest, 18, are folk music recordings of vocal and instrumental music, as well as stories by Hugh Tracey of ILAM as follows:

Tanganykan music- 1 LP

Ugandan music- 1 LP

Northern Congo music- 3 LPs

Ivorian music- 1 LP recorded by Alain Danielou

Gabon music- 1 LP recorded by the Ministere du L’Iformation

South African/Rhodesian music and stories- 12 LPs

Except those indicated, all the other recordings were made by Hugh Tracey of ILAM.

There is an additional collection of 790 LP records held in the basement of the UNN Music Department, of which 36 are African music recordings. With these two collections, the Music Department holds a total of 1,072 LP records. Out of this 54 LPs are African music. None of the recordings of African music is of Nigerian folk music.


The UNN Music Department also holds a collection of damaged reel-to-reel tapes and some 45-rpm playing records. Their content is unknown because no playback equipment exists for these formats.

The UNN music library is not just poorly stocked with music recordings, but in what is the first indigenous department of music in Nigeria, no recordings of Nigerian folk music exist at this time. There is also no collection of transcribed folk music of Nigeria in the library. The situation at the UNN Music Department is a clear reflection of the situation in the rest of the departments of music in Nigeria, all of which the writer has visited. Other departments of music are much more poorly stocked.


The Library of Nigerian Folk Music Project

In order to create a collection that records and preserves the current state of folk music in Nigeria, a project has begun at the UNN that seeks to make field recordings (audio and video, where possible) of folk music performances. Each recording is transferred at the Project to a duplicate copy (CD, DVD) for archival purposes, the information about the performance (participants, ceremony, tribal affiliations, situation where recording was made, name of person making the recording, date, etc.) would be systematically collected, and the recordings kept in a secure location.


The Library of Nigerian Folk Music Project- Phase One

The first phase of the project is planned to run for five years. During this period the researchers and field collectors will do collaborative field recordings of Nigerian folk music from different sub-cultures and communities. More broadly, the applicant has continued to record Nigerian folk music from different parts of Nigeria privately when and where possible. One example of this was my participation in the National Festival of Arts and Culture held in Kaduna from 15th to 20th November 2004 where different musical arts were exhibited. Recordings were made for the purposes of the library project. The contributions would be annotated for future reference, with name of the music, village/community of origin/use, participants, ceremony, tribal affiliations, situation where recording was made, date, etc. The annotation is to ensure that all the music is traceable to their various communities of use, events of use, and the people that actually use them. It is the projection that, if interest on the project is considerably motivated, more work could be done on the recorded music using the preliminary annotation as source material. To ensure that materials recorded are safe, the recordings are duplicated. Two sets of the same recordings are done so that at least one will survive. There is no doubt that some of the recordings will have some songs/music duplicated. This has some advantages in that such recordings will provide information on how such music are performed in different communities of Nigeria. Folk music in Nigeria is a social fact, situated in the context of social activities. As such, a holistic perspective of any folk music in Nigeria will be in the context of the social occasion that defines it and gives it meaning. A proper recording of such music must take into account the social context. To this end, it would be more rewarding to do a video recording of any folk music rather than only the audio recording for the appreciation of the total effect and social activities which the music is an integral part of. It is expected that the third and last phases of the project would be the digitization and online uploading/access to the recorded materials for commercial and academic purposes.



Music scholarship on African indigenous music is fast growing. A resource base for authentic indigenous music of Nigeria would be a remarkable contribution to research and scholarship deriving and centering on Nigerian traditional music. Such resource centre would be a pedestal for intercultural or multicultural studies that would feature Nigerian Music. Creative persons that may be interested in the use of authentic indigenous materials from the West African Sub-Region could find the library a dependable resource. The library would be a resource for developing teaching materials for African music education from the Nigerian Example. It would also serve the educational-support needs of the base University for the enrichment of music teaching, studies and performance. It is the target of the project to be a repository of Nigerian indigenous music as well as an outlet for the dissemination of the music to interested persons and places. It is projected that quality digital recordings of indigenous Nigerian music would be produced for commercial purposes from the library in the future.



It is obvious that almost all countries of the world are facing economic recession. Budget cuts are common in many institutions and establishments. The project of the Library of folk music of Nigeria is a long-term, bold attempt to rescue Nigeria’s folk music heritage from total disappearance through field recordings and preservation. The library, when fully established, would be accessible to any interested researcher or scholar. The last phase of the project holds very strong potential for financial benefit to the University as scholars and researcher as well as enthusiasts would have need to access the recorded files online through payment of specified amount of money.


Brief CVs of Researchers

Prof. Christian Onyeji: Holds a Doctor of Music degree from the University of Pretoria, Republic of South Africa, a Master of Arts degree in composition, a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Music as well as a Diploma in Music Education from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

Christian is an internationally recognized music composer, educator and scholar from Nigeria who specializes in Research-Composition, a compositional approach that applies ethnomusicological procedures in the composition of modern African art music that is a logical continuum of African traditional music. His numerous compositions for different media have been performed within and outside Nigeria and have been well received. He is a researcher on African music as well as composes from the African stock. He has made contributions to modern African art music for symphony orchestra, drummistic piano style of modern compositions for the piano, choral compositions, solo voice and piano compositions as well as scholarly works in some leading journals such as Ethnomusicology, Journal of Musical Arts in Africa, International Journal of Music Education, Readings in African Diaspora Music, the publications of Pan African Society for Musical Arts Education, World Carols for Choirs of the Oxford University Press, as well as the Anthology of Piano Works by Composers of African Descent of the Oxford University Press and more. Christian has composed for symphony orchestra, piano and voice. His Christmas Choral composition titled “N’ihi n’amuworo ayi otu nwa” published by Oxford University Press has been performed by different choirs of the world including the Mommon Tabernacle Choir, the world’s best choir. The postings on the internet reveal the great success made by the composition. His choral composition titled “Omenala bu ike” composed for Imo State Council for Arts and Culture Owerri (ISCAC) entry to the 2007 National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) took the first position and the gold cup. He is a regular composer for Imo State Council for Arts and Culture and other churches. He was the Music Director/Organist for St Paul’s Anglican Church Cathedral Nsukka till 2009, where he contributed immensely to the development of music and choirs in the Diocese through workshops, performances, choral directing, etc. His piano compositions are also sought after by pianists of the world, many of whom have given recitals that include his piano works. His publication of a collection of twenty Nigerian songs composed or arranged by him for solo voices have become valuable resource for voice students. He was the Festival Lecturer for the 2008 National Festival of Arts in Grahamstown, South Africa at the Art Music Performance part of the festival.


He is a member of International Society of Music Education where he serves on two Standing Committees; Pan African Society for Musical Arts Education; International Association of Audiovisual Archives; International Association of Music Libraries Archives and Documentation Centers and Association of Nigerian Musicologists. He is a member of the Academic Staff Union of Universities’ National Committee on Ethics and Grievances.



As the best graduating student of his class he won the Departmental prize and the Arts and Culture prize. He was awarded a Research Fellowship in 2007 by the North-West University Potchefstroom, South Africa in collaboration with the National Research Foundation of South Africa. He completed the Post Doctoral Research Fellowship at the School of Music, North-West University in South Africa in 2010, during which he pioneered the research on the indigenous music of the Batswana people of the North-West Province of South Africa. This involved field research, recordings, interviews, participant observations of organized performances, transcriptions and cultural/musical analysis, article writings, etc.


As an active scholar, he reviewed over eighty submissions for 2008 ISME World Conference in Bologna, Italy, about ninety submissions for 2010 ISME World Conference in Beijing, China and about fourty submissions for 2012 ISME World Conference in Thessaloniki, Greece. He also reviews paper submissions for Pan Africa Society for Musical Arts Education (PASMAE) conferences. He successfully organized the first conference hosted by the Department of Music, University of Nigeria, Nsukka since 1964 as the Chairman of the Conference Organizing group in 2011. He was also the Chairman of the COG for the Association of Nigerian Musicologists (ANIM) Conference hosted by the Department of Music, UNN in 2012. He was the Chairman of Fund-Raising Sub-Committee and Member of the LOC for the 2012 Faculty of Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka International Conference and Chinua Achebe Inaugural Lecture. He serves as the Editor or a member of Editorial Board of Different Journals and reviews articles for international journals. He is currently on the editorial Committee of the International Journal of Music Education and is a member of the ISME Programme Standing Committee and History Standing Committee. He is the current editor of the Journal of Association of Nigerian Musicologists and Nsukka Journal of Musical Arts Research. He serves as External Examiner and Professorial Assessor for institutions within and outside the country and was also a member of NUC Accreditation Team to Delta State University, Abraka in 2012 and Resource Verification Team to Adeleke University Ede in August 2014. He serves as the External Examiner to University of Pretoria and University of South Africa (UNISA) all in South Africa. He regularly participates in International conferences and workshops within and outside Nigeria, with over twenty five international conference and workshop participations.


As a performer, he has widely performed his works locally and internationally. He is a pianist, choreographer and conductor/music director. He was the Acting Head of the Department of Music, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Nigeria from 2005 to 2007. As the first living Professor of the Department of Music which he attained in October 2009, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, his duties include teaching of composition, performance, Piano, African music, Theory of music, Post Graduate Supervision, mentoring, etc. He was the Associate Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka for 2011/2012 academic session. Christian was a Visiting Professor and Head of the Department of Music, University of Uyo, akwa-Ibom State for the 2012/2013 academic session where he made far-reaching contributions to the academic and infrastructural development of the Department, developing the approved Postgraduate programmes of the department. Professor Onyeji is currently the Associate Dean of the School of Postgraduate Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He was awarded Global Lifetime Achievers International Gold Award (GLAIGA) in 2012 in a Grand Ceremony held in Accra, Ghana, by Nigerian Top Leaders International Magazine. Christian Onyeji is married to one of Nigeria’s best soprano singers/soloists who is also a lecturer at the Department of Music, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. God blessed this marriage with five children.

Contact Address: Department of Music, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Nigeria.


Cell: +234 7038314235



Ikenna Emmanuel Onwuegbuna, a Lecturer, Department of Music, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, holds a Ph.D. in Music Pedagogy from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria; a Master of Arts degree in Ethnomusicology, a Bachelor of Arts in Music, and a Diploma in Music Education, all from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; as well as a National Diploma in Mass Communication from the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu, Nigeria and a Certificate in Information and Communication Technology from the University of Nigeria. He is a many-sided creative artiste (poet, actor, broadcaster, compere, motivational speaker), and a very gifted professional and academic musician with a special bias for studies in popular music and performance. In the band, Dr. Onwuegbuna is a confident lead-singer, back-up vocalist, bass guitarist, rhythm guitarist, saxophonist, and percussionist. In the music studio, he is a producer, composer-arranger, artiste-and-repertoire manager, and audio engineer. In music business, he is a concept and sleeve designer, distribution and marketing consultant, and critic.

Since he joined the University of Nigeria in 2007, as an academic staff of Music, Dr. Onwuegbuna has taught such courses as Research Methods and Preparatory Studies, Orchestration, African-American Music, Music of Other Cultures of the World, History of Western Music, Music as an Art and Science, Theory of African Music, African Music in Society, African Music Historiography and Contemporary Issues, and Conducting and Performance Management. He has also motivated the Departmental Concert and Stage bands to deliver some well-received performances of African and Western music repertories. He has, in addition, impacted in students, the skill of playing the guitar and the saxophone musical instruments. Since 2006, Dr. Onwuegbuna has featured consistently as a resource person, in teaching the uses of the Recorder musical instrument in Children’s Theatre, to the students of the Department of Theater and Film Studies. He has equally delivered lectures on Approaches to Academic Excellence at Freshman Orientation events organized annually by the Music Students’ Association of Nigeria (MUSAN), Nsukka Chapter. He has adjudicated in a couple of competitive musical (Choral, Band, Dance) performances across the country. Dr. Onwuegbuna is the Result Officer in charge of the Postgraduate programme of the Department of Music; a position he assumed in 2008. Since August, 2013, he has been the Representative of the Faculty of Arts at the Board of the School of Post Graduate Studies, as well as the Chairman of the Faculty’s Post Graduate Studies Committee.

As a compere, Dr. Onwuegbuna has anchored, in his peculiar style, the events of the 49th Founders’ Day Anniversary of the University in 2009, the 4th edition of the Nigerian Universities Research and Development Fair (NURESDEF) in 2010, and all Convocation Music Nights of the University, from 2007 till date.

Dr. Onwuegbuna has featured in some local and international conferences where he presented well-received papers and workshops. He has published books as well as articles in local and international journals of credible repute. He is an accredited Reviewer and Editor of the Online International Journal of Arts and Humanities (OIJAH), United States of America. Dr. Onwuegbuna is a member of the Association of Nigerian Musicologists (ANIM), World Council for Curriculum and Instruction (WCCI), International Reading Association (IRA), Reading Association of Nigeria (RAN), Pan-African Circle of Artists (PACA), International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM), Pan African Society for Musical Arts Education (PASMAE), among others.

Dr. Onwuegbuna, a husband and a father, hails from Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria.


Elizabeth Onyeji: Holds a Diploma in Music Education with a Distinction, as well as a Bachelor of Arts Degree with first class, and Master of Degree in music from the University of Nigeria Nsukka, where she majored in voice-Soprano and also gave a solo voice performance for her project. She also holds Grades three and five certificates of the MUSON School of Music, Lagos, in voice with distinction as well as grades one to five in theory of music.


Before and during her studentship in the University, experts, such as Professor Laz. Ekwueme-Director of Laz. Ekwueme Chorale, now the Traditional ruler of Okoh; Mr Emeka Nwokedi-Director of Lagos City Chorale; Rev. Father Shihan-a Jesuit Priest and Tenor Soloist; Mr Christian Kuntze krakau-a German Musician; Mr James Adekunle-the former Director of MUSON School of Music as well as the distinguished lecturers of the Department of Music, UNN, amongst others, gave her training in the techniques of singing.


For more than fifteen years now she has been an active performer of music as Soprano Singer/Soloist and member of outstanding choral and professional groups in Nigeria. Her recognition as a soloist enabled her participation in the Nigerian National Orchestra and Choir as a member and soloist in the Choir in 2001. She has had wide and varied experience in singing and choral music. She has performed with professional and semi-professional choirs in Nigeria. These include The Laz. Ekwueme Chorale, Lagos, Lagos City Chorale, The Dolcissimo Viva, The MUSON Choir Lagos, Olu Imo of Council for Arts and Culture Owerri for the 2004 National Festival of Arts and Culture in Kaduna, and the J-Clef Chorale, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, amongst others. She has also performed as guest artiste and soloist with numerous choirs nation wide in addition to intercultural performances of avarnt garde works for soprano and classical drums. She did her National Youth Service at the Department of Music, University of Nigeria Nsukka, where she was a great asset to the training of students of the Department in voice and singing techniques as well as in rudiments and theory of music. She was immediately retained in the Department where she is currently an Lecturer 11 staff. Her Masters dissertation is titled “Voice pedagogy in Departments of Music in Nigerian Universities: A case study of Department of Music, University of Nigeria, Nsukka”. She is married to Professor Christian Onyeji and they are both blessed with five children.


Contact Address: Department of Music, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Nigeria.


Phone: +234 8037955822, 070381385;;




[1] Meki Nzewi, “Folk Music in Nigeria: A Communication,” African Music, vol. 6, no. 1. 1980 p. 6.

[2] Pavlicevic Mercedes “Taking Music Seriously: Sound Thoughts in the Newer South Africa” Muziki,vol.36, no. 1. 2004, P.3-19.

[3] George Dor, “Community Creativity and Song Ownership in Anlo Ewe Musical Practice: The Case of Havol, Ethnomusicology, vol. 48, no. 1, 2004, P. 26-51

[4] Christian Onyeji, “Abigbo Music and Musicians of Mbaise, Igbo: An Introduction,” Ethnomusicology vol. 48. no. 1, 2004,p. 55.

[5] Onyeji, 2004, p. 55.