Friday, August 7, 2009

BBC: At a Lagos church in the 1930s, Fela Sowande was 'The only Nigerian allowed in...'

[Fela Sowande (1905-1987)]

Our friend Mike S. Wright of the United Kingdom has brought to our attention a piece by BBC World Service which touches on Fela Sowande (1905-1987) a Nigerian composer, organist and professor who is profiled at and is regarded by biographer Olabode Omojola, Ph.D. as the “Father of Modern Nigerian Art Music”. This article reminds us of the long-running engagement of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, beginning in 1927, at New York's fashionable Cotton Club, a racially segregated nightclub where only Whites were admitted as patrons. All of the waiters and most of the entertainers were African American. During the engagement, the band was called the Cotton Club Orchestra.
“The Story of Africa
African churches
Race, Custom and Christianity
In the colonial administration, the senior positions of power were held by Europeans. This racial divide was not so easy to justify in the church. What was attractive about Christianity, and Islam for that matter, was that these religions offered something to everyone; they did not only serve the rich, the powerful, or those of a certain race or from a certain region, clan or people. In practice, however, the prejudices of Europeans led to double standards.

In Nigeria, in Lagos, in the 1930s one of the churches was reserved for Europeans only. The only Nigerian allowed in was the composer, musician and organ scholar Fela Sowande. For obliging the Europeans by playing the organ there, on several occasions he incurred criticism from fellow Nigerians. The Sowande family were typical of the Christian educated elite in Lagos; they put up with these racial slights because they had their eyes set on prizes further afield. Fela ended up composing music for the BBC and his brother became a London based barrister.”

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