Transcribed Interview on Nigerian Dance with Olubanjo Adigun
My field expert is Olubanjo Adigun who is a professional Nigerian dancer and teacher. Adigun was brought to my attention by my former African dance teacher. The African dance circle in America is very close. She gave me a list of names of those who were well-versed in Nigerian dance. This interview was conducted in the month of March on a Sunday evening. This interview was conducted by telephone and a recording device. Olubanjo Adigun, received his inspiration for traditional dancing from his mother. She taught Olubajo traditional Yoruba dance during her early years, also brought him with her to the village ceremonies so he could learn the dances. In 1986, Banjo received his degree in Stage Management and Choreography. At that time, he and only 18 other artist were selected from an audition of 1,500 artists to represent Nigeria members of “African Heritage Dance Troupe.” This troupe performed throughout Nigeria, and became the “ambassadors” of traditional African dance and music. The troupe also travelled extensively throughout Europe, using dance as a tool to educate the Westerners on the realities and rich culture of their native land. Adigun arrived in the United States for the first time in August, 1989 the newly formed Oduchiala Dance Troupe, bringing with them their own unique style and music. Adigun strives to preserve African tradition, culture and values through his teaching and performing. As of today, Adigun teachers at an African dance studio and is a professor in the art of dance.
Q: Is the Yoruba culture of Nigerian dance any different from African Nigerian Dance?
R: Yoruba is the culture of Nigeria mostly in the northern part of Nigeria and that is where my heritage comes from. There are three different regions in Nigerian: Yoruba occupies the northern region, there is an Eastern and Southern part as well. Those are the three different cultures that make up the Nigerian culture. They each speak a different language and there are over 500 languages in the Nigerian culture. There are a lot of different dialect and languages.
Q: What makes Nigerian dance different from other African dances?
R: African dances [in general] are very close and very similar in rhythm and steps. What makes Nigerian dance different is that you cannot take away the region and the culture from the dance and you cannot take the dance away from the region. They go together and cannot be separated; without the region you cannot have the dance and without the dance you cannot have the region. You have to understand the rhythm of the drum before you can understand Nigerian/ Yoruba dance. The drum is talking to you and you are responding to what the drum is saying, so both of you are talking to each other. The drum is saying oo bam u oo bam u and you are saying “do like this do like this.” You are the dancer and you have to respond to that [rhythm] and you are doing exactly what the drum is saying. You are talking to each other. You are one with each other; when the drum talks to you, you talk back with your body. You respond to the drum, and that is the basic of African dance. You talk back and forth with [the drum]; whereas in the Western world you count and you don’t listen to what the drum is saying. [You must] respond to what the drum is saying. When the drummer looks at you, you will respond to what he drum is saying and your body responds. It is not ballet we don’t do that.
Q: Are there any specific drums that you use for the dances?
R: Well in the Yoruba culture we have the juju ban drum; it makes the sound dun dun. We have the talking drum from the Yoruba culture as well. Like I said the drum talks so we call it the talking drum. When the drum is talking you listen and that is how you communicate with each other. When the king wants to communicate with the people, we send out a drummer and the drummer will knock on the drum. This will tell the people it is time to listen to the word. When we hear what the drum is saying then we can begin to understand what the king’s message is, so it is very important in the Yoruba culture. A part from the talking drum the dun dun, there is a cow bell also called the ago ago. The ago ago is the gong of the cow bell, when the gong is played and you hear a gong from the king’s tower it is telling you come around I have a message. Come wherever you are and come around and hear what the king is saying. When people hear the gong they come running to hear the message. If you are not around to hear the message from the talking drum then the message will eventually get to you. It is ultimately a call and response between the drummer and the dancer.
Q: Do you notice a prominent change between African Nigerian dance and American Nigerian Dance?
R: If you learn from me, Olubanjo Adigun, I will have to teach you the authentic Nigerian dance, but if you learn from the people that I have taught it might be [slightly] different. There will definitely be a difference because there is always going to be individual uniqueness. If my student wants to teach it might be a little bit different. He will keep the originality, but the rhythm might be a little bit different. Please don’t try to make it too American because you cannot count you must understand the drum. I stress that the most to my students here if you cannot respond to the drum you cannot just do whatever you want. If you have to count that is not the right way to dance. I try as hard as possible to stay away from counting. I am very strict with my class; I tell them don’t count because if you count you are not going to listen to what the drum is saying and you are not going to get the authenticity of the dance.
Q: What is Bi-Okoto?
R: Bi- Okoto it is literally meaning like a spinning top that turns round round round round. That is the literal meaning of okoto. It literally means top and when we dance, we swirl around and that is where that name comes from.
In conclusion, my interview was very successful. Adigun was very helpful with answering all of my questions. He cleared up a lot of my confusion with the Yoruba dance versus the Nigerian dance. His pneumonic examples and responses made it easier for me to envision the drum and the dancers. The most helpful response that furthers my thesis in my capstone is the response to, “what makes Nigerian dance different from other African dances?” The response explaines that there is no difference between Nigerian dance and other African dances; they are all used to relay messages and for communication between the king and the villagers. The information about how the dances are danced and how it is all movement to the music; there is no counting. The dancers must communicate and move in sync with the drum without step counts, which is completely the opposite for Western dances. Compared to my background reading, Adigun’s responses were parallel with my previous readings. Adigun’s examples of the drum beats and the definition of what Bi-Okoto improved my understanding of what is going on when the dances are being performed. Mr. Olubanjo Adigun was an essential part to my project and has improved and clarified all of my previous confusion and information. This interview has furthered the success of my capstone on the historical and modern ways of communication through Nigerian dance.