Barmani Choge’s Night of glory

Kai kun ji zan gaya maku yaran mata,
Ai haihuwa malkar faru ce,
Ayye ran da ta ƙare sai warisa,
Kuma sai walkami daɗa sai sa hoda,
To kuma rigar mama salama alaikum.

Ayye ni idan na hwara sai nai dozin,
Ke Ladi, in na hwara sai nai dozin,
In yi Sa’a kuma in yi Sa’adu,
In yi Habi kuma in yi Habibu,
Sai nai Amiru sai in yi Hamza,
In yi Jamila, in yi Jamilu,
Na yi Basira na yi Basiru,
Saura Salamatu saura Saleh.

– Barmani Choge, in “Gwanne Ikon Allah,” urging young women to embrace reproduction

It was another night of rumbunctious gaiety. The diva who makes women to shake their bottoms was in town again, at the same venue and time. And the chain of events was almost the same, an uncanny replay of the 2006 outing – the rub-a-dubs of the water-filled calabash drums, Barmani Choge’s lilting voice, the academics intervening occasionally with background infos, the Q & A from the excited audience. Even the audience looked the same – women, men (young and young-at-heart), children; husbands and wives; the enthralled Britons who were trying to understand it all.

Outside the traditionally styled offices of the British Council, there was no parking space. Motor cars and cycles had filled up the place, watched by uniformed security guards. Passers-by would pause to ask what was going on here, Kano being a city of great spectacles. In that, it has no match in Hausa land. Ko da me ka zo, an fi ka. Hearing the amada music swinging in the air above the enclosed amphitheatre, the passers-by would wish to go inside and quench the thirst of their curiosity. Some would sneak into the place even though it was strictly by invitation.

The event’s poster called the night World Premier of Amada Rap as if it was the first time amada music was coming on stream!

As the show progressed, the amphitheatre continued to fill up to capacity; so many stood against the walls, their eyes focused on the old and young women on the stage beating the upturned calabash drums (ƙwarya) on their laps, creating a tune that was so unique, so original, so African. The leader of the musical group, Hajiya Barmani Choge, is easily Hausa land’s leading female traditional musician.

Born in 1945, she is old, of course. She had started singing about forty years ago, but her voice was surprisingly the same, keenly unaffected by age. The themes she dealt with were also timeless. They traversed topics from serious social issues like women’s education and importance of small-scale trading by women, all of which would empower women, to bawdy topics like co-wives as idle snobs, voluptuous women’s backsides, etc. These themes have been on her talented tongue since the late 60s, long before the Women’s Lib movement caught on in these parts of the world. Their core message is: women should get up and shine in this male-dominated world

The audience in Kano last Saturday night, January 19, 2008 had heard all those songs before. As Barmani churned them out, their memory was only refreshed. But the difference was that this was live, Barmani in flesh. For those that had never seen her, it was a moment to relish forever. As she sang for her benefactors such as the ubiquitous Bala Waiman, Sa’in Katsina, Mairo Tafida, etc., their memories went back to the old days when traditional Hausa music was given more recognition, not today when it has been overtaken by Hausa movie lyrics and other attempts at modernisation.

The event was organised jointly by the British Council, Kano, and the Center for Hausa Cultural Studies, Kano. A generous endowment of the arts sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank, under the Empowering Hausa Traditional Artistes Initiative, a programme initiated by the CHCS and supported financially and otherwise by the Council and the bank, made the show possible. Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu, a culture activist who teaches at the Bayero University, Kano, and also chairs the CHCS, is the cultural affairs facilitator of the programme, selecting the artistes and bringing them to the stage at the Council.

I asked him what this event was all about.

The purpose, he answered was “to showcase Hausa traditional performance arts, to bring it to the attention of the world, to keep it alive, to show that it is alive and kicking and it’s real, and that it can never be substituted by any other form of music. But it can work with other forms of music.”

The programme was meant “to show that we are as modern as modern can be, we normally invite vocalists – not only musicians – who will be able to work with the traditional musicians. That is why you won’t see most our instrumentalists here but the vocalists, particularly rap and hip-hop are brought over to play with the traditional musicians.”

On why he brought Barmani to the stage again, having first presented her on Wednesday, March 8, 2006 on the International Women’s Day, he said, “She is a female, she is old and she is targeting herself at female private sphere, and that is what we are loking for. We are looking for women entertainer-artistes, particularly the older women who will appeal to older women themselves. Because older women don’t have any form of entertainment except by Barmani Choge. Other women – younger women – have other younger artistes to cater for them.”

A publicity flyer for the event explained Barmani’s art in the following words: “Barmani Choge popularized the mature Hausa women genre of music called Amada (although she had precedent in the late Hajiya Uwaliya Mai Amada (1934-83) which started as religious performance by women in their inner apartments, before later becoming secularized in public performances. Barmani Choge’s performances appeal typically to mature women in high society due to her daring – and often experimental – exploration of issues that other conventional women musicians avoid. Literally the last of her generation, she popularized the Amada genre of Hausa music which is centered around five upturned calabashes floating on water and played with the hands by rather elderly women.

“The thematic focus of her performances is on the sociology of the family as it affects the woman in a typical Muslim Hausa household. She uses her lyrical power to draw attention to issues dealing with inter-personal relationships among women and between women and men.

“A lot of her repertoire deals with female social and economic empowerment in a traditional setting. For instance, her song, ‘Sakarai Ba Ta Da Wayo’ (Silly, She’s Not Smart) is a direct attack on women who prefer to live on other women’s economic efforts rather than seek out their own means of living. This song is complemented by ‘A Kama Sana’a Mata’ (Women, Engage in Profitable Occupations) which urges women to be economically empowered by getting engaged in a whole series of economic activities outlined in the performance.

Hajiya Barmani Choge beating on the calabash drum

“Her other set-pieces include a song that celebrates birth, ‘Gwanne Ikon Allah’ (The Blessings of Multiple Births), in which she proudly celebrated having a dozen children; as well as occasional forays into a more adult-themed performance such as in ‘Wakar Duwaiwai’ (The Song of the Derriere) in which she celebrates a woman’s attraction to her matrimonial duties. However, her most successful song is about resistance to polygamous marriages as sung in ‘Dare Allah Magani’ (Allah, the Curer of Night Darkness). Although not original to her (other Amada musicians such as Uwaliya had earlier recorded the song), Barmani’s rendition carried with it a fresh perspective that appealed to more modern Hausa women who took umbrage at the idea of polygamous relationships.”

As usual with these outings, the organisers ensured that while Barmani was the main artiste, other performers were included. Tonight, a new artiste, a young woman musician by name Amal Yunusa, as well as popular Hausa rap musical groups, X-Man (a solo artiste with the ragga-hit, Corruption), Minor Mistake (made up of four young high school students with a good rap track record), accompanied Barmani. While Barmani and her Calabash Ensemble were the star artistes, the solo vocalist Amal was the second while the two American-style rap groups provided a tantalising mix.
The audience was treated to Barmani’s most famous numbers: ‘Sakarai Ba Ta Da Wayau,’ ‘Dare Allah Magani,’ ‘Duwaiwai Dole A Zauna Da Kai,’ ‘La Ilallah Choge,’ ‘Ahayayye Sama Ruwa Kasa Ruwa,’ ‘Gwanne Ikon Allah,’ ‘Ari!’, ‘Dare Alherin Allah’, ‘Lale Maraba Da Ke Zinariya,’ etc. Amal did a remix of some of these songs, bringing them on recorded piano tunes as well as on live amada beats. She was joined in her acts by Aisha Jamilu, a grand-daughter of Barmani’s. They took the previous day to rehearse the show.

In this outing, there was an obvious attempt to create inheritors for Barmani. Aisha Jamilu, a secondary school student, had been included in the band and was made to sing Barmani’s songs to the accompaniment of the calabash music. But by far the nearest perfection to getting an inheritor was presented in Amal, a pretty young woman who took to music purely out of interest. She holds a diploma in Nursing and is now pursuing a HND course at the School of Management, Kano.

Hitherto, the 25-year old Amal sang enlightenment rap numbers in studios, using pianos instead of local instruments. She had recorded some six songs in a studio, but they have not been released yet. This was her first public appearance as a musician. She was brought into duet with Barmani three weeks earlier by Abdalla, who has conducted such experiments with other artistes, much to the delight of those that see them. Prof. Abdalla has always wondered – and worked on – how it would sound like to mix traditional tunes with modern, Western-created sounds. He achieves his purpose at the British Council shows.

Some members of the audience wondered how a thoroughbred Hausa young lady was allowed by her parents to take part in this kind of show, music being regarded as a trivial vocation by most tradition-minded Northern Nigerian Muslims. Amal told me in an interview that she had been liking music since her childhood when she listened to lots of Indian music. She had no family background in music, though. As proof that her family was not averse to her perceived indulgence, she brought her mother to the show.

“I have no any challenges from my family. My mum is even here,” she said, adding quickly, however, that her mother, a lawyer, sees the whole thing as a passing hobby, nit a serious vocation. “She wants me to learn and learn; she doesn’t want me to be occupied with it.. She is a barrister, she wants me to be someone like her,” Amal said.

She is into music not for commercial reasons. It’s a hobby, then?

Smiling, she replied: “I don’t know. Whatever happens I would welcome it. I may continue, and I may drop it. I don’t know what will happen because, you know, I will soon get married. I don’t know how my husband will react to it, so it depends on what he feels. If he wants, I will continue, if he doesn’t want it, I’ll stop it.”
This attitude to music seems to be shared by the old guard, too. A member of the audience asked Barmani if she would like her grand-children to become musicians. No, was the answer. She would rather want them to go to school and become “educated.” The mother of twelve children out of a single marriage – something she is always proud of – emphasised the importance of education, especially to women. In her life time she had seen instances where education helped emancipate the women folk from the shackles of ignorance and male-induced subservience.

The great old woman of Hausa music was given her first award during this event. It was a dainty certificate of merit from the Center of Hausa Cultural Studies for Barmani’s “immense contribution to the development of Hausa performing arts for women.” It was presented to her by the former consul of Niger Republic in Kano, Hajiya Fatima, assisted by the British Council’s Rabi Isma. The certificate was in two versions – in Hausa and in English. No doubt, it was a well-deserved honour to the woman who made women to not only “shake it” but also to think about their status in the society.

The event recorded a resounding success. Reacting to my query whether this was part of a global programme, Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu told me it was. “Yes, it is part of the programme of the British Council called Cultural Diplomacy. The whole idea behind it is to show that Britain is a friend of Nigeria and it supports cultural activities of Nigerians. British Council is the only agency that is supporting these kinds of activities now.”

Would this kind of thing have taken place in any other place but the British Council, considering the ban on musical performances in the state due to the state government’s restrictions based on the Sharia law?

“Yes. Sharia didn’t prevent people from having music. It would take place in Alliance Francais (in Kano) because something like this will take place there in a week or so from now.”

He hoped that the Kano State History and Culture Bureau would be able to take up the challenge of showcasing and sustainng traditional Hausa musicians, because that is their purview.

According to him, the next show is scheduled to take place “before April, by God’s grace.”

If it is not Barmani, be sure to see that it is another traditional musician who will take th audience down memory lane and induce a high sense of nostalgia. Already, the ever-active professor is working on it. In a telephone chat last night, he told me that a Fulani ensemble may be the next trick in his hat. After all, it is not only the Hausas that helped define what is known as Hausa culture.

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