Melodic journey into maternal folk wisdom: A review of Olawale Olayinka’s Classical Renditions

by Segun Fajemisin

Title: Songs My Mother Taught Me

Release Date: February 3, 2024

Category: Classical Instrumental: Violin

Musical Recording: EP

Duration: 16 minutes (6 songs)

Olawale Olayinka-feferity

Olawale Olayinka

Nigeria’s folkloric songs, woven into the fabric of tales by moonlight, resonate with cultural richness and storytelling tradition. Beneath the celestial glow, these melodies serve as rhythmic storytellers, sharing the country’s diverse narratives. Passed down through generations, these songs encapsulate the essence of Nigerian heritage, embodying the spirits of ancestors and the wisdom of time. As the moonlight dances upon eager listeners, these musical tales connect communities, preserving oral history with each note. Nigeria’s folkloric songs in the embrace of moonlit tales are not just melodies; they are living echoes of the nation’s vibrant soul and collective memory.

In his latest EP, Olawale Olayinka embarks on a heartfelt exploration of classical renditions inspired by the folksongs his mother taught him. This musical odyssey delves into the rich tapestry of melodies and tales that once served as a soothing backdrop during bedtime, imparting invaluable moral lessons from life. While the concept holds immense promise, the execution raises both admiration and suggestions for future considerations in such projects.

The strength of Olayinka’s collection lies in its evocative ability to transport listeners to a nostalgic realm, where the enchanting tunes heard at night echo with familiarity and warmth. The violinist adeptly weaves a melodic tapestry, infusing each piece with an authentic blend of classical finesse and folk simplicity. The emotional resonance is palpable, and there is an evident dedication to preserving the essence of the original folksongs.

Now, here is the one song on which the theme of Songs My Mother Taught Me hinges. “Iya ni Wura” translates to “Mother is gold” in English. The song expresses the deep appreciation and value placed on mothers in Nigerian culture. The comparison of a mother to gold suggests that a mother is precious and irreplaceable.

Oluronbi is the protagonist in a tale recounting the plight of a desperate woman who approached an Iroko tree (Chlorophora excelsa) deity with a fervent desire for a child. In contrast to others who offered sacrificial lambs to accompany their requests, Oluronbi, driven by anxiety and desperation, imprudently pledged the very child she sought from the deity. Despite her initial success in obtaining a beautiful, light-skinned daughter, the deity later called in the agreed-upon pledge during the blossoming of the child. This narrative serves as a cautionary tale, urging us to be wary of making ill-considered decisions born out of desperation.

In the rendition of Labe Igi Orombo (Under the Lime Tree), we catch a glimpse into a folkloric delight. In the heart of Africa, a joyous folk song emerges, enchanting children as they play beneath the moon’s gentle glow. The melodious tune echoes through the night, weaving tales of magic and laughter. It becomes a cherished companion, sparking laughter and imagination, creating a timeless symphony of childhood delight.

However, a discerning ear may notice moments where the classical renditions tend to overshadow the inherent simplicity of the folk tunes. The risk of over-embellishment occasionally hinders the transmission of the intended bedtime ambiance. While the violinist’s virtuosity is undeniable, there is a delicate balance to be struck between highlighting technical prowess and maintaining the unpretentious charm of the folksongs.

Babalawo mo wa bebe (Chief Priest, I beseech thee), is a plea of penance. The song resonates as the plaintive plea of the tortoise character confronting the consequences of insatiable greed. In the rich tapestry of Nigerian Yoruba folk tales, the tortoise consistently embodies cunning, mischief, and deviousness, serving as a cautionary symbol against the pitfalls of avarice.

The narrative arc within the collection is uneven, with certain pieces shining brilliantly in their reinterpretation while others seem to lose their way in the transition. Olawale Olayinka must maintain a cohesive thematic thread throughout, ensuring that each piece contributes to the overarching story of maternal wisdom and life lessons. The collection would benefit from a more intentional curation that enhances the storytelling aspect and reinforces the moral teachings embedded in the folksongs.

Iwe Kiko (Education) synthesises the original rendition, Ise Agbe Ni Ise Ile Wa, a Yoruba folksong, which encapsulates the profound cultural significance of agriculture in the nation’s heritage. Translating to “Farming is our proud inheritance,” the song celebrates the noble legacy of cultivating the land. It echoes the communal pride in sustaining life through harmonious collaboration with the earth, emphasising the essential role of farming in shaping our collective identity. The lyrics “Iwe kiko lai si oko ati ada, ko i pe o” means education is redundant without the (engagement of) farming tools. It is a clarion call to functionality and purpose.

On a positive note, Olayinka excels at capturing the essence of the nocturnal setting. The choice of tempo, dynamics, and tonal nuances successfully conveys the serenity of bedtime rituals, creating an immersive experience for the listener. The violinist’s commitment to preserving the authenticity of the maternal folk teachings is evident, and this sincerity shines through in moments of unadorned simplicity.

In the hands of a skilled instrumentalist, the musical instrument becomes a vessel for storytelling, echoing the composer’s journey through the instrument’s nuanced tones and expressive timbres. As the instrumentalist breathes life into the notes, they channel the emotional depth of their own experiences, particularly the poignant and challenging moments. The instrument, like a confidant, becomes an extension of the artist’s soul, conveying the highs and lows of their personal odyssey. The instrumentalist’s skillful interpretation invites the audience to not only hear the music but to feel the resonance of the artist’s story, forging a profound connection that transcends words. Through this musical alchemy, the instrumentalist becomes a storyteller, sharing the tapestry of their own narrative and inviting the audience to embark on a shared journey of emotions and reflections.

Olayinka with Rebeca Omordia-Feferity

Olayinka with Rebeca Omordia, Founder of the African Concert Series

On this crucial note, Igba Napin (Frail Times) draws inspiration from the violinist’s profound journey of undergoing a significant surgery early in the year (January 2024). This composition delves into the raw emotions of his post-surgical depression, trauma, pain, and recovery. Reflecting the challenges of an open hemorrhoidectomy, considered one of the most arduous surgeries to rebound from, “Igba” signifies “Times,” and “Napin” in Yoruba translates to “Diapers.” Quite literally, he had donned adult diapers during the recording, encapsulating the vulnerability and resilience woven into this personal narrative.

In conclusion, Olawale Olayinka’s collection of classical renditions based on the folksongs his mother taught him is a commendable endeavour that pays homage to the rich oral tradition of passing down wisdom through music. While there are moments of brilliance and emotional resonance, there is room for refinement in maintaining the delicate balance between classical virtuosity and the unassuming charm of folk melodies. With a more deliberate thematic curation, this collection has the potential to become a captivating musical narrative that truly captures the spirit of maternal guidance and moral lessons.

Born in Ibadan, southwestern Nigeria, Olayinka is a highly accomplished musician with mastery in solo, chamber, and orchestral performances. Holding a B.Sc. Hons. in Insurance and a 2019 Grade 8 Certification in Violin and Viola from the Royal Schools of Music England, he is also a certified Suzuki Violin Teacher. Engaging in masterclasses with renowned professionals and prestigious institutions, Olayinka boasts extensive experience with orchestras like the London Ukraine Symphony and Chineke! His skills encompass teaching, music composition, and proficiency in software packages such as Sibelius, AudioScore, PhotoScore, Audacity, and Adobe – all software programs related to music composition, audio editing, and multimedia creation.

In April 2023, the writer saw his performance with the Dulcis Ensemble during the African Concert Series Family Day Concert at Forty Hall Estate (Forty Hill, Enfield) in the United Kingdom. The group, established in 2018, comprises of classically trained Nigerian musicians who are also members of the Nok Orchestra, which started in Lagos with composer and kora virtuoso, Tunde Jegede. The Dulcis Ensemble received a standing ovation for their remarkable rendition of significant songs, including Iya Ni Wura, Ririovara (Wipe Your Tears, by Evi Edna), and Gangan n’ Soro by Kehinde Oretimeyin.

A recipient of multiple honours, including the first prize in the 2017 Annual String Competition, Olayinka is dedicated to advancing classical and contemporary music through performance, teaching, and community engagement.

Segun Martins Fajemisin, journalist and publisher, is based in the United Kingdom.

Beyond his professional endeavours, he is a committed classical music enthusiast, fostering a rich connection to the world of timeless melodies.

© 2024 Feferity Media Group


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