8 July 2002

Nigeria: Black Africa's New Gospel of Reconciliation

Lagos — Gospel music as it is traditionally known is bound for a newer significance in the first Gospel and Roots International Festival scheduled for the Republic of Benin later in the year, writes Olayiwola Adeniji

Nigeria's King Sunny Ade will join some of the world's most popular gospel artistes that will congregate at Cotonou, the capital city of Benin Republic between October 27 and November 3 this year for what has been tagged as the first ever Gospel and Roots International Festival.

According to Agence Beninnoise Pour La Reconciliation Et Le development (Reconciliation & Development Agency), organisers of the festival, the week-long event is a celebration of reconciliation and has been designed to bring together some of the most renowned gospel artistes from the United States of America and Africa. It is according to Simon Pierre Adovelande, an outgrowth of the historic conference of Leaders on Reconciliation and Development which was held in Cotonou in December of 1999 which enjoyed the participation of various personalities of diverse origins including Heads of State, members of the Black Diaspora, Europeans, world leaders, intellectuals, and business people among others.

"This conference has as a principal objective to reflect and exchange ideas and to put together some basic principles in order to achieve a true and necessary reconciliation between the descendants of the black slaves spread out throughout the world and their brothers and sisters in Africa."

It was at that conference that it was agreed that music, specifically that of the gospel genre could be exploited to play a vital role in expressing this new challenge to the world's black community. This then gave birth to the organisation of an International festival of Gospel and Roots as one of the principal activities in the process of reconciliation. This, according to Adovelande will not only bring together the stars and groups of gospel artistes from all corners of the world but will be an emotional meeting between brothers and sisters who have been separated by certain unfortunate historical happenstances. "Again, it will afford Africans from different parts of the world to recover parts of their culture and heritage that the greed of men had caused them to lose."

As a build up to this spiritual reconnection of Blacks and Africans in the Diaspora and those in the homeland, an international press conference which will spell out details of the week long festival has been scheduled for the International Conference Center, Cotonou on Friday this week. THISDAY however gathered from Charles Migan, the Chief Executive of Diapason, a communication consultancy outfit which is connected to the festival that being the first of its kind and a new dimension in the struggle to cement the spiritual and cultural bond between all black peoples of the world, especially against the background of what seemed to be the inadequacies of earlier efforts, the festival will provide a veritable platform for the Republic of Benin to host each year the greatest festival of Gospel music in Africa, "a cultural event of international scope, a window that cannot be over looked and an important meeting point for all participants and partners in the reconciliation process."

Also, the festival which in the main is supposed to serve as a base for the periodic forums for the exchange of ideas and meetings to analyse and formulate proposals for initiatives concerning the process of reconciliation and development, will also help to promote Gospel music in Africa through a commitment to professional training for African composers, promoters and technicians and to provide support for the exchange of ideas and contacts between the artistes and international promoters.

It isn't going to be all about music. According to the organisers, the International festival will also address all levels of the African population in general and Benin in particular as well as the Black Diaspora in America, Europe and the Caribbean. And this will take place over a nine-day period during which many of the activities will be programmed.

Among these are that the artistes will perform in different cities including Cotonou, Porto Novo and Quidah. "This will permit the populations and business people of these various places to take part in the events and derive whatever economic benefits that there will be. The artistes will of course be opportuned to savour the different cultures of these cities so that it will be for them a moment of discovery and rediscovery.

The festival will also be a celebration of the contributions of blacks to world cultural heritage. This will be through workshops and seminars. This, it is hoped will help to redress the current imbalance in information flow. "It is unfortunate but it is true that the contribution by blacks to world culture is unknown to the populations of our countries. The battle of cultures and the interference by the mass media does not permit an accurate reading of our cultural values. The festival will provide an occasion to share and make the impact of music by blacks on cultures worldwide."

For many of the participants, it will be a pilgrimage of some sort as provision will be made for them to visit various sites that are milestones in the painful ordeal suffered by the slaves on their way to the ships that would disconnect them from the homeland. Ceremonies in Porto Novo during which the King of the Yorubaland will grant to select members among the performers and representatives from the United States, honorary citizenship. They will also visit areas raided by the slave traders which it is hoped will open the way to internal reconciliation but also permit the evolution of the sister city concept.

While King Sunny Ade will be flying the Nigerian flag at the festival, six groups will be coming from the United States and these include; Ron Kenoly who is very popular on the continent, L.A Samuel, Angie Spivy, Righteous Riders and Spiritual Jubilation Choir. Roberte Laporal will be coming in from France while Rebecca Malope will be the sole entry from South Africa. The Schekina group will come in from Ivory Coast while Mawu Pe Nu Se comes in from Togo. The host country will present five different groups while Marcel Boungou is expected from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

For Ron Kenoly, the festival is not just another of his numerous engagements across the globe, it is truly another instance of homecoming. Only in April, he was at a similar festival in far away Barbados where he treated Gospel music lovers to a rare musical offering. "Dr. Kenoly had ministered in Barbados on two previous occasions; however, the March 16 concert was the first time that he was accompanied in Barbados by his live band, and this was a real treat for Barbadians", said producer Adrian Agard.

Another important feature of the visit was that worship leaders, musicians and singers for the first time, had the opportunity to benefit from a worship workshop presented by Dr. Kenoly on the morning of the event.

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