Was Miles Davis pandering to commercial exigencies, or was he merely updating jazz’s long-standing tradition of refashioning popular songs as substances for improvisation? How does Jajouka in Morocco oxidize the career of Ornette Coleman in terms of artistic revolution and renewal of efforts? And Sun Ra? Louis Armstrong? Kofi Agawu? Remi Raji? Greg Tate? Tade Ipadeola? Maik Nwosu? Since its inception in 1995, Glendora Review is reputed to be a permanent habitation for critical discourse, polemics, tough-minded, far-reaching criticism and a site for unconventional ideas on African arts and cultural philosophy. This new issue continues with the tradition.
Poised exclusively between a numodernist anode and a postmodernist cathode, the electrolysis of this newest edition reveals most of the essays taking on jazz icons who for the sake of their creative impulse and the relentless drive for perfection were never satisfied with the status quo, kept on deconstructing, pushing outside the envelopes of their works and at the same time opting for a numodernist ambition: an eclectic fusion of diverse musical impulses from distant pavilions into their brand of jazz. Scott Currie, one of the 19 contributors to the issue, in his essay Sunrise in Jajouka, makes a biographical excursion into relevance of Coleman’s pilgrimage to a village in Morocco to his jazz. Return to the Shrine reveals Michael Veal engaging Fela’s Afrobeat tradition, its hybrid roots, maturation, why it suddenly amassed extant popularity in US clubs and markets, and why Femi, Fela’s heir, is getting it wrong. Bohemian also to convention is the great Miles Davis. Like Jean-Paul Sartre whose assiduity and intellectual acumen guaranteed that he became the centre of several movements of philosophy and sustained political engagements of his own making, so was Davis who led jazz through several movements: the cool jazz movements with Charlie Parker in the middle 50s, modal jazz movement with John Coltrane in the late 50s. And between 1968 and 1971 there was another evolution in the music of Davies. This is what another Veal’s essay, Directions suffers itself to examine.
But why jazz? Must jazz or allied jazz be the only ‘Black Music’, or ‘Black Noise’ loudly touted as the theme on the noisy cover of the Review? Or is it that because jazz, as popular as it was inaugurated by people of African-ancestry? To echo Fela, questions could not jam answer. The petit editorial, articulated by the guest editor, Michael Veal, an Assistant Professor of Musicology in Yale University is in every material particular, watery, and impervious to the pursuit of thoroughness that characterises GR. It does not in any way pre-empt the retinues of ‘whys’ that erupt at mere leafing through the journal. Truly, editorials of journals like this, is optional. But if it wants to appear at all, it must for the sake of readability, offer explanations to some curiosity and put issues into their proper context. Rather the editorial busied itself celebrating Lagos and more Lagos and became lagosed to a fault: “Lagos, a city which seems… Lagos…a crucial cultural…Lagos a launching pad…” as if Lagos was the theme of the issue.
One thing is quite intriguing: the miscellaneous intellectual copulation of ideas and perspectives. It seems as if essays of African voices probe phenomena from black Diaspora, like Niyi Osundare’s contribution pays tribute to the legendary Louis Armstrong on his posthumous 100 birthday; Lagos-based Tam Fiofori writing himself back into the history of Sun Ra as friend, and manager as against the truncations of history in books like Space the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra by John F. Szwed of the Yale University. With its impressive annotative breadth, Fiofori’s testimony in effect, provides a special angle to subaltern insurgency and adds further meaning to Spivak’s Subaltern Talk.
And on the other hand, offshore black brothers and sisters talking about icons in Africa and influences from Africa: Brett Pyper of New York University interrogating South Africa’s John Matshikiza’s jazz writings for The Drum; Once Upon A Luster illustrates the progressive interest of US-based Andy Frankel, who has produced artists like Sunny Ade, Osita Osadebe, I.K Dairo, Lagbaja, in the luxuriant history of Nigerian music and the risk of losing some its ‘crucial pieces’ if some contemporary challenges are not quickly confronted head on; Charles Blass interviewing Morocco’s Pharaoh Sanders and the Cuban extraordinary musical talent, Amelia Pedroso talking about the Yoruba religious traditions, and her disdain for the taboo keeping the sacred bata drums as an exclusive male preserve.
On the whole, the 162 delectable pages of this double issue is a fantastic read. To savour the richness of Glendora Review in the light of its overall quality but less on its fidelity to four-issues-per year declaration, is to emerge on the other side of the present psycho-intellectual condition in Africa that what is good is only achieved in/from the west or through grants from foreign agencies. The publishing and printing of this Review in Nigeria without any foreign grant rebuke this spell of recolonization. Written with a breezily creative approach and linguistically tight style, the Review is not too intellectual or esoteric that only academicians or music enthusiasts can engage with or take delight in it and it is not too lax that the layperson would not feel challenged at mere perusal. The chromatic flow, the graphics employed in this issue constitute a pictorial realism of the essence of each essay accordingly, and ‘a visual narrative’ in the word of Sola Olorunyomi in his disquisition on Lemi Ghariokwu, Fela’s Album jacket designer. Imagine, even the interview with Sanders on …The Trance of Seven Colours bears warm colours and graphic effects that set the readers on a trance-like existence. What is more, reminiscent of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, the photos of gulags, the dark colours, and the tinted backgrounds of rattlesnake barbwires on which the symposium Music and Censorship in Apartheid South Africa: the Censored Meet Their Censor settles, communicates the bizarre atmosphere of the apartheid history.
Sadly, the graphics allocated to the essay on Sun Ra could not live up to what the man and his music represent. The photo-synthetic selection of pictures and their respective placements put on display professionalism and the aesthetic imperative: the vintage phonogram, Malick Sadibe’s 1965 crazed-picture on the dance of ‘Twist’, Fela’s self-assertive picture with what-the-hell attitude, the over-eccentric picture of Learner at the back cover of the issue contributed by Uche James-Iroha; the hilarious and transcendental art works of Jean-Michel Basquiat done with the creativity of the fourth stage, and the animystic paintings of the arts illustrator, Demola Ogunajo, all exploded this new born of the Glendora Review with electrolytic effect, fuzzy effect, radioactive effect, nuclear effect and finally, postmodern razzmatazz.