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Nigeria Steelpan Festival for Secondary Schools

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

Second Annual School Steelband competition, Nigeria, November 23, 2010
Second Annual School Steelband competition, Nigeria, November 23, 2010

Nigeria - The second annual Secondary School Steel Band Competition was held in Lagos, Nigeria on November 23 and featured steel orchestras from seven schools.  The brainchild of steelpan entrepreneur Chief Bowie Sonnie Bowei, the steelband competition was a labor of love for this steelpan enthusiast.  

The show unfolded in the Gymnasium Hall of the National Stadium located in Surulere, Lagos where the former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was also in attendance.  He was presented with an award for bringing the first Steelband to play in Nigeria in 1977 (Trinidad & Tobago’s Starlift Steel Orchestra) when he was Military Head of State.  That appearance by Starlift birthed the Steelpan concept and today’s movement in Nigeria. 

Also present to witness the competition was Colin Connelly, Counsellor at Nigeria’s High Commission of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.  Connelly joined  Bowei, who is also President and founder of the Nigerian Steelband Association (as well as the organizer of Steelband competitions in Nigeria) in making the presentation to Chief Obasanjo.   The latter was excited that his name had a place in what is now the history of the Pan movement in Nigeria, his words of appreciation to Bowei being:  “I thank you very much for this honor and I wish to commend you for this laudable initiative in promoting the unconventional musical and cultural diversity of the African continent by organising a Steelband Competition among schools in Nigeria.  In fact, it will go on record that you [Bowei] never waited for African leaders and governments to dictate to you, what you should do to honor Africa.”

Second Annual School Steelband competition, Nigeria, November 23, 2010

Chief Bowei says Mr. Connelly was pleased that the Pan movement in Nigeria had reached an advanced stage, owing to the fact that all the instruments he saw utilized by the orchestras were produced in Nigeria.  Connelly was thrilled by the performance of the participants and hoped that their counterparts for the senior steelband competition, would be as prepared as those were for the junior category.  He also recognized Bowei for his ‘immense contributions in the development of Pan in Nigeria’ especially as the Panorama was fully sponsored by him.  “Allow me to sincerely congratulate you on your efforts to spread the Steelpan to the youths of the nation, for this is where the continuity lies.”  The Counsellor looked forward to even more schools taking part in the next competition scheduled for November 2011.  This might well be the case as more steelpans are presently being manufactured for more schools.  “We expect to have at least twenty participants (school orchestras) in the next Panorama which comes up on the 1st of November 2011” declared Bowei.  

The pan players from the seven secondary school orchestras displayed both their enthusiasm and skills for the audience and team of adjudicators.  The chief judge, Professor Mosunmola Obidike, a professor of music and musicologist, was joined by the national vice president of the steelband association, Major Ade Jolaosho (rtd), who is one of Nigeria’s pioneer panists, and whose training was organized by Obasanjo back in 1977.   Jolaosho is now retired from the Nigerian Army.  Rounding out the adjudication panel were Mrs. Sunbo Loko, Department of Music head at the College of Education in Lagos, and Dr. Stephen Olusoji, a musicologist and senior lecturer at the University of Lagos. 

Second Annual School Steelband competition, Nigeria, November 23, 2010

There were seven test pieces, all of which were played by the participating orchestras.  Eji Owuro – a Nigerian traditional music piece was performed with steelpans and other traditional Nigerian percussion instruments, such as the talking drum and bata.  The other test pieces were:  The Lion Sleeps Tonight; Under the Sea; a soca piece from the Rhythmical Steel CD; Nwan Okrika - a Nigerian Hilife tune, played with steelpans and wind instruments; Lambada and; Never on a Sunday.   

Second Annual School Steelband competition, Nigeria, November 23, 2010

Each orchestra had twenty-eight minutes to perform, with four minutes allocated each test piece.  Interestingly, for five of the bands, the students generally arranged their music themselves, complaining that school authorities were not encouraging them.  The two exceptions were Federal Government College whose songs were arranged by one of their music teachers, Samuel Ayodel, and Queensland Academy from Lagos, where music teacher Mrs. Bukola Osamwonyi did the arrangements.

Receipt of prizes at the Second Annual School Steelband competition, Nigeria, November 23, 2010
Receipt of prizes at the Second Annual School Steelband competition, Nigeria, November 23, 2010

By the end of the competition, the judges had chosen the steel orchestras from Federal Government College (Lagos), Air Force Secondary School (Ikeja, Lagos) and the defending champions, Navy Secondary School (Port Harcourt, Rivers State) for the top three spots, respectively.  Desktop computers were presented to the orchestras, courtesy of event organizer Bowie S. Bowei.

Related article: Bowei keeps Steelpan flag flying in Nigeria Against the odds

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