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The Changing Social Function of Folksongs in Nigeria

Adenle, Adepeju Temitope Aug, 2011

Introduction The clich that change 'the act to become or make different, substitute or replace, to pass from one state to another' is the only constant thing in life is an apt description that best depict the shape shifting stance folksong has assumed not only in the black nation but over the world. This paper sets out to argue that the social functions of folksongs has not changed but rather it has undergone a process of modification as a result of colonization and westernization of culture, ideals and education. This aspect of modification has assisted folksongs to be made available to divergent countries over the world and assisting it to gain a wider coverage. Functionalism and mass popular culture therefore forms

the theoretical frame of a dissection and understanding of the changing social functions of folksongs. Gbadegesin (1997) observed that, oral tradition is an indispensable source of history, indicator of deep thought, and transmitter of cultural and religious values. It is through the ocean of the oral tradition of a nonliterate culture that we explore their historical being and their contribution to the philosophic world. This not only goes to reflect the importance that can and should be attached to oral literature, it also brings to awareness the overwhelming need to preserve and transmit cultural aesthetics. Oral forms emanates in folk tale, myths, epics, legends, lyrics, songs, dirge, chants, invocations and many others. Folk song is an aspect of the oral traditions of any nations which is used to address topics or issues that concern the natives of a community. The

use of folksong is peculiar to the community it originates from but one common feature is that it often borders on social and political issues of that land. Folk-song has been associated with rural communities and lower socioeconomic classes, but in the 20th century the pattern of dissemination changed, with greater emphasis on written transmission and especially on recordings. At the same time many of the original functions of folk-song have been taken over by popular music, another form of vernacular music, although one often involving professional musicians and wide dissemination through the mass media. In pre-literate society before the advent of European, Africans had always transferred their wealth of knowledge, skills, tradition and religious belief to generations after them through oral means. This for them

has served the purpose which the prevalent society they lived in was established for and so, fables, stories, folksongs, myth and legends were kept alive in the minds of the younger generation through telling and rote-learning to enrich the social and moral life of the people and ensuring the continuity of their culture. The social roles which folk songs played was not limited to this, it also serves as an effective means of expressing and inculcating the ideals, morals and values of a society. I strongly remember as a growing up child that my grand-mother had a huge influence in shaping my outlook about life through the countless stories she told me and my brothers. Some I remember, most I don't. A particular incidence occurred to me when researching for this paper about when I was asked by my Yoruba teacher to go back home and get a song in my dialect for

presentation. My grandma was of immense help, though she had taught me a song that would put me in trouble with my teacher. The song goes; Ta lo pe teacher si di Oro (2ce) Abu soko labulabu (2ce) Ta lo pe teacher si di Oro. Interpretation Who has called the teacher to this ritual? With his oversized trouser Who has called the teacher to the ritual?

Types of Folk Songs Panegyric Songs: Songs expressing admiration for the achievement of others such as the praise singers at celebrations from weddings and title-taking to burials

and at festivals performs. Examples are Ekun Iyawo (Bride Chant), Oriki (Praise song) etc. Homiletic Songs: Songs that tend to preach or embody the religious and moral philosophies of a group of people" They are to teach, admonish, or persuade those who are the subject of the songs;" or they are song as expressions of faith. Play Songs: Although these songs are for play they also help in fostering unity and solidarity amongst the community it is used. These play songs not only serve as entertainment but also are educational and instructive. "The rain is falling the sun is shining Alone sits Nnadi cooking and eating." (Things Fall Apart)


Work Songs While the play songs are sung while people play, work songs are sung while people work. At farms, market places, As with the play songs, behind the entertainment of the work songs is the serious voice of the narrator making subtle comments on incidents, events, episodes, and certain situations in the novel; the songs foreshadow, recapitulate, and interweave events in the novel just as the other verbal types do (199). See Ch. 20 and analyze the work song's purpose and effect. In Yoruba: Ise loogun ise Ise loogun ise Mura sise ore mi Bi a ko ba ri eni feyinti Bi ole laari


Bi a ko ba ri eni gbekele A n tera mose eni Mama re le lowo lowo Ki baba re lesin lekan Ti o ba gboju le won O te tan ni mo so fun o Agbojulogun fira re fosi ta Iya mbe fomo ti ko gbon Ekun mbe fomo to n sa kiri Ma fowuro sere ore mi Ise la fi ndi eni giga. Bridal Songs During traditional weddings, the family of the groom and bride both have representatives that would usher in the bride and groom with songs. Not only this, songs sang are meant to entertain and praise the two families. The praise song of each of the family is sang and this would create the atmosphere for the ceremony. These representatives also have songs that help in showcasing


their skills and this most often earn them a few coins. The bride is not left out as she also is meant to perform her bridal farewell song Ekun Iyawo on the eve of her wedding. Ekun Iyawo is very important because of the archetypal nature. It also allows the bride to express her mixed feelings about her permanent departure from her generic setting and place of birth. Iyawo abi beji Toluwa bafe Iyawo abi beji Toluwa bafe


Theoretical Framework Functionalism as a theory states that every form of oral tradition fulfils a variety of functions such as promotion and enhancement of knowledge and awareness of good and immoral actions. It hinges its argument on the fact that there must be a reason why a song is been sang, for whom and under what circumstance is the song sang. Functionalism reveals the relevance of every folk song in a community and this function could range from physical, spiritual, festive, and philosophical to

communal reasons. In other words for example, the social functions in which Mass Popular Culture theory is one that hinges on the general cultural ideological perceptions of a community in their speech, habits, dressing, songs, drama, etc that has public appeal. It is often regarded as the ways of the


local people in a community or referred to as inferior culture because of its popularity. The various forms of activities found here speak to the local audience and it has been a practice that is not recent. At all point in time, there have always been particular songs or stories that are found common within the public. The popularity of each folksong is achieved as a result of the acceptance level of the song and the relevance it has to the audience (masses). Often time these songs are simple and straight forward with day to day themes like work, play, ceremonies etc. For it to be accepted the people must also be able to identify with these songs and relate it to their personal and day to day activities. Both functionalism and mass popular theory is relevant for a better understanding of folk songs because folk songs serves numerous purposes which the audience


relates with and which also has mass appeal. These two elements, relevance and appeal make the framework highly in tune in the understanding of the changing social function of folk songs

Social function of Folksongs 1 Aiding in the education of the youth, when stories are told to teach the young moral and life coping skills, there is always a song

accompaniment to help drive home the point. The songs are often remembered easily. An example of this is the story of Oluronbi. In a certain village no children had been born for many years, and the people were greatly distressed. At last all the women of the village went together into the forest, to


the magic tree, the Iroko, and implored the spirit of the tree to help them. The Iroko-man asked what gifts they would bring if he consented to help them, and the women eagerly promised him corn, yams, fruit, goats, and sheep; but Oluronbi, the young wife of a woodcarver, promised to bring her first child. In due course children came to the village, and the most beautiful of all the children was the one born to Oluronbi. She and her husband so greatly loved their child that they could not consent to give it up to the Iroko-man. The other women took their promised gifts of corn, yams, fruit, goats, and sheep; but Oluronbi took nothing to propitiate the tree. Alas! One day as Oluronbi passed through the forest, the Iroko-man seized her and changed her into a small brown bird, which sat on the branches of the tree and plaintively sang:


Oni kaluku jeje ewure Ewure ewure Oni kaluku jeje aguntan Aguntan jobolo Oluronbi jeje omo re Omo re apon bi epo Oluronbi o Jan jan iroko jan jan Translates to: One promised a sheep, One promised a goat, One promised fruit, But Oluronbi promised her child.


When the wood-carver heard the birds song, he realized what had happened, and tried to find some means of regaining his wife. After thinking for many days, he began to carve a large wooden doll, like a real child in size and appearance, and with a small gold chain round its neck. Covering it with a beautiful native cloth, he laid it at the foot of the tree. The Iroko-man thought that this was Oluronbis child, so he transformed the little bird once more into a woman and snatched up the child into the branches. 2 Promoting a group's feeling of solidarity, this is achieved through the inculcation of societal ideals and norms. This norm helps foster a sense of belonging in terms of friendship, intimacy, togetherness and so on.







individuals to act superior to or censure other individuals 4 Serving as a vehicle for social protest and political propagandas 5 Offering an enjoyable escape from reality and converting dull work into play. 6 7 Creating a sense of identity for a community. Warnings, advice, praise, recommendation,

weddings, funerals, court yards, in introduction of guests, naming ceremony, for exultations. For example:


Oriki (Praise song) Ajayi jy, gdol, ll, onknga jpn, bomi r wd. kn baba d kn pakr wol. ni jy gb gb gb, Ti le gb tan, Ignnugn n gba oluwar. jy ti nw ld, Ti gbogbo mge nyw ; Dramd temi ni gb


jy a sin gbw jy lrin j, arwoge.

A lullaby from a mother to her child m mi, akr bentekbe m mi , akr bentekbe m mi , akr bentekb B w k o M rja fn B w k o M rgb okn gb okn n ym lrn. r mo r l pn k o Akr bentekbe.


All these functions were carried out through an oral literary culture mainly in the language of the immediate environment the song is been sang: Yoruba.

Changing Social Functions of Folksongs Westernization has put a restriction into the use of folksongs in many African societies, and this has brought about modification in its usage. In Nigeria, very few communities still have an arena where the learning of these songs takes place except at festivals where the practitioners of these songs come out for performance and they are mostly paid. Modification therefore arises in these forms: 1 Where there was an arena we now have in schools where pupils are encouraged to join a


traditional group and they are taught these songs for the sake of performance to show the dexterity of their school. These over the years have helped the transmission of these songs from fading out. Also these children never forget what they partook off and this just further buttress the

adage of 'what I see I know, what I hear I forget and what I do I remember' I did and my brothers and I still enact some of these dance steps and their songs.


Documentation: here most of these songs in some community have been researched and put in print for continuous transmission giving the world the opportunity to appreciate the diversity of culture. The documentation of these songs can


be found in various ranging from comics, textbooks, manual, seminar papers, theatrical performances, and television/radio stations and so on. This gives the songs a wider coverage and making it readily and easily available to the masses who serve as the preserver of this tradition. 3. The transference of these folksongs into the religious folds where they remove the part that reflects their past idols and now replace them with their new Gods. 4 Notable African novelist has also tried in their way to infuse these songs into their writing writers like Soyinka, Ezeigbo etc. In all of her works, Ezeigbo uses these medium to give aesthetic appeal to her writings. In Things Fall


Apart Achebe uses folk songs to showcase his Igbo origin, in a song Ikemefuna sang

Eze elina, elina! Sala Eze ilikwa ya lkwaba akwa oligholi Ebe Danda nechi eze Ebe Uzuzu nete egwu Sala In Trafficked by Akachi Adimora Ezeigbo the use of folksong once more helps in reinforcing the cultural heritage of the author and her Igbo origins. An example of this is Iwe na-ewe ayi


O, iwe na-ewe ayi Ochu okuko new oso Elias mekporo ala [We are angry O, we are very angry A fall awaits the one who pursues a hen The hen will escape unhurt Elias committed an abomination]. (Trafficked: 219) 5 Entertainment (Nollywood) in movies and at the theatre these songs cannot but be used to drive home the point that we are rich in culture and that our practices should be appreciated and commended. This has given the use of these songs a wider coverage and relevance as the songs are made readily available in different


versions such as mp3, mp4, CDs, IPods, internet, radio stations and so on.

Notable nigerian musician like Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Late Sunny Okposo, Late Orits Wiliki, Nice, Dagrin, through the infusion of real life issues to teach, inform, and entertain. Ebenezer obey song: Eni ro wo e loju ala tondunu Eni ko te pa mose nitori ebi Oro mi lowo oluwa lowa Ai month asiko lon damu eda o ...

Propanganda in political arenas


This is a song of protest during the 2011 election in Lagos Nigeria by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) against the Action Congress gubernatorial aspirant Babatunde Raji Fashola. Often these songs are rather abusive in nature, such as: O laru opolo Eni to se lawyer tele To wa di agba le oja O laru opolo Meaning Hes got mental sickness A lawyer before Now a sweeper at the market Hes got mental sickness Conclusion


The social functions of folk songs have changed dramatically over the years. From that of oral performance, it has evolved into the use of mp.3, mp 4, Ipod and gained mass media coverage making it readily available for easy access and as reference points for all and sundry. The argument that the functions of folk songs has changed over the years is quite a controversial one. However, the word modifications should be used since a large effort has been put into transference of this oral performance into various modes of use. Folksongs function in pre, during, post and neo colonial periods share similar functions and with the use of westernized methods, folksongs social functions would continue evolving in diverse dimension and use as long as it continually appeal to its audience.


Works Cited: Alan Dundes. The Study of Folklore. 1965.USA: Prentice Hall Inc. James Ale. Yoruba Traditional Music Instrument Painting - Watercolor On Paper.14 Sept 2008. <> Akachi Eziegbo. Trafficked. 2008. Lagos: Literamed Publications Nig. Ltd Akpopbaro F.B.O. African Oral Literture. Lagos: Princeton Pub.Company Bayo Ogunjimi. Introduction to African oral literature and performance 2005. Manzini Swaziland: ruswanda publication


Chinua Achebe. Things Fall Apart. 1958. London: Heinemann. Chinere Nwahunanya. Issues in Literary historian and criticism.1998. Imo: Corporate Impreesions John Cannon. "folk-song." The Oxford Companion to British History. 2002. Jul. 2011 < Ifa Bite. Oluronbi 2008. 18 Jul. 2011 <> Kim Ruehl. Folk Song Guide. 2004. 22 Jul.2011 < Richard Dorson. Folklore. 1972. London: Indiana Univeristy Press. Segun Gbadegesin. Aspects of Yoruba Oral Tradition: Importance, Richness and Limits in the Context of Unfreedom. 22 Jul. 2011 Tchaiko Kwayana. Achebe:How He Created a Masterpiece, Things Fall Apart 2000. 20 Jul.2011 <>