With Juwon Ogungbe’s forth-coming revisiting of his highly acclaimed Progress Ceremony (A Yoruba Social Ritual for Our Times) taking place on July 9th 2014 at The Forge, London, UK Vibe thought this would be the opportune time to give you a preview of what to expect. Earlier this year, African Divo Arts in conjunction with www.outerglobe.co.uk (spearheaded by Debbie Golt) put on a full programme, “Upstairs at the Ritzy” dedicated to the Yoruba language and music.
The ceremony’s creator Juwon Ogungbe sung a solo prelude piece, ‘Ilosiwaju’ or ‘Progress’ prior to being interviewed by compere and co-organiser Debbie Golt from Outerglobe. Debbie asked Juwon to explain the essence of Progress Ceremony and the reason for the title of his stunning debut album release, ‘Life Force Music,’ which juwon did very eloquently.
Debbie Golt, then swiftly handed the stage over to Juwon and his cohorts. Before Mr Ogungbe even uttered a word, as is tradition, it was the drum which spoke first. Percussionist Roger Allotey embraced under his arm a smaller version of the Djembe drum, which he pounded on for a full thirty seconds to officially signal the start of the Ceremony.
Juwon, who was now permitted to speak, and as the band prepared for the Second Affirmation Juwon proceeded to greet his guests, “Welcome, you meet us well here today. Progress “Ilosiwaju” is what we’re here to ask for. We’re asking our ancestors and the Yoruba deities to smile at us so we can boldly stride ahead… Before we ask our ancestors to do anything, we must honour them… They belong to us and we belong to them.”
The collective then continued on with the Second Affirmation, Figure Two “Kissing the Earth.” In fact the whole program was divided into a series of twelve affirmations with eighteen sub-divisions or figures. At times Juwon would take time out to introduce an affirmation, at other times the ensemble would segue smoothly from one affirmation to the next. Part one of the concert was made up of seven “Affirmations” and nine “Figures,” the aforementioned “kissing the Earth,” “Incantation,” “Ms Nigeria,” “For the Gate-Keeper,” “Interlude,” “Ore Mi Chop Chop,” “Calling out,” and “Who Really Knows?” All offerings were warmly received before a short intermission was announced.
Part two began with the Eighth Affirmation and the Tenth Figure, “A Candle for the Egun”. The ninth affirmation and eleventh figure, “River of Love” gave Juwon the chance to fully exercise his lungs and project his rich baritone vocals, in tandem with some “Hi-Life-esq” guitar riffs from Greg Saunders. With a few adjoining words, our protagonists and story-teller introduced the brief skit, Figure Twelve, “Water Libation” – “We will now poor a libation for the ancestors and deities.”
“The world is not a fair place, but even those who lack wealth have something else to give from their hearts.” This was Juwon’s philosophical introduction to figure thirteen – “Scratch My Back,” the first of four Figures within the Tenth Affirmation. This jaunty upbeat ditty was quickly followed by “The Egun’s Approval,” which asks the ancestors If they have accepted the offering. Special mention at this juncture must be made to Suzette Llewellyn (visual interpreter/signer) and Derek Nisbet (visual back-drops) for their sterling preparation and subsequent translation of the evening via sign language and illuminating picture slides, respectively.
The Tenth Affirmation was rounded off by Figures fifteen and sixteen, “Counting My Blessings”and “The Man in the Kitchen.” The eleventhth affirmation, “We Give Thanks,” was an all-out expression of just that, the ensemble giving thanks via a supremely effervescent, energised and rousing display of musicianship. Juwon took this opportunity to give thanks to his supporting cast, introducing each musician independently allowing them to bask in the spotlight and freestyle on their individual instruments. Roger Allotey laid down the gauntlet with a supreme master class in percussion; at times it seemed as if he had eight arms. Greg Sanders and Rotel Haguel followed suit on guitar and bass guitar, respectively. Then the engine room of the ensemble, Euston Liburd on drums was named-checked and duly took his cue to lay down his own funky drummer solo.
A fabulous evening of Yoruba music, education and enlightenment was brought to its conclusion by ensemble leader and program arranger Juwon Ogungbe. As the band played on Juwon thanked Derek Nisbet (visuals), Suzette Llewellyn (signer), and the DJ Mr K (Limpopo Club), before going on to say, “Thank you all for being here, thank you to our compere and PR co-ordinator Debbie Golt, thank you very much!” He then continued singing the chorus To “We Give Thanks.”, “We thank you, we thank you for showing us the way.” As the prolonged cheers of appreciation died down, Juwon added the final postscript, “We can’t take our riches to the grave, but we can leave something useful for others to benefit from.”
The Twelfth and final Affirmation which comprised of Figure eighteen, “City State” brought this fresh and ambitious expression of all things Yoruba to a most gratifying close.
Michael J Edwards