Ambrose Akinmusire escaped Nigeria, The cemetery of talents – Tola Adenle

November 18, 2014


STORIES FROM OTHER LANDS//In their own words

Allow me a little personal experience to explain the title.

In the mid-1990s, our youngest child who had earlier returned to Nigeria for her secondary education, participated in an essay competition in Oyo State. At UI’s [the University of Ibadan, Nigeria] Trenchard Hall where the finals were being judged, a “respected” principal who sat at the head of the judging panel reduced the girl (then in SS II – equivalent to high school Junior) to tears by announcing that “even a university student could not have written this essay … a teacher must have written it …”

Her Mathematics and Science teacher – he now heads the Math Department at the International School [of U.I.], ISI – was so mad he wanted to stand up and explain; I restrained him. That girl sat for the American Boards that same year from here in Nigeria, won full scholarship to an American college where she would later graduate at the top of her Engineering class, received a U.S. National Science Academy grant to Cambridge University where she got her doctorate in Engineering a couple of years ago. Now, what if she did not have the opportunity to leave these shores? What of all the kids whose progress has been hampered or even aborted because of lack of opportunities AND because of teachers like the judge?

Akinmusire’s story combines bits of two favorite series: “Stories from other lands” and “In their own words.”

Since a daughter – see above – drew my attention to his story and I listened to the offering by the [U.S.] National Public Radio (NPR), a non-commercial station that is publicly and privately funded, I shudder each time I wonder if Akinmusire had not have the opportunity of growing up in the United States.

The ‘mú’ – to take/use/give in his last name – is the verb that places the young man’s ancestry in Ondo State (not necessarily Ondo town, Yoruba headquarters of Akins) or Ekiti. To be of ‘core’ Yoruba origin, that verb would be fi – to take/use/give. And, of course, ṣiré is “upcountry” Yoruba for se’re [ṣe eré] which is ‘to play’. In translation, though, the dialect could have the part after Akin translating to “to take seriously” or “does not take lightly”, depending on the inflection, especially if it is Ondo Town.

Becca Pulliam, JazzSet, wrote “Ambrose Akinmusire: Shining At Kennedy Center” for the NPR. The Kennedy Center is within walking distances of The White House, the State Department, The World Bank & IMF, and it begat something even snazzier – The KC Jazz Club: “ … the KC Jazz Club lights up the Kennedy Center roof-level Terrace Gallery with performances by today’s hottest new talents and seasoned jazz veterans.” That was where Akinmusire – on trumpet – performed recently. [October 2009]

Ambrose Akinmusire’s trumpet sound is described as “assertive, yet warm and controlled.” If jazz is one of America’s music form gifts to the world with the Africans-Americans the Inventors and Masters of the form – then Akinmusire is Nigeria’s surreptitious gift to the jazz world. After all, improvisation, an integral part of jazz, is common in West African music but may be more so in Yoruba music in spite of claims by jazz great, Art Blakey, that Africa has nothing to do with jazz. That’s like saying a slave era octoroon (a person who has a black great grandparent) has no relationship with Africa!

Akinmusire is hot!

I believe, though, that he might NEVER have been able to achieve all he has, and is on the way to achieving if he had grown up in Nigeria. The talent is inherent but equally important are the environment AND the very hard work which a Nigerian environment would stand in the way of for young people these days. A youth corper lugging around huge bags containing items for sale at her primary assignment place has no time to think or develop even a known talent. Nor can Mr. Jide Ogundipe who reportedly stole N12.5 million of his employer’s funds, FCMB, to finance his wedding – develop any ability he might have because of the subculture of wealth-as-goal rather than excellence which is pervasive all over Nigeria and at every level of society.

But oh, what would Olaiya, Eddie Okonta or Onyia [famous old-time Nigerian trumpet maestros] have become in a nurturing clime!

Ambrose Akinmusire: Shining At Kennedy Center

October 29, 2009

akinmusire 1
Credit: The Monk Institute

Cover of Akinmusire’s latest album [Credit:


“If Ambrose Akinmusire’s story leads you to expect a serious trumpeter, you’d be right. He thinks about music constantly, practices day and night. His neighbors either don’t hear his playing — “At 2 in the morning, I’m not blasting high notes or anything” — or maybe they like it. His tone is shining, but matte at the same time, always in control. His candle burns bright.

“Sure, I did these two competitions, [but] even my approach to that wasn’t a competitive type thing. Being a good person, that’s number one on my list. I don’t compare myself to people,” says Akinmusire. His music supports this claim; it’s personal. “I have a belief that nothing’s ever done,” Akinmusire says. “I would like to believe that my compositions are living, so they transform as I transform.”

“Ambrose writes melodies from his own ideas, and improvises on them from the inside. At the KC Jazz Club at the Kennedy Center, “Ruby” is for his beloved grandmother. “Henya” is Farsi for mirror and the composition unfolds as a musical palindrome. “Walls of Lechugilla” refers to the deepest cave in the continental U.S., in Carlsbad Caverns. The melody of “Few But Far Between” is a wide-interval etude that develops from wide intervals.

“Akinmusire is a fan of Woody Shaw (1944-1989), who leapt between pitches and landed gracefully in his compositions and improvisations. “You look at [the intervals] on paper, and [there seems to be] a very far distance, but the actual notes in between are very few,” Akinmusire says. “So I just started telling myself they’re far but few between.” And one last thing: “It really bothers me when people say jazz is over,” Akinmusire says. “Eighty percent of my friends are jazz musicians. The notion that jazz is dead is totally false.”

I agree. When I visited his Face-book, some of his friends or those who’d like to know him are holding or playing trumpets! One says: “Hi Ambrose … I’ll be at the Sunset in Paris for your gig with Walter …”

To listen to Akinmusire’s soft, supple trumpet in Concert on JazzSet for the Kennedy Center performance:

First published in The Nation on Sunday five years ago this month [November 22, 2009].

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2014. 11:00 p.m. [GMT]

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7 Comments on “Ambrose Akinmusire escaped Nigeria, The cemetery of talents – Tola Adenle”

  1. folakemiodoaje Says:

    I fully support Prof’s proposal on this, he must have seen just about enough of the decay to suggest this.

    Nigeria universities have been closed due to strike for close to a year before so purposely closing them for a few years for common good is a brilliant idea in my opinion. Higher education should not be about paper certificate alone, but the high quality of teaching and learning robust enough to prepare students for life outside the four wall.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. folakemiodoaje Says:

    Thank you for this post! Very relatable. Your daughter is not alone at receiving such a degrading comments from those who were supposed to ‘spot’ the talents and enhance potential in students, instead they kill it at any given opportunity.

    A student teacher who spent half of his days smoking/drinking accused me of cheating in a test at a school I went to retake some of my WAEC papers in 1991, and when I asked that he showed me his evidence, he said it was because of the way I made my argument in such a coherent way that he thought I must have copied it from somewhere: my thought that day was “I was doing the same thing the second time, you d**b ***!” Apologies for my language here. I had to explain in a nicer way than this and was made to re write my test in front of him before he was convinced.

    Our school system has been going down the drain for a very long time.

    Happy for your daughter and Ambrose Akinmusire.

    And the sad part is that there are still millions in the same shoes as your daughters’ who relied on teachers like her critic for ‘honest’ feedback.

    Kind regards,



    • emotanglobal Says:

      Dear Fola,

      Thanks for this.

      Of course the girl is not which is why I wondered aloud about “… the kids whose progress has been hampered or even aborted because of lack of opportunities AND because of teachers like the judge?” There must be thousands all over the country.

      Ok, isn’t that a shame that we are almost expecting – and in turn, naturally getting mediocrity. Having to convince a teacher that you wrote your exam papers is not exactly the way to produce students who excel but it seems very common in Nigeria. The sad thing is that no kid is spared this low expectations that naturally would often lead to below standard performance because the young girl in my story was at a private high school but went, like many other kids from Ibadan, NIgeri private schls, for a city-wide competitions.

      The society is on downward spiral and with that, no area of life is spared, esp. education which, as you know even from your far-from home base, has tertiary education in tatters. I still have quite a few essays from the weekly newspaper contributions of the past among which is “The lie of tertiary education in Nigeria …” I’m sure you also do know or at least hear of Nigerian “university graduates” who can barely read. Taking para 1 above further, the system collapse has also bred teachers – not all teachers like that “principal” and your teacher who needed to be convinced of your capability – who stand in the way of kids’ progress. I knew a principal of one of Ibadan’s best schools who refused to give school leaving testimonials to a high school graduating student because “he is one of the kids who disrupt the school” even though she knew that the kid could not progress further in Nigeria without that paper! Happily, the kid eventually attended a US college where he graduated with good grades. He is now married! Something really does need to be done about education in Nigeria, and I think that is why “Education Sector Reform …” posted on in January last year attracted over 2400 (two thou. four hundred) viewers.

      Soyinka suggested a few years ago that all univs should be closed down for a number of yrs – I can no longer remember for how long – so that a thorough assessment and re-working – not the Nobel Laureate’s word) be done before the kids go back. Of course, nobody in a position to read through what he laid out so that it could be taken up for action, did so. In fact, I read somebody’s comments dismissing the idea because “Soyinka never sees anything good in government.”

      My regards,

      Liked by 1 person


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