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 Music Beyond Belief in Africa

 By Leo Igwe

Music beyond belief refers to irreligious music and songs, including humanist, atheist, and freethought songs. The pervasiveness of religion in Africa has made it difficult for many Africans to acknowledge, understand, or appreciate music and songs beyond the precinct of religion, faith, and belief in God. Gospel music and songs are among the most popular in Nigeria. Many artistes jostle to outgospel one another. Many artistes are turning gospel musicians overnight. Even the so-called world musical lyrics feature invocations of God or supplications to the supreme being or some supernatural agents. The tragedy is that many people think or have been made to believe that religion has a monopoly on artistic expressions. Incidentally, this is not the case. Religion does not have a monopoly as popularly believed because there are musical forms and songs beyond belief. Several song tracks and lyrics speak to nonreligious, humanist, atheist, and freethought themes, principles, and values. These songs form a part of many cultures; they are found in many societies across the globe.

While irreligious songs are not mainstream, they exist and feature in the music industry. And the time has come for humanists, atheists, and freethinkers to pay closer attention to this category of music. Humanists need to reclaim their artistic legacy. In some parts of the world, humanist, atheist, and freethought songs are emerging and becoming a distinct category of music. Some humanist organizations have choir groups that render nonreligious songs. The humanist organization in the UK has a choir. The group renders songs at its events and conferences. One of the key features at the World Humanist Congress in Copenhagen this year was a rendition by a humanist choir from Norway. The choir sang one of Bob Dylan’s songs, Blowin’ In The Wind. The popular freethought leader, Dan Barker, a former pastor, has inspired a secular music band in the US. His Nothing Fails like Prayer, and other songs are played at freethought meetings and conventions. The German song about freedom of thought, Die Gedanken sind frei, is played at atheist meetings and conventions. So, music and songs beyond belief are growing globally. It has become necessary for humanists from Nigeria and, nay Africa to explore the potentials and possibilities of music beyond belief. This exploration is important because music and songs nourish the heart and mind. Music is an effective way of sending and spreading a message. Music is an aspect of African culture. Africa has been described as the land of the drums. This is the time to get the world to know and hear the sounds from the continent’s musical drums beyond belief.

A closer look at the musical field in Nigeria reveals the existence, expression, and manifestation of lyrics and songs that speak to nonreligious, irreligious, and religion-critical outlooks. One that quickly comes to mind is Fela Kuti’s Coffin for the Head of State. Fela Kuti used this piece of music to highlight the hypocrisy and double standard of religious Christians and Muslims, especially those who are in power. He described Christianity and Islam as moneymaking organizations and noted the contradictions in the lives of Christian and Muslim clerics whom he said exploited the gullibility of their followers. Another piece of irreligious music that comes to mind is Femi’s Wonder Wonder Wonder. In line with his father’s Coffin for the Head of State, Femi noted the confusion that Christians and Muslims were causing, the religious wars that their fanatics waged, and the tendency of clerics to enjoy life at the expense of their members. Other irreligious lyrics and songs exist in English and in local languages. Humanists in Nigeria need to discover these cultural goods. Humanists need to explore ways of enriching the country’s irreligious musical culture. And one way to do this is to celebrate the country’s irreligious music and musicians.

African humanists should play freethought songs at meetings and conventions. There should be annual or biennial events to celebrate Africa’s irreligious musical legends. Humanists who can sing should form a humanist choir or a music band. There are many humanists waiting to show their talents. Humanist and atheist songwriters should work and come up with lyrics that highlight irreligious views and ideals. Humanists and atheists often criticize religion or highlight the absurdities of god belief. And music could be an effective tool to achieve this goal. Humanist and atheist associations should consider organizing beyond-belief musical festivals. They should stage irreligious musical talent hunts in schools, colleges, and universities and help young humanists and non humanists, as the case may be, realize their artistic gifts. Humanists should commit to furthering and promoting music and songs beyond belief in Africa.

Igwe is a board member of Humanists International, UK.

Leo Igwe
Leo Igwe
Leo Igwe (born July 26, 1970) is a Nigerian human rights advocate and humanist. Igwe is a former Western and Southern African representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, and has specialized in campaigning against and documenting the impacts of child witchcraft accusations. He holds a Ph.D from the Bayreuth International School of African Studies at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, having earned a graduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Calabar in Nigeria. Igwe's human rights advocacy has brought him into conflict with high-profile witchcraft believers, such as Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries, because of his criticism of what he describes as their role in the violence and child abandonment that sometimes result from accusations of witchcraft. His human rights fieldwork has led to his arrest on several occasions in Nigeria. Igwe has held leadership roles in the Nigerian Humanist Movement, Atheist Alliance International, and the Center For Inquiry—Nigeria. In 2012, Igwe was appointed as a Research Fellow of the James Randi Educational Foundation, where he continues working toward the goal of responding to what he sees as the deleterious effects of superstition, advancing skepticism throughout Africa and around the world. In 2014, Igwe was chosen as a laureate of the International Academy of Humanism and in 2017 received the Distinguished Services to Humanism Award from the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Igwe was raised in southeastern Nigeria, and describes his household as being strictly Catholic in the midst of a "highly superstitious community," according to an interview in the Gold Coast Bulletin.[1] At age twelve, Igwe entered the seminary, beginning to study for the Catholic priesthood, but later was confused by conflicting beliefs between Christian theology and the beliefs in witches and wizards that are "entrenched in Nigerian society."[1] After a period of research and internal conflict due to doubts about the "odd blend of tribalism and fundamentalist Christianity he believes is stunting African development," a 24-year-old Igwe resigned from the seminary and relocated to Ibadan, Nigeria
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