LAGOS, JANUARY- On January 29, 2023, as part of exercise Obangame Expresss 23 (OE23), Chief Dr. Nike Davies-Okundaye hosted the U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) Band for a collaborative musical experience at the Nike Art Foundation in Lagos, Nigeria.
The Band’s Maritime Winds Quintet and Topside Brass Band played a variety of classical and traditional songs while visiting the Gallery. The band was also given permission by the gallery staff to dress in traditional attire from each of Nigeria’s three largest ethnic groups: Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba. The performances paid tribute to the long-lasting instruments of African culture as well as its history and heritage.
Third-class musician Brass band member Micheal Wallace, a drummer, called the experience liberating.
“As a drummer and an overall musician, being in the motherland is a very sobering experience. Seeing [music] in its raw form and looking at it in a broader perspective, it all makes sense,” said Wallace. “The rhythms that you hear from the lower notes and the higher notes, and seeing it evolve to the current form of jazz today is really special.”
The musicians in the gallery, which featured well-known Nigerian artist Jesse King Buga, joined the band in song and dance. In a spontaneous performance, Buga also served as the band’s director and instructed them in a traditional Yoruba song.
Wallace had time to think back on his first journey to Africa, when he visited Ghana and acquired his prized djembe drum, while performing at the gallery.
“I cried the first time that I came to Africa —getting an instrument from the motherland, the source, you can not beat that,” said Wallace. “Coming here to the art gallery, where we have memorials for our ancestors that were lost fighting the fight for racial equality is really an experience that you will never ever forget.”
Okundaye, commonly known as “Mama Nike,” established the Nike Art Foundation of Nigeria to promote African heritage, aid in the financial independence of rural women, and support children dealing with negative influences. It features exhibitions in Lagos, Osogbo, Kogi, and Abuja. The gallery, which is currently the largest privately-owned art gallery in Africa, is one of Nigeria’s greatest repositories of indigenous Nigerian artwork collections.
Her goal was to foster the development of Nigeria’s African cultural heritage while also promoting, enhancing, and maintaining it. Although Okundaye was born and raised in a village in Nigeria, she attributes most of her early success to the United States, where she claims she was inspired to return to Africa with a project that would help her people.
“I said if God ever gives me the opportunity, one day I would like to create a place where artists can meet their own voice,” said Okundaye. “I’m an artist myself, but I want to thank the American government for giving me an opportunity to travel to the United States in 1974 to teach the artists in the Haystack Mountain Craft School. So, it was my first breakthrough.”
Similar to Wallace and Buga, Okundaye is passionate about what she does.
“Music is art and art is life, so the two of them march together. Art is our heritage,” said Okundaye.
The NAVEUR-NAVAF Band visited the Lagos Art Gallery in conjunction with exercise OE23 as part of a string of local community gatherings intended to strengthen ties between Americans and Nigerians. The largest international maritime exercise in Western and Central Africa, OE23, is being hosted by the Nigerian Navy.
One of three regional exercises coordinated by the NAVAF, OE23 offers international partners, African and American forces, and platforms for cooperation to address common transnational maritime issues. The continuous maritime security collaboration between NAVAF and its African partners aims to address the issues with maritime safety and security in the area.
From the West African island of Cabo Verde to the Central African beaches of Angola, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Economic Community of Central African States, the exercise is spread out over five zones in the southern Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Guinea (ECCAS).
Due to the importance of these waterways for the continent’s wealth and access to international markets, the U.S. and its African partner countries have a shared interest in ensuring the security, safety, and freedom of navigation there.
U.S. Naval Forces Europe-U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) have developed strategic partnerships with allies and partners for more than 80 years, relying on a common set of values to uphold security and stability.
NAVEUR-NAVAF, which has its headquarters in Naples, Italy, manages American naval assets in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) operational domains. The U.S. Sixth Fleet deploys maritime forces throughout the full range of joint and naval operations and is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF.