DIALOGUES: Towards Decolonizing Music and Dance Studies

Towards Decolonization of the Curricula in Nigerian Musical Arts Education


Esinkuma James Amaegbe (University of Port Harcourt Rivers State, Nigeria)


Esinkuma James Amaegbe




Glory Nnam (Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB)
National Headquarters Bwari Abuja, Nigeria)
Anthony Okoro (University of Port Harcourt Rivers State, Nigeria)
Nturem Masiakek (University of Port Harcourt Rivers State, Nigeria)
Pere Fatai (Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria)
Marie Agatha Ozah (University of Port Harcourt Rivers State, Nigeria)

Nigeria's post-colonial educational systems are based extensively on models and structures inherited from European colonialists. Over time, these systems have produced graduates who, acculturated by Eurocentric curriculum contents, are typically inadequately prepared to effectively address the peculiar socio-economic and ethno-cultural challenges of the country. Many of the music education curricula are conceived as bi-musical, especially at the tertiary level. They are conceived with the intention of grounding students/graduates in African cultural paradigms while also preparing them for global work environments. Yet, they are often heavily skewed, in practice, towards European and American music. Okafor (1991) affirms this when he notes that "the syllabus of the educational system, the curriculum content, and the philosophy and thrusts of the institutions which teach music place emphasis on Western music" (63). He (1992) further expresses concern regarding this situation, adding that: “An examination of music education in Nigeria presents the observer with an immediate and glaring anomaly. The focus of music education itself appears to be on Western music, music transplanted or introduced into the culture of Indigenous Nigeria from an outside culture“ (8-9).

Considering that “music” is not a standalone concept in Indigenous African worldviews, nor is there a unique term for music in most Indigenous African languages, the continued use of the term “music education” in the Nigerian context exposes ignorance of, or perhaps, even disdain for, Nigeria's Indigenous epistemological paradigms. Perhaps this ignorance and/or disdain is at the root of the continued preponderance of colonial influences on musical arts curricula in Nigeria. Such curricula, without adequate grounding in a Nigerian Indigenous ethos and pathos, typically fail to engender "virtuous humanity disposition" (Nzewi 2019: 19) vis-à-vis "human cogitations, productions, relationships, and actions" (ibid), which ground African Indigenous musical arts education and practice. Although there has been increasing consciousness about, and efforts towards, decolonizing musical arts education in Nigeria, there is still a lack of consensus on what this decolonization would entail. Continued, focused dialogue and interactions among regulators, educators, and practitioners is needed, towards the reform of musical arts curricula to better address the needs of Nigerian society.

Grounded in theories of constructivism, convention and identity, and transformative learning, our discussion session interrogates the colonial structures in, and influences on, Nigerian music arts curricula. Employing data from participant observation and focus group discussions, we elucidate the retarding impacts of colonial artefacts on the effectiveness of current Nigerian musical arts curricula. Furthermore, we advocate revision of these curricula for enhanced Indigenous culture sensitivity and developmental relevance.


Further References

Adeogun, A. O. 2015. “African Musical Knowledge in African Universities: The Insufficiency of the Sufficient.” Journal of Nigerian Music Education 7: 20–41.
Adedeji, F. 2013. “African Music Theory in the Music Education Curricula of Nigerian Universities.” Awka Journal of Research in Music and the Arts 9: 34–44.
Agu, D.C.C. 2015. “The Application of Indigenous Knowledge System in Music Education and Practice in Nigeria: A Most Valuable Option.” Journal of Nigerian Music Education 7: 1–8.
Ahanotu, E. N. 2009. “Comparative analysis of school music and traditional music education.” Ph.D dissertation, University of Nigeria.
Federal Government of Nigeria. 2007. The 9-Year Basic Education Curriculum at a Glance. Abuja: NERDC.
Nzewi, M. 1999. “Strategies for Music Education in Africa: Towards a Meaningful Progression from Tradition to Modern.” IJME (Conference Edition) 33: 72–87.
Nzewi, M. 2019. “Restoring the Pristine Humanning Potency of Music Education Anchored on Stimulating Assessment Practices.” Journal of Nigerian Music Education 11: 18-39.
Okafor F. C. 1991. Nigerian Teacher Education: A Search for New Direction. Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishing Co. Ltd.
Okafor, R. C. 1992. “Concepts of Functional Education.” Journal of General Studies 1 (3): 40-46.


Social appeal and inclination towards contemporary traditional musical styles show that traditional music continues to play a pivotal role in various aspects of our society. The incorporation of traditional music is a vital means of attaining the functional end of existing models of music education programs, at all levels of education. Every time and place humans or cultures collide, there is bound to be borrowing and imbibing of useful elements of each other's cultures. We are free to continue borrowing, but that does not mean we should become enslaved. This is a call to emancipate ourselves from intellectual slavery.

Many Nigerian schools have started incorporating the elements discussed in this ICTM Dialogues session into their curricula. For example, the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka Nigeria has even employed an oja specialist who teaches the students the art of playing the oja. Students of this department now play compositions written by African pianism-sensed composers.

The arrival of Prof. Meki Nzewi to the Department of Music at the University of Port Harcourt, increased awareness of African traditions in a department that had already incorporated some Africaness in its curriculum. Meki Nzewi donated fifty (50) jembe drums and copies of jembe drum tutor books to the department, making it easier for students to have instruments for practice and performance. The curriculum of the department now has a stronger sense of African Music studies as students are strongly encouraged to research and write their project and thesis on their cultures. For their African dance classes, students are encouraged to work with themes from their cultures, and present performances that are meaningful and that tell a story.


Questions to Consider

The future direction of music education in Nigeria rests on the restructuring of general music curricula in the country. This restructuring should also address the subsuming of music under Cultural and Creative Arts (CCA). The question is: how do we make this restructuring of music education in Nigeria a reality?

Do we undertake European music in our classes? If yes, which particular classes? What strategies do we apply in integrating European music in our classes? Can these same strategies be adopted for integration of our traditional music? Is there a need to modify/strengthen the strategies to better suit our music?

In restructuring the curriculum, one way is to remove all marching and game songs and replace them with our Indigenous songs. Other strategies include the use of Indigenous practice pieces, giving African music more time rather than Western music; use of Indigenous art compositions as practical examples rather than Western ones; and infusion of our culture and its expression through music.

We recommend the incorporation of music, especially folksongs, into the teaching of other subjects such as history, civic education, and so on. This is pivotal in the decolonization process, since nursery rhymes and school songs are still those handed down by the colonialists, such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

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