Nike-Davies Okundaye Welcomes United States (U.S.) Naval Forces Europe and Africa Band During Exercise Obangame Express 23
chief dr Nike Davies-Okundaye welcomed the U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) Band for a collaborative musical experience at the Nike Art Foundation in Lagos, Nigeria, during Exercise Obangame Express 23 (OE23), Jan. 29, 2023.
Visiting the gallery, the band performed a selection of classical and traditional songs from their Maritime Winds Quintet and the Topside Brass Band. Gallery staff also allowed the band to wear traditional garments representative of Nigeria’s three major ethnic groups: Hausa, Egbo and Yoruba. The performances honored the history and heritage of African culture and its long-lived instruments.
Musician 3rd Class Micheal Wallace, drummer in the marching band, described the experience as liberating.
“As a drummer and musician in general, being in the Motherland is a very sobering experience. See [music] In its raw form and viewed from a broader perspective, it all makes sense,” Wallace said. “The rhythms you hear from the lower notes and the higher notes and seeing them evolve into the current form of jazz today is really something.”
The gallery’s musicians, including Jesse King Buga, a popular Nigerian artist, joined the band with song and dance. During an impromptu session, Buga also stepped in to conduct the band and teach them a traditional Yoruba tune.
The gallery appearance gave Wallace time to reflect on his first trip to Africa, when he visited Ghana and bought his treasured djembe drum.
“I cried when I first came to Africa — to get an instrument from the mother country, the source, that’s unbeatable,” Wallace said. “Coming here to the art gallery where we have memorials to our ancestors who were lost in the struggle for racial equality is truly an experience you will never forget.”
Okundaye, commonly known as “Mama Nike”, founded the Nike Art Foundation of Nigeria to promote African heritage, help rural women earn a living and encourage youth to deal with negative influences. It includes exhibitions in Abuja, Kogi, Lagos and Osogbo. Today the gallery is one of the largest collections of indigenous Nigerian artworks in Nigeria and is currently the largest privately owned art gallery in Africa.
Its mission has been described as striving to promote, enhance, preserve and provide an enabling environment for the growth of African cultural heritage in Nigeria. Although she grew up in a village in Nigeria, Okundaye credits her early success to the United States, where she says she was encouraged to bring something back to Africa that would benefit her people.
“I said if God ever gives me the opportunity, one day I want to create a place for artists to meet their own voice,” Okundaye said. “I’m an artist myself, but I want to thank the US government for giving me the opportunity to travel to the United States in 1974 to teach the artists at the Haystack Mountain Craft School. So that 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 march together. Art is our heritage,” said Okundaye.
In conjunction with Exercise OE23, the NAVEUR-NAVAF Band visited the Lagos Art Gallery as part of a series of local community events aimed at deepening community ties between the United States and Nigeria. The Nigerian Navy hosts OE23, the largest multinational maritime exercise in West and Central Africa.
OE23, one of three NAVAF-supported regional exercises, provides collaborative opportunities for African and US forces, as well as international partners, to address common transnational maritime concerns. NAVAF’s ongoing maritime security cooperation with African partners focuses on addressing maritime security challenges in the region.
The exercise takes place in five zones in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Guinea – from the West African island of Cabo Verde to the Central African coast of Angola, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).
The US shares a common interest with African partners to ensure safety and freedom of navigation in the waters around the continent, as these waters are vital to Africa’s prosperity and access to global markets.
For more than 80 years, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-US Naval Forces Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) has forged strategic relationships with allies and partners, using a foundation of shared values to maintain security and stability.
Headquartered in Naples, Italy, NAVEUR-NAVAF operates US naval forces in the areas of responsibility of US European Command (USEUCOM) and US Africa Command (USAFRICOM). The U.S. Sixth Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF and employs naval forces across the spectrum of joint and naval operations.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of the US Embassy and Consulate in Nigeria.
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