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International Fellowship Takes UM Music Professor to Nigeria

Adeoluwa Okunade (left), head of the music department at the University of Port Harcourt; Marie Agatha Ozah, an assistant professor at Duquesne University; and Ndowa Lale, vice chancellor at UPH, meet with University of Mississippi music and ethnomusicology professor George Dor during his time at UPH this summer as part of a Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship. Submitted photo

George Worlasi Kwasi Dor, professor of music and ethnomusicology at the University of Mississippi, had a very productive summer, and his activities promise to pay dividends for his students for years to come.

Dor conducted field research, collaborated on academic course design, presented lectures, mentored faculty and students, and performed, all courtesy of a Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship.

The Carnegie Fellowship offered an exciting opportunity to collaborate with partners at the University of Port Harcourt, in Rivers State, Nigeria, Dor said.

“Working with the head of UPH’s music department, Dr. Adeoluwa Okunade; a previous collaborator of mine, Dr. Marie Agatha Ozah; preeminent ethnomusicologist professor Meki Nzewi; and the rest of the faculty gave me a chance to learn while I was contributing to their program,” he said.

In the research portion of his work, Dor worked with Ozah to understand ways in which traditional music, dance and rituals of indigenous cultures can address contemporary issues.

Indigenous traditions that help girls transition to womanhood, for example, are being leveraged to help reduce the rates of teenage pregnancies and to help young people delay becoming sexually active. By reinforcing social pride and identity, these traditions also can encourage higher education and role mobility.

Churches, too, are incorporating more indigenous music and dance traditions – after many years of forbidding their use – to address contemporary issues, such as the need to create a shared identity among increasingly diverse congregants.

“Traditional instruments and arrangements, the increased use of responsorial music, and traditional methods of expressing celebration and gratitude to God and people – all this creates a sense of commonality and purpose,” Dor said.

“Indigenous music traditions are particularly effective at communicating ideas in ways that are easier for people to remember. The melodies and rhythms, humor, communal participation and continuity of these traditions make them time-honored ways to learn and retain community values.”

Besides research, Dor met with the leadership of the University of Port Harcourt and worked with faculty and students in its music department to shape its master’s degree program. He reviewed course offerings and content, and worked with the graduate curriculum committee to revise program outlines in five emphasis areas: ethnomusicology, music education, performance, music theory and composition, and African music.

Dor also mentored faculty and students, offered feedback on their research, visited classes, conducted workshops on designing courses examining the music cultures of the African diaspora and laid the foundation for future exchange between the Nigerian university and Ole Miss.

“Professor Dor took an active part in the review of our postgraduate program,” Okunade said. “Our program now falls within best global practices.”

As a result of Dor’s mentoring of junior faculty members, “two of them presented research papers at an international conference,” Okunade continued. “And professor Dor collaborated with one of our senior lecturers, Dr. Marie Agatha Ozah, in conducting research among the Okrika of Rivers State, resulting in a published article.”

Two other events were not planned ahead, but offered exciting opportunities for Dor to connect with the faculty, students and community at UPH. First, he presented a Faculty of Humanities lecture on “African Worlds Through Music: Diversity, Homology and Historicity in African Music Cultures.”

“It was a survey of music cultures in Africa, and though music students and faculty attended, the discussion of how music and dance is used in indigenous cultures across Africa to convey meaning and memory was most eye-opening to the non-music humanities faculty and university leadership,” he said.

Dor also prepared and performed a concert with dance and choral students at the university, featuring both traditional Ghanian choreography and drumming, and original works he composed.

It was fascinating to see how Nigerian students and faculty made the traditional Ghanian dances and music their own, he said.

“They added their own rhythmic vocables and approached the entire experience with such an exceeding joy – it was inspiring,” he said.

Dor praised the hospitality of his hosts and everyone at UPH.

“I felt loved, valued, respected and appreciated, from the vice chancellor and university leadership to the faculty and students,” he said. “My stay ended with a send-forth party in my honor. I look forward to building on this experience and connecting our two departments further.”

Jeremy Coats, head of foundation programs at the Institute of International Education, manages the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship program.

“The team at IIE is grateful for the work of fellows like Dr. Dor and their commitment to strengthening higher education on the continent and building institutional linkages between North American and African universities,” Coats said.

Okunade agrees. “It is our hope that this exchange program continues,” he said.

Besides teaching ethnomusicology at UM, Dor directs the Ole Miss African Drum and Dance Ensemble.

“My time in Nigeria gave me the opportunity to think anew about the ensemble, and how it can grow and evolve,” he said.

OMADDE will perform in Nutt Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12. The performance is free and open to the public.

By Lynn Adams Wilkins

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