The Free Knowledge Africa team met with the leader of the Ndengdeng cultural music group in the person of Mr Dantala, as part of the open GLAM advocacy campaign in Plateau State. Ndengdeng Music is more of a philosophy. This was the opening statement made by Mr Dantala as we discussed the uniqueness of the group.
Ndengdeng is not the major instrument used by the Ndengdeng Cultural group, but it is the instrument (ndengdeng) that determines the sound and melody of the music group. It is made from Raft grass which is a wild grass found in the bush hence its name ‘Raft Zither’. The Ndengdeng is made up of 3 pitches on each of the tonal levels. It is pentatonic (5 tones) and has five keys (tones). Its sound is supported by the keyboard (piano) played in the native way using just 5 keys as opposed to the 7 keys of the contemporary keyboard.
The Ndengdeng instrument is as old as the history of the Ngas people from Plateau state and was played in drinking bars by men to lure beautiful women to themselves. The Ndengdeng can be played on different occasions. Ndengdeng is played to express inner feelings about certain situations or people. It is played to lure suitors, motivation for farmers and played commonly in drinking parlours, etc. It is played as a lullaby at weddings, ceremonies, festivals, etc.
The Ndengdeng music is an African sound, and different tunes and songs can be played by the Ndengdeng, including the National Anthem. Although the Ndengdeng sound is naturally low and can only cover a small area, it can be amplified by power when supported by the keyboard, bass guitar, drums and flutes.
THE NDENGDENG CULTURAL GROUP
Mr Dantala, the leader of the Ndengdeng Cultural Music group, was born into the music and the African culture. At that time, ‘Reggae’ was the prominent genre of music, and a lot of young people embraced Reggae, thereby neglecting their own traditional and cultural sounds.
Mr Dantala believes that our African music has more value than most of the contemporary music we listen to today, and with the gift of playing the Ndengdeng, the flute and other traditional instruments, he brought together a group of people who were motivated by the same passion for African cultural music and together, the Ndengdeng Cultural Music group was born.
The Cultural Music group started in 1984, a year after Mr Dantala gained admission into the Federal College of Education Pankshin, Plateau State. It was their rags day, and Mr Dantala met with a friend who was a master of puppetry combined with his flute and Ndengdeng skill, they put on a show for the people and what was just meant for local entertainment, attracted a lot of people in the state to the Ndengdeng music.
Mr Dantala and his team started performing the Ndengdeng music across the state, and their performance was broadcasted on different telecommunication channels like PRTV and NTA. Mr Dantala was given an award by his school for his great achievements and for bringing the school to the limelight. The award was presented by the then Governor of Plateau State, Lawrence Onoja, and along with the award, he was given automatic employment by the Governor in 1987.
At the National Festival of Plateau State in 1997, a competition of indigenous popular music was organized, and the Ndengdeng music performed by the Ndengdeng cultural group came first in the whole of the country. It was one of the competitive keys/ entries for the year and First Position (Gold). This music has then since been performed during government occasions, for companies and even in churches. The cultural group has represented their Local government, their State and the Country at large.
The Ndengdeng music group started with only 10 people but has expanded to about 50 members. For a standard presentation, nothing less than 24 people are needed to perform all the sounds of the Ndengdeng music adequately. However, they are sometimes deterred due to a lack of sponsorship for the mobility of the whole group.
Due to their love for the Ndengdeng music, most members of the community send their children to learn about the music from Mr Dantata, so the group currently consists of students from primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. According to Mr Dantala, ‘the future of the Ndengdeng music is in safe hands.
Some of the challenges faced by the Ndengdeng Musical group include:
- Finance as only a limited number of members of the group is sponsored to travel for official performance. Most times, they have to turn down some offers because the number of people sponsored to travel is not enough to present the Ndengdeng music.
- Their dressing styles are sometimes condemned by religious leaders as they mostly dress in cowries and other traditional dresses.
- The female members of their group tend to leave the group behind after marriage, so the group is mostly dominated by men.
- Once their members get white-collar jobs, most of them end up leaving the group, especially those whose work takes them out of the community or the State, and they are then left to start training new members from scratch.
- The raft grass used to make the Ndengdeng (Raft zither) are eaten by animals in the bush, so the grass is very hard to find.