Chief 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 Expresss 23 (OE23) on January 29.
While visiting the gallery, the band performed an assortment of classical and traditional songs from their Maritime Winds Quintet and Topside Brass Band. The gallery’s staff also allowed the band to wear traditional garments representative of the three major ethnic groups within Nigeria: Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba. The performances honored the history and legacy of African culture as well as its age long instruments.
Micheal Wallace, a drummer in the brass band, described the experience as 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 are really special.”
The gallery’s musicians, which included Jesse King Buga, a popular Nigerian artist, joined the band in song and dance. During an impromptu session, Buga also stood in as the band’s conductor and taught them a traditional Yoruba piece.
Performing at the gallery gave Wallace time to reflect on his first trip to Africa, when he visited Ghana and bought his cherished djembe drum.
“I cried the first time that I came to Africa —getting an instrument from the motherland, the source, you cannot 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 called ‘Mama Nike’, created the Nike Art Foundation of Nigeria to enhance African heritage, help rural women earn a living, and to encourage youth coping with negative influences. It includes exhibitions in Abuja, Kogi, Lagos, and Osogbo. Today, the gallery is amongst the largest reservoirs of indigenous Nigerian artwork collections in Nigeria and is currently the largest privately-owned art gallery in Africa.
Her mission was described as a quest to promote, enhance, sustain 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 said that 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 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 match together. Art is our heritage,” said Okundaye.
In conjunction with exercise OE23, the NAVEUR-NAVAF Band visited the Lagos Art Gallery as a part of a series of local community events that seeks to deepen community relations between the United States and Nigeria. The Nigerian Navy is hosting OE23, the largest multinational maritime exercise in Western and Central Africa.
OE23, one of three NAVAF-facilitated regional exercises, provides collaborative opportunities for African and U.S. forces, and international partners to address shared transnational maritime concerns. NAVAF’s ongoing maritime security cooperation with African partners focuses on overcoming the challenges of maritime safety and security in the region.
The exercise takes place across five zones in the southern Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Guinea – stretching from the West African island of Cape Verde to the Central African shores of Angola, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).
The U.S. shares a common interest with African partner nations in ensuring security, safety, and freedom of navigation on the waters surrounding the continent, because these waters are critical for Africa’s prosperity and access to global markets.
For more than 80 years, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) has forged strategic relationships with allies and partners, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability.
Headquartered in Naples, Italy, NAVEUR-NAVAF operates U.S. naval forces in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) areas of responsibility. U.S. Sixth Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF, and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.