Masquerade Dance in Igbo Land

Not much is known about Nigerian music before the arrival of the European settlers. However, much of Nigerian music consists of folklores, due to the diverse ethnic groups of the people. Over time, it became fused with other sounds and created diverse sounds of music. Nigeria is known for having some of the most advanced recording equipment in Africa with a great music industrycredited to the vibrant culture of the various ethnic groups. Music in Nigeria has developed with modern inputs and has matured to something more enjoyable.

Dance was once used to express a variety of things in specific Nigerian tribes. There were war dances, and dances used as rites of passage. Some other dances were put together specificallly to showcase an opinion about social or political issues. Today however, most of these dances are traditions and for social gatherings, often times the religious backround of the dance is not mentioned and the music is in some ways altered slightly to help with that. Yet, we cannot say that the dances are not perfomed with a zest that captivates.

The infusion of music and dance in the daily activities of the Igbo people of Nigeria can be expressly seen in their masquerade festivals.

In Igbo culture, the masquerade embodies the spirit and human worlds. The mystique surrounding the masquerade is one of the key components of the Igbo culture that survived Western influences. It is generally believed in the Igboland that the masquerade is a spirit which springs from the soil. Depending on your point of view, it may be true or only a myth. The masquerades are classified into categories based on specialization. Each masquerade possesses particular attributes (warrior-like prowess, mystical powers, youthfulness, and old age) and specializes in one or more skills (dancing skills, acrobatics, and other ritual manifestations).

Masquerading may involve one person team or a team made up of instrument players, vocalists, dancers, masquerade advisers, and the masquerade itself. Most masquerades are covered from head to toe with some piece of clothing or/and bamboo rafters, and a wooden mask is worn over the face. The mask will vary depending on the type of masquerade and the place of origin within the Igboland. Masks are designed to be beautiful, intimidating or downright sinister. Most masquerades claim to have some mystical powers and are constantly competing to see which one has the most mystical powers, whenever they appear together especially at village squares or funerals.

Masquerades appear during traditional celebrations (eg funerals) and festivals (new yam festival). The level of apprehension and the noise that await the appearance of a masquerade, will vary, depending on the type of masquerade, and the size and make-up of the audience.

Because of the vibrant and mobile nature of the masquerades, audiences move around in other to fully enjoy the performances.

As the Igbo adage goes:

Adiro akwu ofu ebe enene nmanwu "One does not stand on one spot to watch a masquerade"

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