Wednesday, 29 November 2017 04:49

Do creative artists have to do so in their native language?

Written by 


Ozodi Osuji

I am still thinking about the creativity of Fela Kuti.  I noticed that his songs were done in a mix of his Yoruba language and the creole language that most of us spoke on the streets of Lagos.

Creole, aka Pidgin English is actually a separate language; it can be called the real language of the Nigerian urban folk. It is English spoken with West African grammatical structure and infused with words from the various tribes of West Africa; thus, while it sounds like English it is not really English; it is a language of its own.

Consider the following Creole sentence:

"Oga, na watin I do you way make you no wan talk to me, now?"

(Interpretation: boss, what did I do wrong to you that make you give me the silence treatment?)

Fela's creativity was done in his primary Yoruba language and or in Nigeria's primary urban language, creole; it was not done in English.

It is clear that Fela speaks Standard English; in his youth he had lived in England as a student before he decided that music was his calling. He returned to the teeming city of Lagos to imbibe its vibrant life style and let its issues influence his music. Music moved the man!

My question is this: could Fela have done his musical creativity, clearly of genius level, in Standard English, a foreign language?

On a larger note, can a creative artist create in a language that is not his native language?

I am not an artist but something in me tells me that an artist tends to create best in his native language.

If this hypothesis is true could it account for the lack of creativity of imitators, artists wannabes? Could it explain why artists always do their thing in their language?

Consider the great African American artists, such as Louis Satchmo Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Nate King Cole, or even the pop stars such as James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Barry White, Marvin Gay, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Roberta Flack, and so on; these African American music greats did their thing in Ebonics.

Ebonics is English language spoken with West African grammatical structure.

What do you think? Can an artist's creativity only be done through his native tongue?

And for that matter, can a scientist make seminal contributions to science in a secondary language; can an African really contribute to science in Standard English or does he have to do so in what is now his native language, creole?

I have self interest in this question. I think and write in Standard English. However, I do understand Igbo language, the language of my parents. I do not remember when last I actually spoke Igbo to any one!  Nevertheless, when I am meditating and occasionally have some insights, the insights come to me in Igbo language! This incidence is generally a surprise to me since one would expect such insights to come to me in my day to day language, English!

If I were an artist would I have had to revert to Igbo or Creole (Creole was the language I spoke while growing up at Lagos) to be a creative artist?

And for that matter, would I have to do my social science work in creole to make a seminal contribution to it?

Are Africans who do not write in their native language condemned to being second rate in their fields?   I am perplexed at Africans not really making seminal contributions to science. May be African scientists have to write in Creole to actually say something seminal in science?

Inquiring minds want to understand these things.

Ozodi Osuji

November 28, 2017

Read 62 times
Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: (907) 310-8176