Thursday, November 4, 2010

Debate and Review: 'I remember Fela Sowande – Nigerian, the Sagacious Composer, and musician'

[Fela Sowande]

“As March 13 approaches, I remember Fela Sowande, who left us twenty three years ago to the day. Born in western Nigeria, on May 29 1905 to Egba parents, Fela Sowande is described as being the most distinguished and internationally known African composer - the most significant pioneer composer of works in the European classical idiom.”

“Sowande travelled to the US in 1957 to give organ recitals in Boston, Chicago, and New York. He also gave lectures on the findings of his research on Yoruba folklore, mythology, and tradition. His last major musical work was Nigerian Folk Symphony - composed as part of the Independence Day celebrations in 1960. This particular composition demonstrates the composer's cultural nationalism and appreciation of Nigerian culture. It was performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1964, along with other pieces by Sowande, whose works span the entire spectrum of musical genres - vocal, solo, choral, piano, organ, and orchestra. It is said that his era introduced concert music to the Nigerian musical culture.

After 1960 Sowande worked mainly as a professor - he was Visiting Scholar at Northwestern University in the US, worked at Princeton University, and in 1968 he accepted a position at Howard University in Washington DC - a post he held until 1972 when he became professor of Black Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. His last position was in the Department of Pan-African Studies at Kent State University, which he held until his retirement in 1982. Olufela Obafunmilayo Sowande died in Ohio on March 13, 1987; he was 82 years old.” [Fela Sowande (1905-1987) is profiled at Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma of Lawrence University Conservatory has posted an excerpt on Fela Sowande from a manuscript on Black composers at a Web site:]

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