Thursday, April 14, 2016

St. Louis American: Fred O's “Tribute to Great African Composers" Sat. April 16, 7:30 p.m. at 560 Music Center & Sun. April 17, 3 p.m. at Trinity Presbyterian, U. City

Fred Onovwerosuoke

Marlon Daniel

Performances of “Tribute to Great African Composers will take place on Saturday April 16, 7:30 p.m. at the 560 Music Center (560 Trinity Ave. in University City)  and Sunday April 17, 3 p.m. at Trinity Presbyterian Church (6800 Washington Ave. in University City). Tickets are available at and other outlets or by phone at 314.652 6800

Thursday, April 14, 2016 9:34 am

“I don’t think our youth will be encouraged to consider careers in classical music if all the works established institutions make them play is written by dead white men,” said Fred Onovwerosuoke, composer and founder of African Musical Arts.

This idea is what compelled Onovwerosuoke, also known as FredO, to create his organization 22 years ago. African Musical Arts performs choral and classical music by composers of African descent. Onovwerosuoke, who was born in Ghana to Nigerian parents, is himself a composer and scholar who has researched and recorded music all over Africa.

Keeping the music alive and teaching it is also the driving force behind African Musical Arts’ presentation of “Tribute to Great African Composers” taking place this Saturday and Sunday.

“We have been doing what we are doing with the classical component of our programs because people don’t know enough about black composers,” FredO said.

The show aims to give people of color an opportunity to see and hear themselves within the genre.

FredO was eager to reference a National Endowment of The Arts survey that said less than 2 percent of musicians in all American major orchestra are African-American or Latino – combined.

“I will buy season tickets to classical music concerts and a whole season long the percentage of black composers played will be like 1 percent,” FredO said. “And the whole season long, the black musicians I’ll see in our major orchestra will be less than 2 percent. That is what compels me to do what I do.”

“Tribute to Great African Composers” is a five-movement piece composed by FredO that pays homage to other African composers who have inspired him. It speaks to the celebration of Ghanaian Independence, the tragic experiences of Darfur, and merges Eastern and Western African experiences over the course of the composition.

“One thing that will stand out is that the rhythm is different,” FredO said. “Immediately you know the music is African. It’s unquestionable.”

Maestro Marlon Daniel from New York returns to St. Louis to conduct the performances.

“There are a lot of African Americans who write in a European style too – and there is nothing wrong with that. That music is also important because our people wrote it,” FredO said.

“They are going to hear a diverse mix of music by a wide variety of composers of African descent – and I think the audiences will be able to say, ‘Wow, we can write.’”

He has seen the lasting impact merely exposing young people of color to composers and musicians who look like them. Most recently, FredO experienced it first-hand through a residency program with Ferguson Middle School called Sonic Safari.

“For them to be working with a black composer and to have them ask me questions about what goes on in my brain when I’m writing different sections – nothing brings me more joy than watching our young people have that experience,” FredO said.

“I feel that if they are exposed to black composers this early in their life, it opens their horizons. We have to play music that these black brothers and sisters have written over the past 100 years.”

Comment by email:
Blessings to you, Bill! From St. Louis Missouri with love, Maestro Marlon Daniel and soprano Alison Buchanan send their greetings. Made the rounds yesterday and today to rehearsals by the St. Louis Children's Choirs, Legend Singers, and choreographer Jana Thomas and her dancers. Ghanaian royal drummer Attah Poku joins us tomorrow, as will Chicago's Voices of Trinity from the Trinity United Church of Christ. As you may have seen on our Facebook page video sample, Concertmaster Darwyn Apple, Principal 2nd Violinist Nikki Glenn and Principal Flutist Wendy Hymes are on top of their game ready to guide the festival musicians under the baton of Maestro Daniel. We believe we have prepared a mighty feast of phenomenal music - hopefully, another triumph for our hopes and dreams. [Fred Onovwerosuoke] 

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