a newsletter of the
St. Louis African Chorus

Vol. 5 No. 1
Winter/Spring 1998



Table of Contents

Mor Thiam:
Maverick Drummer Extraordinaire - p.2
Musical Instruments - p.3
Children’s Choir Corner -


Portrait of a living legend
(first feature article - p. 5)
Anicet Mundundu
A Voice from Central Africa - p.6
Artistic Vision
of the St. Louis African Chorus
(second feature article - p.7 )
The Nature of African Music
Calendar of SLAC Events

the Voice of African Music
Editor: Fred Onovwerosuoke
Art Director: Wendy Hymes
Marketing: Asmeret Bezabeh
Editorial Committee: Beverly Perry, Wendy Hymes and
Carol Wall

African Music Publishers, University Copiers, Etc.

For subscription send a postcard to: the Voice of African Music
634 N. Grand Blvd.,Suite 1143
St. Louis, MO 63103 USA.

(314)652-6800 Fax:(314)652-6444

Prof. J.H. Kwabena Nketia of ICAMD, Ghana

Prof. J.H. Kwabena
Nketia, Mor Thiam, Mundundu
and Mariama-Ba
Head to St. Louis!



As a limping cow or a mighty bull
Four times houghed, a great black
Spider comes our of the earth
And climbs up the wall
Painfully sets his back against the trees,
Throws out his threads
For the wind to carry
Weaves a web that reaches the sky
And spreads his nets across the blue.
Where are the many-colored birds?

Where are the precentors of the sun? —
Lights burst from their
Sleep-deadened eyes
Among their liana-swings
Reviving their dreams and their reverberations
In that shimmering of glow-worms
That becomes a cohort of stars,
And turns the spider’s ambush
Which the horns of abounding calf will tear.
Poet Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo, born 1901,at Antananarivo, Madagascar.


Mor Thiam: Maverick Drummer Extraordinaire

The master drummer extraordinaire, teacher, and performer, returns to St. Louis for the October 16-20 African Music Conference.He was a child-prodigy who started playing before his eighth birthday. Intricate rhythms and techniques were easily mastered by him, and by the time he was twelve years old, he had started making rounds as a minstrel, performing at occasions such as naming, wedding, and funeral ceremonies.
         Mor Dogo Thiam was born in Dakar, Senegal. His family, members of the Dogon Tribe, are historians who use drums to tell the story of the Woloff of Senegal.
        While on tour, performing with the Ballet National de Senegal, he met the legendary dancer and choreographer, Katherine Dunham. The two began to work closely and in 1968, Ms. Dunham brought him to the U.S.
         Settling in St. Louis, Mor Thiam began to teach at the performing Arts training Center in East St. Louis. He became interested in percussion styles used in jazz, and began working with the Black Artists Group, a group which included saxophonist Oliver Lake, trumpeter Lester Bowie and drummer Philip Wilson.
         In 1973-74, Mor Thiam performed with Freddie Hubbard, and recorded with Nancy Wilson and B.B. King to benefit African drought victims. Later, he formed Drum of Fire, a percussion ensemble that fused elements of West African music with jazz and funk. By 1980, Drum Talk, his book and accompanying tape on drum techniques, was published. Mor Thiam has toured Europe with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company (1989), and regularly performed and recorded with the World Saxophone Quartet, the late Don Pullen’s African-Brazilian Connection, and Ivo Perelman.
        In recent years, Mor Thiam has become increasingly sought as a creative consultant, working with Colombia Agency Artists Management, An Arts Center of New York, and the Ministry of Culture in Senegal. He serves as entertainment consultant for Disney World’s Epcot Center. He is also the artistic director for the annual World Drum and Dance Summit for the Atlanta Bureau of Cultural Affairs, and the National Black Arts Festival’s World Drummers March for Peace. He is also the executive director of the Atlanta-based Institute for the Study of African Culture.
        Mor Thiam spends a great deal of time teaching percussion workshops for beginning and advanced children and adults and has recently extended his own learning experience to embrace other cultures. He has spent time in Helena, Montana, playing with Native American drummers, and has learned a variety of new techniques from the Australian Aboriginal, Korean, and French Basque cultures. -F.O.




Musical Instruments

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In all our concerts, perhaps no other instrument amazes audiences like the udu drum. It is basically a round ceramic pot drum, made from spinned and fired clay from the tropical rainforest.

This musical pot has a neck about 2" long (or more) that opens at the top, and another opening on its top side. Variants of this instruments, like the water-pot drums, are common among the rivering tribes on the West African coast of the Atlantic Ocean. (One key difference between these variants and the udu drums is that the water-pot drums have no side holes.)

The udu drum is most popular among the Ibo, Efik and Kalabari and a few other ethnic groups in southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon.

There are different sizes of the drum, from small to large. Often, one sees an ensemble of two or more drums at festivals, and other social events. The smaller drums are very popular with women’s social groups, where they are used to accompany folk songs.

In performance the smaller udu is placed on the laps or held gently by the thighs, while a cupped palm slaps on the top-side opening to produce the soft ‘thud’ sound (hence the name, u-du). The larger version of the drum usually sits on the floor, and is played with a padded fan.

It is mostly used to provide rhythmic patterns. An ensemble of two or more small drums can produce complex rhythms. By shaping the palm differently to produce various pseudo pitches, while the other palm taps counter rhythms on the side of the pot, a master player can deftly produce delicately intricate solos.



[Top]Children’s Choir Corner

Editor’s Note: The Children’s Choir of African Music currently has 18 singers, ages 10 - 15.
          Formed July, 1997, the goal of this choir is to promote the mission of the St. Louis African Chorus. So far, they have made appearances at SLAC concerts at the Sheldon Concert Hall, Powell Symphony Hall, Missouri River Regional Library in Jefferson City, and the Principia College, Elsah, Illinois.
         Weekly rehearsals hold on Sundays (2:00 -3:30pm) at Berea Presbyterian Church, located on 3010 Olive St., and they include vocal training, rhythmic exercises, language classes, and African geography. The rhythmic exercises and songs are challenging to them at first, but it’s quite a joy to see them master and perform them at appearances with the African Chorus. They also learn about African geography, history, and traditions. This column was created for the children to share some of their excitement with our readers. Here they can tell you (in their own words - with minimal editing, of course!) about some of the things they learn and how the St. Louis African Chorus affects their lives. Our goal is to encourage teachers and their pupils to become acquainted with our activities. What the kids learn, when incorporated with any school’s music program, will definitely brighten your classrooms. In this issue, our columnist is Evin Darough, a third-grader at North County Christian School...

Evan.jpg (3003 bytes)

The Children’s Choir of African Music    
-by Evin Darough

My report is about the children’s African Chorus. My teacher’s name is Fred. Fred teaches me fun songs and other things. I am eight right now but when I’m ten I will know all the songs.

I have met a lot of new people. When I am ten I can be in lots of concerts. Right now I have not been in any concert. But I watched them sing at Sheldon Hall and Powell Symphony Hall.
       They are raising money to go to Africa and I will be going also if we raise enough money. In Africa, I will see people I have never seen before and I will get to travel to many cities. I will see a lot of things I never saw before and, I guess, I will eat lots of new things, also. I like the choir because I have a wonderful teacher. I think Fred is a great person because he makes me feel like a WINNER!




Portrait of a living legend

In October this year, St. Louis will be host to a living legend. Prof. J.H. Kwabena Nketia will be Guest Artistic Director at the Oct. 16-20, 1998 African Music Conference, organized by the St. Louis African Chorus.
          Dr. Nketia is known by many as "The Moses of African music." Some of his students call him a "Living library," while others call him "The Grandfather of African Music!" He is easily the best authority on African music and aesthetics. His numerous publications, available in bookstores and libraries around the world, include:
African Gods and Music, UNIVERSITAS Vol. IV, No. 1
Drumming in Akan Communities.
Possession Dances in African Societies.
Traditional Music of the Ga people
,UNIV. Vol. 3, 1957.
The Role of Non-Western Music in General Education.
The Contribution of African Culture to Christian Worship.
Music, Dance and Drama: A Review of the Performing Arts of Ghana
Music in African Cultures: The Meaning and Significance of Traditional Music.
History and the Organization of Music in West Africa, University of Ghana, Legon.
The Hocket Technique in African Music.
Multi-part organization in the Music of the Gogo-of Tanzania.
Artistic Values in the African Music Composer, JIFMC XIX, (1966).

          Kwabena Nketia was born (June 22, 1921) at Mampong, then a little town in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. He received his first musical education, and eventually trained as a teacher at the Presbyterian Training College, Akropong Akwapin - where he later taught and was appointed Acting Principal in 1952.
         At 23, a very young age to go abroad in those days, Kwabena, through a Ghanaian government scholarship, went to the University of London to study for a certificate of phonetics at the School of Oriental and African studies.
         He went on (1949) to Birkeck College, University of London, and Trinity College of Music, London, to obtain his Bachelor of Arts degree. In 1958 he came to the United States, attending Columbia University, Juliard School of Music, and Northwestern University to do courses in musicology and composition. After a year in the United States, he returned to Ghana where he rapidly rose through the ranks at the University of Ghana, Legon - from Senior Research Fellow (1962), to Associate Professor, and finally a full professor in 1963. Two years later, he was appointed Director of the Institute of African Studies.
         Prof. Nketia is world-renowned as musicologist and composer. He is to African music what Bartok is to Western music. Of all the interpreters of African music and aesthetics, Nketia sets the pace. His concept and interpretation of time and rhythmic patterns in Ghanaian and other African folk music were revolutionary, and became standard for researchers and scholars around the world. For example, Nketia introduced the use of the easier-to-read 6/8 time signature in his compositions as an alternative to the use of duple (2/4) time with triplets used earlier by his mentor, Ephraim Amu. Although this practice undermined Amu’s theory of a constant basic rhythm (or pulse) in African music, and generated some debate, Nketia maintained that the constant use of triplets in a duple time signature was misleading. Today, many scholars around the world have found Nketia’s theory very useful in transcribing African music. Prof. Nketia’s work to reconcile the melodic and rhythmic elements of folk music with contemporary music spurred a new kind of compositional technique for African musicians and academics, worldwide.Other pioneering work include the transcription of many Ghanaian folk songs in a manner virtually free from Western influences.
         Kwabena Nketia studied with the Rev. Danso, who was a pupil of Ephraim Amu. It is, therefore, no surprise that his earliest choral works were deeply influenced by the pioneering work of Ephraim Amu. Some of his well-known choral works include Adanse Kronkron, Morbid Asem, Monna N’Ase and Monkafo No. Other vocal works with piano accompaniment include Yaanom Montie, Onipa Dasani Nni Aye, Onipa Beyee Bi, Yiadom Heneba, Mekae Na Woantie, Maforo Pata Hunu, Obarima Nifahene and Asuo Meresen.
He also wrote extensively for Western orchestral instruments, like the flute, violin, cello, percussion and piano. But it is through Nketia’s pace-setting works for traditional African instruments that his genius is acclaimed.
         He wrote for a variety of combinations of modern and local African instruments. Works in this category include the Builsa Work Song (1960), Dagarti Work Song (1961), At the Cross Roads (1961), Owora (1961), Volta Fantasy (1961) and Contemplation (1961).    
         Prof. J.H. Kwabena Nketia is currently the Director of the International Centre for African Music and Dance (ICAMD), based at the University of Ghana, Legon-Accra, Ghana. He travels extensively, and serves on the advisory panels of many top organizations. He was Professor of Music at UCLA, University of Pittsburgh, and has lectured in many top universities in the US, European, Africa and Asia, including the University of Michigan, Harvard University, Stanford University, Indiana University, City University of London, and the China Conservatory of Music.