a newsletter of the
St. Louis African Chorus
Vol. 5 No. 1
Table of Contents
Mor Thiam: ,
Maverick Drummer Extraordinaire - p.2
Instruments - p.3
Childrens Choir Corner - p.4
Portrait of a living legend
(first feature article - p. 5)
A Voice from Central Africa - p.6
Artistic Vision of the St. Louis
(second feature article - p.7 )
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
Design: 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.
Prof. J.H. Kwabena
Nketia, Mor Thiam, Mundundu
Head to St. Louis!
As a limping cow or a mighty bull
Four times houghed, a great black
Spider comes our of
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
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 spiders ambush
Which the horns of abounding calf will tear.
Poet Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo,
born 1901,at Antananarivo, Madagascar.
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 Pullens African-Brazilian Connection, and
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 Worlds 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 Festivals 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.
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 womens social groups, where they are used to accompany
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.
Editors Note: The Childrens 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 its 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 schools music program, will definitely brighten your classrooms. In this
issue, our columnist is Evin Darough, a third-grader at North County Christian School...
The Childrens Choir of African
-by Evin Darough
My report is about the childrens African
Chorus. My teachers name is Fred. Fred teaches me fun songs and other things. I am
eight right now but when Im 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. African Gods and Music, UNIVERSITAS Vol. IV, No. 1
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:
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 (1965).
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
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 Amus 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 Nketias theory very useful in
transcribing African music. Prof. Nketias 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
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 NAse 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 Nketias 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.