By Gary Scott, Music Critic

ST. LOUIS. MAY 7. The fusion of traditional African music with western dramatic forms and 20th century compositional techniques may at first consideration seem unlikely, but St. Louis this weekend hosted the American premiere of a new opera that interwove the two cultures seamlessly. The St. Louis African Chorus, under the direction of Fred Onovwerosuoke, in collaboration with Webster University and the Soldan International Studies High School Choir performed Dr. Akin Euba's opera Chaka, conducted by Leon Burke. The opera is based on the epic poem by Leopold Sedar Senghor chronicling the life of Zulu leader Chaka as he lies dying, haunted by reflections on his life. Like so many earthly leaders and empire builders, Chaka was guilty of tyranny and cruelty as well as greatness, even to the point of killing the woman he loved in order to solidify his power base. His defense of himself in the opera claimed that he acted out of a love for his people and a desire to unify his followers. Over time, Chaka has become a towering, legendary figure in African history, and has been immortalized in poetry, film and history texts.

Euba is a composer well-grounded in the western classical tradition. In the instrumental ensemble for the opera he combines African instruments with European winds and percussion. Much of the writing for the wind instruments employs the twelve-tone technique developed by Arnold Schoenberg, who no doubt would have been extremely gratified to see that his system was flexible and universal enough to complement the energy and force of African rhythms and chants. I would like to have heard this opera performed in a more spacious venue than the auditorium of Webster Groves High, but in music we must learn to adapt to what we have. At times also, it seemed, the wind players, who were certainly able performers, would have benefited from more time to grow more familiar with this music and become at one with it. If so, they could have highlighted the tension and drama of this work even more. The part of Chaka was spoken/sung/intoned by Collie D. Collie. His white interlocutor was played by Ray Sherrock. Both men are aso members of the highly acclaimed a cappella group Pieces of 8.

It would be impossible to close this review without also noting that this production was a work of bi-racial harmony and, perhaps in a strange way, healing. We saw on stage that our histories are now inextricably combined. As Director of the St. Louis African Chorus, Fred Onovwerosuoke has always welcomed white singers to join forces with American and African blacks. His love for others and devotion to his heritage has forged a coalition that will be to the benefit of us all.

Fine arts reviews are made possible by your membership in KDHX, FM88, St. Louis Community Radio. Used by permission.


NEW ORLEANS. Pianist and organist Lucius Weathersby and flutist Wendy Hymes gave an excellent concert Sunday, October 15, at the Third Annual Jessie Covington Chamber Music Festival. Program entirely featured works by African and African American composers including Earl Stewart, Bongani Ndodana, Kevin George, W. Grant Still, and Fred Onovwerosuoke.


NEW ORLEANS. MONDAY OCT. 16, Fred Onovwerosuoke, founder & artistic director of the St. Louis African Chorus, gave a choral master class on the Chants of the Fangs of Central Africa and the Zulus of Southern Africa. Dillard University Concert Choir (Dr. S. Carver Davenport, director) was brilliant in their approach to a new style of choral rendition, and was particularly tickled by the multidisciplinary nature (song-dance-interaction, etc.) of African traditional music.

By Geoff Chapman, Music Critic

TORONTO. Sunday, October 15, 2000. African music is not just Lion King cliches, pounding drums, howling singers filtering their passion through massed synthesizers, clap-hands choruses or rubber-boot stomping. There's a vast body of contemporary classical African music that has taken up the engrossing challenge of marrying different cultural forms. Leading the charge is a 25-year-old South African, Bongani Ndodana, who is artistic director of Ensemble Noir. This group, using Toronto musicians, specializes in current art music by composers from Africa and its diaspora. On Thursday at Bloor Street United Church, Ndodana conducted the first in a two-concert series called African Rituals. Ultimately, the music was all rhythm based, with attention paid to intervals and emphasis. But its simplicity and lightness disguised the sophisticated structures of works by Ghana's J.H. Kwabena-Nketia and Nigeria's Akin Euba. Extracts from Ndodana's Rituals For Forgotten Faces showed startling maturity with insistent phrasing repeated in different contexts. This gave flutist Shelley Brown, clarinetist Max Christie and bass Dave Young the chance to play against the core of violinists Nancy Kershaw and Rebecca van der Post, violist Beverley Spotton and cellist Elaine Thompson. They acquitted themselves well, but the concert's value is in recognizing that African music is more than a junior partner to African literature.
Culled from the Toronto Star. Used by permission.

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