• The Creative Potential of African Art Music in Ghana: A Personal Testimony (Companion Booklet to ICAMD CD Recordings)

    This booklet on the Creative Potential of African Music in Ghana: A Personal Testimony is dedicated to the memory of Professor Albert Mawere Opoku for his unique contribution to Dance Theatre in Ghana, his close collaboration with colleagues in artistic research projects, and his enthusiastic and encouraging interest in the creative work of artists in cognate fields. Nothing would have pleased him more than to be part of the launch of the four volumes of CD recordings of a selection of my musical works, for he was always making cassette dubbings of my music for his friends. I believe that this Companion Booklet will be of interest not only to his circle of friends but also to other music lovers, students and the general public.

    With this readership in mind, the scope of the booklet has been limited to a few personal observations. It does not tell the complete story of African Art Music in Ghana or Africa in general, something I hope our younger scholars will work on as scores and other sources of data become available. It is simply the story of an individual composer and his works, his reflections and comments on his experience as an African composer, which he presents in conjunction with the CD recordings of his works as testimonies of the creative potential of African art music. For a fuller and more objective account of my life and work, I would like to refer readers to Eric Akrofi: Sharing Knowledge and Experience: A Profile of J. H. Kwabena Nketia (Afram Publications 2003) and Akin Euba: Creative Musicology: A Study of J. H. Kwabena Nketia, Centre for Intercultural Studies, Berkeley.

  • African Pianism: Twelve Pedagogical Pieces

    “African Pianism refers to a style of piano music which derives its characteristic idiom from the procedures of African percussion music as exemplified in bell patterns, drumming, xylophone and mbira music. It may use simple or extended rhythmic motifs or the lyricism of traditional songs and even those of African popular music as the basis of its rhythmic phrases. It is open ended as far as the use of tonal materials is concerned except that it may draw on the modal and cadential characteristics of traditional music.

    “Its harmonic idiom may be tonal, atonal, consonant or dissonant in whole or in part, depending on the preferences of the composer, the mood or impressions he wishes to create or how he chooses to reinforce, heighten or soften the jaggedness of successive percussive attacks. In this respect the African composer does not have to tie himself down to any particular school of writing if his primary aim is to explore the potential of African rhythmic and tonal usages.”

    Although I have felt the need for this kind of material even in the 1950s, most of the Twelve Pedagogical Pieces in this volume were written when the school of Performing Arts at the University of Ghana was established in the 1960s in order to give the African piano student being nurtured on simplified and original versions of Western piano repertoire something with African rhythmic and tonal flavour that may enrich his experience, shapes his orientation, sense of timing and coordination of rhythmic and tonal events.

    As the titles of the pieces indicate, I have used a variety of traditional and popular sources as the basis of the compositions. Each source establishes a framework of rhythmic and tonal configuration from which a few idiomatic derivatives are made and used in the inner and outer structures of the piece in such a way as to create a perpetual feeling of propulsive motion. Each piece is sustained by a particular quality of motion created in this manner.

    As in traditional African practice each piece can be repeated once or twice except where a definite closure is indicated by a retard. The pianist can also select a number of them and play them as a suite. A few of them such as the Volta Fantasy and Meditation can stand on their own as concert pieces and have been presented in that manner by both African and Western pianist. It is my hope, there- fore, that some of the pedagogical pieces will be of general interest. – J. H. Kwabena Nketia

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