Music Research Institute

Chaka CD Picture


An opera in two chants composed by Akin Euba, from an epic poem by Leopold Sedar Senghor. City of Birmingham Touring Opera conducted by Simon Halsey. 61'16". 16-page booklet. 

Track Listings

About the Artist


Cat No. MRI-0001 CD. Pub. 1999. List price $18.95 plus shipping. 

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Chaka is an opera composed by Akin Euba. The epic poem by Leopold Sedar Senghor is based on the true story of Chaka, a 19th century king of the Zulu who achieved fame as a brilliant military strategist and empire builder but was also notorious for crimes against humanity. The poem is in two parts subtitled Chant 1 and Chant 2. The music is a fusion of 20th century techniques of composition with stylistic elements derived from African traditional music, particularly the music of the Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria. Moreover, the orchestra is a combination of African and Western instruments. The opera exemplifies various theories of composition which the composer has articulated for several decades and include the theories of neo-African art music, intercultural music, African opera, and creative ethnomusicology. 

Track Listings
1. Prelude (orchestra) 
2. Part I - Chaka, there like the panther 
3. Part II - A cackling farmyard 
4. Part III - My word Chaka 
5. Part IV - I saw in a dream 
6. Prelude - Section One 
7. Prelude - Section Two (orchestra) 
8. Part I - The night is coming 
9. Part II - O my belov'd, I have waited so long 
10. Part III - O body, do not leave 
11. Part IV - Please be cautioned 
12. Part V - O my night 
13. Part VI - Why do you not dance 

About the Artist 

Akin Euba studied composition with Arnold Cooke at the Trinity College of Music, London, and with Roy Travis at the University of California, Los Angeles. He received his Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from the University of Ghana, Legon. His compositions reflect the results of his study of African traditional music, particularly the music of the Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria. He is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Music, University of Pittsburgh and founder and director of the Centre for Intercultural Music Arts, London. 

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Excerpts from four reviews of Chaka

.... By combining African and European traditions in Chaka, Euba attempts to break the myth of difference, thus demonstrating the attributes of the language of music on a cross-cultural level. The potency of such African elements as "dundun" hourglass tension drums and "atenteben" flutes; of the Yoruba "oriki" and" ijala" chants; of the African dramatic and dance spectacle in sustaining a dramatic story is as strong as that of its European equivalents. African and European instruments can work coherently together within the same musical context. And in the process, the composer demystifies the often held notion of African music as an exotic configuration of sound. The predominant use of the Yoruba musical language implies an automatic adoption of certain indigenous musical elements. For example, the use of improvisation, an essential feature of traditional Yoruba music, also implies the use of the element of indeterminacy. These features are, as we know, also integral to modern Western compositional techniques. By demonstrating the universal nature of such musical elements, Euba's Chaka represents an artistic statement in the dissolution of cultural and musical borders which oftentimes are artificial ....

.... The opera, like many of his other works, represents a bold attempt at a cross-cultural and cross-genetic reconciliation of musical traditions while maintaining a coherent musical structure. As a mediator who criss-crosses musical and cultural boundaries, Euba continues to demonstrate that although musical syntax may be tied to the peculiarities of different cultural traditions, the human values which music reflects are essentially similar across cultures ....

From "The African Composer as a Mediator: A Review of Akin Euba's
Opera, Chaka" by Bode Omojola (University of Ilorin) in Intercultural Musicology, 2/i-ii, 2000: 25-29


.... With this opera, we have a grand historical theme, centering around a grandiose operative hero of South African history with a libretto written by one of the most eminent West African poets and the musical score written by another West African artist ....

.... Chaka is not a folk opera in the style of the Yoruba folk opera nor is he aiming to create an ethno-musical piece. Akin Euba's musical score is that of a modern piece of world music. "World music" meaning here that Akin Euba is part of a global community of art music composers, and certainly not "world music" in the general understanding of a "macdonalised" pop music idiom ....

.... It seems significant to me that Akin Euba introduced his own Yoruba type of praise song, the* oriki*, into this South African operative scenario, rather than imitate the South African *isibongo* praise poetry. Thus, he emphasises at the same time the Africanness of his approach and he deemphasises the limitations of a purely ethno-musical conception ....

.... Akin Euba obviously plays with the possibilities of shifting the emphasis of his musical diction - more to the African side or more towards the European "modern classic" musical conventions - but retains equidistance and equivalence of the two ....

From "Heroes of South African History as Operatic Heroes:
Akin Euba's Chaka and Nbongemi Ngema's The Zulu", by Eckhard Breitinger in History and Theatre in Africa. 

Yvette Hutchinson and Eckhard Breitinger 
(Eds), Bayreuth, Germany: Bayreuth African Studies. Bayreuth University, 2000: 104-105.


.... The opera calls for more than thirty-five performers, including vocal soloists in both Western and African traditions, children's chorus, children's atenteben ensemble, a Western chamber ensemble, Western percussion, and African percussion. Not surprisingly, the musical "raw materials" are dizzyingly diverse. Euba incorporates percussion patterns from Yoruba, Ewe and Ashanti traditions; Yoruba praise poetry; references to European classical music; and twelve-tone procedures. The composer wisely exploits the players' strengths rather than asking them to "cross over": for the most part, instead of grafting African drumming patterns, say, on to Western instruments, he relies upon musicians' considerable skills in their respective traditions. Thus the intercultural aspect lies primarily in the ways in which Euba combines pre-existing traditions ....

.... while the listener might anticipate a certain incongruity in the combination of twelve-tone procedures and West African drumming patterns, Euba's employment of twelve-tone technique is idiosyncratic and apt ....

.... Euba has devised a distinctive method for combining his materials: most often, he notates individual passages precisely but allows them to be coordinated freely.There is a moment in the second chant where a Yoruba praise poem is overlain by a similar text in English: the combined effect of two languages, two vocal styles, and the backdrop of traditional drumming patterns is stunning ....

.... The indeterminate, speechlike nature of the vocal writing virtually dictates that the instrumental music play a crucial role in structuring the drama. Indeed, Euba incorporates a number of recurring, recognizable figures which serve this purpose, and I doubt he would object to my calling them leitmotifs ....

.... one vital contribution threatens to be overlooked: the inclusion of young performers.At a time when the increasing accessibility of diverse musics is unfortunately counterbalanced by the dismantling of music education programs (in the United States at least), Euba's inclusion of young players is most welcome ....

.... Chaka has much to teach us about interculturalism, African art music and the shaping of drama through text and music. Anyone concerned with these issues should study it closely .... 

From "Beyond Crossover: Akin Euba's Intercultural Opera",
a review essay by Barbara White, (Princeton University), in Intercultural Musicology 1/i-ii, 1999:15-19


…If opera is ultimately voice, then opera is fully compatible with African modes of expression…No other instrument-certainly not the sensationalized drum-occupies as central and critical a place in African traditions of music-making…

…Publication of a CD recording of Akin Euba's Chaka thus marks a special moment in African art music composition. First heard at the University of Ife in 1970, Chaka has been performed sporadically, but never as a fully staged opera. This 1998 recording, the first of its kind, features a revised version of the work. While no recording can ever substitute for a live performance, the present document affords us the opportunity to hear and imagine the musical drama. It exemplifies Euba's way with voice, his conception of various characters, and his vision of this most artificial of genres. Most importantly, perhaps, Chaka on CD makes it easier for students, younger composers, and the music-loving public to gauge what is possible in the realm of modern African operatic composition…

…Euba's musical language draws on diverse sources. The Prelude to Chant 1 presents in typically synoptic fashion most of the major musics to be heard in the opera. Modernist-sounding patches of music alternate with trumpet fanfares. Akan-Adowa music, and snippets of the Dies Irae. Then there is Ewe Agbekor music and the melodies of atenteben (bamboo flute). Elsewhere in Chaka, atonal paragraphs of music in the manner of Schoenberg alternate with a self-conscious style of (English) text setting reminiscent of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. And in Chant 2, which is also the weightier of the two chants, Yoruba oríkě praise poetry, hunters' chants, and folk-like melody enliven the musical palette…The opera thus compels attention as a repository of styles, none of them collapsible into each other. These styles are predominantly West African rather than southern African, making this an Akan or Ewe or Yoruba Chaka, not a Zulu Chaka!…

Kofi Agawu, Research in African Literatures 2001:32,2
From a review of Chaka


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