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The Music of Fela Sowande
Encounters, African Identity, and 
Creative Ethnomusicology

by Bode Omojola
Published by the MRI Press 

263 pages, 60 Music Examples, 23 Photographs, ISBN  978-0-9627473-8-0

$24.00 per copy plus shipping 

Table of Contents
Excerpts From the Text

About the Author 

This biography is the second publication in the series World without Boundaries: MRI Biographies in Music 

The Music of Fela Sowande:
Encounters, African Identity, and Creative Ethnomusicology

by Bode Omojola

  • Foreword by F. Abiola Irele
  • Introduction: Understanding the Music of Sowande
    • Chapter One: The Nigerian Years: Sources of Sowande's Music
    • Chapter Two: Sowande and Black Diaspora Music in England and the United States
    • Chapter Three: In His Own Words: Cultural and Philosophical Foundations of Sowande's Music
    • Chapter Four: An Overview of Style in Sowande's Music
    • Chapter Five: Organ Works
    • Chapter Six: Sowande and Negro Spirituals
    • Chapter Seven: Orchestral Works
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix: List of Sowande's Works
  • Bibliography
  • Index


Excerpted from Chapter One:

…Sowande's entire career could be interpreted as an unfolding solution-finding process that was motivated and sustained by the challenges of coming to terms with the reality of colonialism. In his compositions and writings we see an artist in search of a philosophy to achieve cultural relevance both at home in Nigeria and on the international platform. 

…The qualities of music therefore depend not just on its capability to function within the complex hierarchy of social interaction and spiritual communication, but also on its intrinsic value as a musical performance. 

Excerpted from Chapter Four:

… The organ is a very popular instrument in Nigeria. The two largest cities in the country, Lagos and Ibadan together boast a modest, but definitely the largest, number of pipe organs in West Africa. In addition are numerous electronic full-pedal organs across the country.

Excerpted from Chapter Six:

…The thematic focus of 'Goin' to Set Down bears comparison with a popular Nigerian phrase in the pidgin language, 'siddon and look'. This phrase describes the stubborn boycott of something you cannot change.

Excerpted from Chapter Seven:

…Sowande's Folk Symphony is the largest known orchestral work by a Nigerian composer. Its important historical position is also underlined by the fact that it was specially commissioned to mark Nigeria's independence day celebrations (1960).…it is instructive to see how traditional Nigerian-derived elements are used with European structures to achieve one of the most unique intercultural experiments within the idiom of Nigerian Art music. 

Excerpted from the Conclusion:

…Sowande criss-crossed between Africa and Europe to re-mold and integrate (African and European) materials that had hitherto been constructed as binary opposites to one another, and which had been portrayed as emanating from mutually exclusive aesthetic models. Thus, rather than operating within restrictive boundaries, Sowande's world of music was global, and one in which he saw and explored universal and cross-cultural possibilities in spite of the apparent differences that typify global musical tastes. 

Nationalism was for Sowande a means for obliterating rather than accentuating national and continental musical boundaries… in works like Folk Symphony, African Suite and Three Yoruba Songs, where African traditional and popular music exert considerable influence, African materials in such works are conceived to interact with rather than overwhelm or oppose Western elements. 

…he moved from night club to the church, from the university to radio station, playing and composing jazz, Highlife, music for light entertainment and, of course, art music. Each of these musical genres has its own distinctive idiomatic and cultural identity.

… the success or failure of modern African art music should be measured only in terms of its potential to re-direct attention to the intellectual potential of traditional music, rather than the popularity of the music at the moment.

-Bode Omojola 2005

About the Author

Bode Omojola (PhD from Leicester University, England) is a Five College Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Mount Holyoke College.  A former Radclife Institute Fellow at Harvard University, Dr Omojola has also taught at the University of Ilorin in Nigeria, and Northeastern University in Boston.


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