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Kete - Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora
William Chapman Nayaho (piano)
rec. 2018, Seattle, Washington
MSR CLASSICS MS1708 [58.34]

This is a rare and fascinating insight into pedagogical music written by African composers from all over the world largely for piano students. Having examined in South Africa several years ago, I know that the country possesses many talented players and creative musicians. There are thirty-two tracks by twenty composers; many of the pieces are tiny and often aimed at youngsters but others are quite definitely more challenging. They were published in an anthology by OUP in 2007 with the same title as the CD. It was due to the enthusiasm of many piano teachers that William Chapman Nyoto, with the help of various supporters, was able to produce this album.

The African Diaspora takes in composers from all over the world. Some examples would be Halim El-Dabh from Egypt, represented by three fascinating pieces, the Afro-American Ulysses Kay, the prolific Brazilian Laurindo Almeida, represented by the longest piece here, his Lament in Tremolo Form and possibly one of the few names here you have met with before, and Alain-Pierre Pradel from Guadalupe. This mix of composers creates a considerable variety of styles and moods. For example, Valerie Capers’ jovial Sweet Mister Jelly Roll is a Scott Joplin type Rag, Nkeiru Okoye’s Dusk and Dancing Barefoot in the Rain are impressionistic pictures of great beauty from her collection entitled ‘African Sketches’. Jazz inspired pieces are quite common. Hale Smith’s Off-beat Shorty and Capers’ The Monk are two examples. African rhythms are never really far away as in the memorable Nigerian Dance by Joshua Uzoigwe. Akin Euba’s Igbá Kerin and Igbá Kinni combine irregular rhythms and Bartokian dissonances.

The title of the CD, ‘Kete’, has, explains Nyaho in his introductory notes, two meanings. One is an intricate and complex dance from the royal courts of the Akan people and the other is a beautifully woven fabric made by the Ewe people. He writes, “The album reflects the weaving together of music by people of African descent, spread across the entire globe”, so the theme common to each of the composers is that they are passionate about the integration of the indigenous music that has inspired them with music of the Western tradition.

We are also given the opportunity to hear pieces by some of the pioneers of Afro musical culture, some born in the nineteenth century like Florence Price, the first African-American female musician to achieve national recognition and some of whose symphonies have recently emerged. There is also Robert Dett who is better known for his editing of spirituals and folk songs in the 1920’s. He is represented by two arrangements of spirituals. Younger figures are also represented; one such is Nkeiru Okoye who at 48, is the youngest.

It would be daft to say that all of these pieces are of equal worth but several of them are intriguing and all are skilfully composed and worthy of scrutiny and exposure. The booklet gives detailed biographies of each of the composers but says little about the individual pieces. The recording is ideal and it seems to me that the performances are faultless.

Gary Higginson

Isak ROUX (b1959) Kwela No 1 [0.47]; Lullaby [1.34]
Ulysses KAY (1917-1995) Tender Thoughts [1.10]; Invention No 2 [1.01]
Hale SMITH (1925-2009) My Scarf is Yellow (0.51]; Off-Beat Shorty [0.35]
Nkeiru OKOYE (b.1972) Dusk [3.25]; Dancing barefoot in the Rain [1.01]
Robert KWAMI (1954-2004) Piano Piece No 2 –Call and Response [1.29]
Halim EL-DABH (1921-2017) Soufiane [1.10]; Basseet [1.22]; Nim Nawakht [2.11]
Florence PRICE (1887-1953) Ticklin’-Toes [1.06]; Silk Hat and Walking Stick [2.39]
Valerie CAPERS (b.1935) Sweet Mister Jelly Roll [1.47]; The Monk [1.15]
André Bangambula VINDU (b.1953) Lullaby [2.14]
Kwabena NKETIA (1921-2019) Bulsa Work Song [1.07]; Volta Fantasy [2.44]
Christian ONYEJI (b.1967) Ufie III [2.31]; Oga [3.38]
Laurinda ALMEIDA (1917-1995) Lament in Tremolo Form [4.27]
Robert Nathaniel DETT (1882-1943) Honey [1.36]
Joshua UZOIGWE (1946-2005) Nigerian Dance No 1 [1.19]
Wallace CHEATHAM (b.1945) Prelude No1 ‘Joshua fit the battle of Jericho’ [0.59] Prelude No 2 ‘Poor Mourner’s Got a Home’ [1.58] 
Amadeo Roldan Y GARDES (1900-1939) Preludio Cubana [1.53]
John Wesley WORK III (1901-1967) At a certain church [2.50]
Akin EUBA (b.1935) Igbá Kerin [0.40]; Igbá Kinni [1.11]
Alain-Pierre PRADEL (b.1949) Pomme Cannelle [2.42]
Eleanor ALBERGA (b.1949) If the Silver Bird Could Speak [3.21]

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