WILLIAM CHAPMAN NYAHO
ASAPiano Music by Composers of African Descent, Volume 2
WILLIAM CHAPMAN NYAHO, piano
World Premiere Recordings
CRITICS' CHOICE 2009
American Record Guide
"This disc is subtitled “piano music by composers of African descent,” and presents no fewer than six world premiere recordings. It provides a welcome glimpse into the workings of black composers resident both in Africa and beyond. The first five composers whose works we hear are all based in Africa itself. From there, we move to Cuba, Haiti, Guadeloupe, and the U.S.A.
Fred Onovwerosuoke, born in 1960 in Ghana to Nigerian parents, has spent much time studying African music, its harmonies, its instruments, and its rhythms. His 24 Studies in African Rhythm takes dance or dance patterns as the basis for each study. First, we hear “Udje,” based on a Nigerian Urhobo dance. It is staccato and angular, while “Jali” is influenced by the kora of West Africa and the kraar from Northeastern Africa. It is a lonely dance, characterized by an overriding staccato touch and hesitant gestures. “Okoye” is much more extrovert, fusing Edo (Nigeria) and Baganda (Uganda) polyrhythms effectively, leaving “Iroro” to restate a more ritualistic approach (it is derived from the trance dances of the West African coastline cults). “Ayevwiomo Dance No. 1” is dedicated to Nyaho and is less region-specific than the other pieces. Finally, “Agbazda” takes the royal and funeral music of the Ghanaian Ewe tribe and places it in the larger geographical context of Togo and Benin. The generally dry recording suits the playful, mainly staccato nature of Onovwerosuoke’s music.
The Ghana link of the final movement by Onovwerosuoke forms a link to the music of Ghanaian composer Robert Mawuena Kwami (1954–2004). His January Dance uses a theme which sounds remarkably familiar (it sounds like it is going to break out into “We wish you a Merry Christmas” at any moment). The composer claims it represents the style of African pianism. It is unbuttoned fun, and is magnificently played by Nyaho.
The South African composer Isak Roux (b. 1959) studied with Kevin Volans. He worked on South African folk music while in Durban, as well as arranging for, producing, and performing with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The first of his Preludes in African Rhythm, heard here, is based on Zulu guitar music; its central, Kwela rhythm-based section hints at a township melody, Izintombi zase kwatazi, that reappears in the coda.
South African composer Bongani Ndodana (b. 1975) uses both real and invented folk music of Africa. His Flowers in Sand was written for the organist Lucius Weatherby and was inspired by the semi-desert Karoo region of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province. The rhythms of the first part are sourced in the music of the Venda people. Intended to evoke the stillness in the desert after a storm, it is split into two parts, “After the first rain” and “Colors in the dunes.” The first part touches frequently on silence; stasis and meditative reflection are common to both of the work’s sections.
Halim El Dabh’s Coma Dance (1950) speaks fluently of its native Egypt. It was intended as a way of sending healing energy back to his father in Egypt while the composer was himself in the United States. Based on the Arabic melodic modes called hijaz kar and the popular dance rhythm maqsum, it is a lovely, lively work that would surely act as a perfect recital encore.
Born in France to Cuban parents, Amadeo Roldán y Gardes (1900–1939) was a leading figure in the establishment of afrocubanismo, a synthesis of Afro-Cuban melody and polyrhythm with Western traditions. His brief (1:51) Preludio cubano is deliciously charming, making expert use of the piano’s higher registers.
Ludovico Lamothe (1882–1953) is apparently Haiti’s best-known classical composer. He studied both piano and composition with Louis Diémer in Paris in 1910 (a variety of Diémer’s recordings have been transferred to compact disc). Lamothe’s affinity with the music of Chopin led to his nickname, “the black Chopin.” He returned to Haiti in 1930 and was later appointed chief of music of the Republic of Haiti. The piece heard here, La dangereuse, is nicknamed “Meringue haïtienne.” It is a period piece of much entertainment value, invoking a ghost of Scott Joplin. The composer/pianist Alain-Pierre Pradel (b. 1949) grew up in Guadeloupe, a former French colony in the West Indies. His piece is called Pomme cannelle, which is a type of custard apple native to the West Indies. Pradel’s representation of the fruit in music is a delight. It comes from a set of seven piano pieces.
Florence S. Price (1887–1953) received her degree in organ music from the New England Conservatory of Music. After a spell in Arkansas, she moved to Chicago, where she was the first African American to have her work played by leading orchestras (including the Chicago Symphony). The three pieces that comprise Dances in the Canebrakes are expertly crafted little gems. The central “Tropical Noon” is the longest movement and arguably the finest. The final movement, “Silk Hat and Walking Cane,” is a suave cakewalk.
Wallace McClain Cheatham’s Preludes is based on Negro spirituals (Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, Poor mourner’s got a home, and My Lord don’t it rain). The lament of the middle Prelude is wonderfully desolate, especially when as expressively nuanced as here, while the finale is surprisingly dissonant. Finally, Coleridge Taylor Perkinson’s Toccata. Perkinson (1932–2004), was a composer named after the African British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Jazz and blues intermingle in this joyous, outgoing, virtuoso end piece to this memorable recital. A Want List candidate.
Colin Clarke, Fanfare - July / August 2009
"I thoroughly enjoyed this disc. The program is well-chosen, with lots of variety. The 11 composers whose works are offered here are not known quantities in our country, but they should be."
Kushner, American Record Guide - May / June 2009
"This release...collects music by black composers in a way that has rarely if ever been done before, and it's highly recommended to anyone interested in the intersection of African music with European concert forms. The program is unusual and instructive in two ways. First, it's cross-generational. Much of the music is by contemporary composers, but there are also a few classics of the genre... [Nyaho] brings out the continuities between the generations, with the basic impulse toward drawing on African-based rhythmic materials intact even as the younger composers add contemporary techniques. The program also includes more non-American than American pieces, and here, too, Nyaho makes a powerful case for the African diaspora as a musical unity. Much of the music has never been recorded before, and several of the African pieces are real finds... The music isn't particularly virtuosic for the most part, but Nyaho's way of finding the threads that connect it all is a kind of virtuosity in itself... a major find for students of the way African musical ideas have been diffused around the world."
James Manheim, All Music Guide
"This is a fascinating and mostly impressive collection of brief pieces for piano by a variety of composers from the worldwide African diaspora; six of the eleven selections are world-premiere recordings. Nyaho is an excellent pianist and gives each piece a bright and enthusiastic reading... taken together as a survey [the works featured] provide a very interesting picture of Africa's influence on contemporary art music around the world."
CDHotlist for Libraries - March 2009
PROGRAM NOTESSearch on "Nyaho" here for published scores to these and other works:
The vast repertoire of piano music of Africa and its Diaspora, which has until recently been generally unavailable, appears in myriad forms and styles, from simple to virtuosic. This compact disc brings to light compositions that may have remained in manuscript form, been out of print, or not widely circulated. I have entitled it Asa, which in Fanti (my mother’s language) is the noun for dance as most of the music on the disc finds its roots in dance music. I am particularly thrilled to discover wonderful works by composers of Africa and its Diaspora that reflect the intercultural nature of my upbringing. I am deeply indebted to the composers, colleagues, family, and friends who have been very encouraging in this project, and it is my sincere hope that this music will lead to an even greater surge in demand for art music from Africa and the African Diaspora. Enjoy!
WILLIAM CHAPMAN NYAHO, a Ghanaian American and resident of Seattle, received his degrees from St. Peter's College, Oxford University (UK), the Eastman School of Music and the University of Texas at Austin. He also studied at the Conservatoire de Musique de Genève, Switzerland. Chapman Nyaho is the recipient of prizes from international piano competitions. Following four years as a North Carolina Visiting Artist, Chapman Nyaho taught at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and was the recipient of the Distinguished Professor Award and held the Heymann Endowed Professorship. He was also the recipient of the Acadiana Arts Council Distinguished Artist Award. Chapman Nyaho has also served as Visiting Professor of Music at Colby College and Willamette University. His summer teaching appointments include Interlochen Summer Arts Camp and Adamant Music School.
As a regular guest clinician, Chapman Nyaho gives lecture-recitals and workshops advocating music by composers of the African heritage. He has compiled and edited a five-volume graded anthology Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora published by Oxford University Press. He has served on national committees for the Music Teachers’ National Association, College Music Society and the National Endowment for the Arts and been an adjudicator in International competitions in the North America and Europe and Africa.
Chapman Nyaho’s solo performances have taken him to Europe, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and North America including Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center. He has performed as soloist with various orchestras and as chamber musician as well as appearing regularly as duo pianist with the Nyaho/Garcia Duo. The duo has released a critically acclaimed CD Aaron Copland: Music For Two Pianos on the Centaur Label and regularly promotes music by composers of African and Hispanic heritage. Chapman Nyaho has been featured on radio and television broadcasts in Africa Europe and North America. He has also hosted his own show The Bach Show, developed for classical radio station KRVS in Louisiana.
Wiolliam Chapman Nyaho’s first solo disc SENKU: Piano Music by Composers of African Descent [MSR MS1091], a groundbreaking compilation of music of the African Diaspora was recently choreographed by Tony Award winning Garth Fagan. The CD was named one of the "Best of the Year" by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which called it "altogether enthralling..." Gramophone said, "Nyaho’s gripping performances kept my ears glued to this disc…Let’s hope the pianist continues to explore –and record – more such commanding repertoire." Dr. Maya Angelou wrote that it holds "moments of discovery so delicious that the listeners will be made to laugh out loud and to compliment not just Dr. Chapman Nyaho, but themselves at their good fortune in finding these composers and this pianist."
Fred Onovwerosuoke (b.1960) Nigeria
Robert Kwami (1954-2004) Ghana
Isak Roux (b.1959) South Africa
Bongani Ndodana (b.1975) South Africa
Halim El Dabh (b.1921) Egypt
Amadeo Roldan (1900-1939) Cuba
Ludovic Lamothe (1882-1953) Haiti
Alain-Pierre Pradel (b.1949) Guadeloupe
Florence Price (1887-1953) USA
Wallace Cheatham (b.1946) USA
C. Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004) USA