Classical Album of the Week: Discover Piano Music of the African Diaspora
February 15, 2021. As WRTI celebrates Black History Month, we feature the latest release from pianist William Chapman Nyaho. Born in Ghana, Nyaho compiled and edited five invaluable volumes for Oxford University Press called Piano Music of the African Diaspora. Our Classical Album of the Week is an aural companion to the first two volumes of the set.
Representing music of 20th- and 21st-century composers of African descent from across the globe, the album is titled Kete, which is both a royal dance of the Akan people (Ghana and Ivory Coast) and an intricate fabric of the Ewe people (Ghana and Togo.)
Kete brings together 32 selections of composers from North and South America, the Caribbean, Britain, and the African continent itself. It’s a diverse group, musically speaking, from the Arabic-inspired, meditative sounds of Egyptian-American Halim El-Dabh’s “Soufiane” to Nigerian Christian Onyeji’s ostinato rhythms in “Ufie III.”
On the lyrical side, Brazilian Laurindo Almeida’s “Lament in Tremolo Form” appeals with its poignant melody, reminiscent of a Chopin nocturne. Canadian composer Robert Nathaniel Dett’s “Honey,” is a character piece full of light humor. American composer Wallace Cheathem’s “Prelude No. 2: Poor Mourner’s Got a Home,” is solemn and affecting.
Austere musical lines and jagged contrasts can be heard in Ghanaian Kwabena Nketia’s “Builsa Work Song,” American Ulysses Kay’s “Invention No. 2” and Cheatham’s “Prelude No. 1: Joshua fit the Battle of Jericho.” Jazzy and witty idioms abound in the work of American composers Hale Smith and Valerie Capers.
Though Nyaho plays more virtuosic repertoire in earlier albums, his technical skill and fluidity of touch come across brightly in groundbreaking American composer Florence Price’s "Ticklin’ Toes,” and “Silk Hat and Walking Cane.”
John Wesley Work III’s “A Certain Church,” is a compelling combination of dissonant church bells, and a central section that’s part gospel, part full-fledged Lutheran chorale.
Kete ends with a selection by Jamaican composer Eleanor Alberga, called “If the Silver Bird Could Speak.” It’s mysterious and edgy, asking unexpected questions. Our Classical Album of the Week demonstrates the gifts of the African diaspora in many unexpected musical styles and forms.