A Concert of Shared Multi-Cultures: Akin Euba, His Circle, and Beyond

Akin Euba, His Circle, and Beyond
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Milbank Memorial Chapel, Teachers College, Columbia University
New York City
Reviewed by Richard Donald Smith, PhD

Recently I had the good fortune of being in attendance at a concert of music by contemporary African composers. This was not a typical African music listening experience. Rather, it was a concert of African art music being performed by a well-honed group of disciplined classical artists who have made a specialty of performing music by continental African and other non-Western composers. Titled Shared Multi-Cultures: Akin Euba, His Circle and Beyond, the concert took place in the intimate Milbank Chapel at Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York City. Composer Akin Euba was featured with several talented collaborating artists, including flutist Laura Falzon, soprano Dawn Padmore, pianist Jihea Hong, and percussionists Ryan Bishop and Doug Perkins. Composers represented on the program included Nigeria’s Akin Euba and Joshua Uzoigwe, Egypt’s Halim El-Dabh, and South Africa’s Kevin Volans. The concert featured four works of Akin Euba’s, including two solo piano compositions that he performed himself, the world premiere of his Study in Polyrhythm No. 3, for flute and piano, expertly played by Ms. Falzon and Ms. Hong, and Contemplating Life, for soprano and piano, well sung by Dawn Padmore.

Halim El-Dabh was represented by the composition Big Tooth Aspen for flute and derabucca (goblet-shaped ceramic hand drum [also known as darbuka]), a virtuosic, avant-garde composition requiring a variety of extended flute techniques, expertly executed by Ms. Falzon. Dawn Padmore was again featured in the performance of Four Igbo Folk Songs by Joshua Uzoigwe, one of the highlights of the evening. These songs illustrated that African songs, well arranged and properly executed, can have the depth, vigor, and power of African-American spirituals. The concert ended with a lighthearted performance of Kevin Volans’s Walking Song, for flute, piano, and two hand-clappers.

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this concert was that it took place in New York City, where African art music is never, or rarely, encountered. Traditional or ceremonial African music is fairly widespread, particularly amongst African-Americans who engage in drumming circles and traditional dance groups. Contemporary Afro-pop music is also available, if one knows the venues for such music. But African art music and concerts are virtually unknown. Graciously, Columbia University has presented two such concert events this year, the former having been a symposium and two-day concert series of music by African composers.

Akin Euba has figured prominently in presenting events of this type. Composer of the opera Chaka, several piano works, several vocal works, and other compositions, he is currently the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh and director of the Centre for Intercultural Musicology at Churchill College, Cambridge, England. A scholar, musician, and composer, he has made appearances in many countries.

Richard Donald Smith is a musician, educator, and African music scholar currently teaching at the United Nations International School in New York City. He has performed extensively in Africa and taught at universities in Nigeria, where he has also served as a Fulbright Scholar.