Renowned Composer and Musicologist Kwabena Nketia Dies

The man described as Africa’s premier ethnomusicologist and composer, Emeritus Professor Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia, has died, reports GhanaWeb.

The world-famous writer, 97, died at Legon Hospital in Accra yesterday after a short illness.
According to Wikipedia, Kwabena has been called a “living legend” and “easily the most published and best known authority on African music and aesthetics in the world”.

He has more than 200 publications and 80 musical compositions to his credit.
He was mostly referred to as the ‘Father of African Art Music’, considering his research and contributions in propelling African Art Music to this height – Prof. Johan Hanson Kwabena Nketia as a special gift to choral music this week marked his 95th Birthday.

He was known for his research works in the area of choral music, including the introduction of the 6/8 time signature amongst others, The Choral Page celebrates the man whose genius has propelled choral music to such a magnitude.
He has more than 200 publications and 80 musical compositions to his credit.

In his lifetime he was much celebrated and several events were organised in his honour. At one of such event, the Asantehene Osei Tutu II said Nketia’s “life symbolises the evolution of our nation in the 20th century. There are many parallels in his life’s story, which mirrors the national endeavours in the country. [He is] a bridge between our indigenous culture and modern culture, non-literate and literate traditions, old and young artists, Ghana and Africa in the dissemination.”

As a young man, Nketia received a government scholarship and proceeded to the University of London where he studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He had received some education at the Presbyterian Training College in Akropong Akwapin.

After his time at the University of London, he went to Trinity College of Music in London. There he received a bachelor of arts degree. At 37, he went to the US and attended courses in composition and musicology at Columbia University, Juilliard School of Music and Northwestern University.

Upon his return to Ghana, he went into academia and became a professor in 1963. In 1965, he was named the director of the Institute of African Studies. His reputation as a leading figure in ethnomusicology was unrivaled and his work was frequently cited in papers and discussions within the field.

One of his innovations includes the introduction of an easier-to-read 6/8 time signature. It was intended as a revision to the system deployed by Ephraim Amu, the musicologist who influenced Nketia’s first set of choral compositions. Nketia also provided an entirely indigenised basis for the transcription of Ghanaian folk music.

His works include ‘Maforo Pata Hunu’, ‘Obarima Nifahene’, ‘Asuo Meresen’, ‘Onipa Beyee Bi’, ‘Yiadom Heneba’, ‘Mekae Na Woantie’, ‘Adanse Kronkron’, ‘Morbid Asem’, Monna N’Ase, ‘Yaanom Montie’, ‘Onipa Dasani Nni Aye’.

Besides his work with songs from his country, Nketia also wrote music for the piano, cello, flute and other instruments commonly found in Western music. Some of his songs written specifically for African instruments include ‘Owora’, ‘At the Cross Roads’ and ‘Volta Fantasy’, all of which were written in 1961.

Nketia was the grandfather to the popular Ghanaian rapper Manifest (stylised as M.anifest). The rapper took to social media to commemorate the event of the patriarch. “Overwhelming legacy,” he wrote. “A life well lived. Grandpa, thank you. Your humanity was your greatest composition.”

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