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Two hundred performers to honor African composers with song, dance and drums

A weekend concert in St. Louis pays homage to composers whose names are often left off lists that include Mozart, Bach and Britten.

“A Tribute to African Composers: Music Bringing People Together” features names like Adolphus Hailstork, Uzee Brownand Tania Leon,  among a host of others with African roots.

Fred Onovwerosuoke, the founder of African Musical Arts, organized the production. He's also a composer, and his five-movement work, also called "A Tribute to African Composers," is the centerpiece of the event. 

Fred Onovwerosuoke founded African Musical Arts in 1994.
Credit African Musical Arts | Provided
Fred Onovwerosuoke founded African Musical Arts in 1994.

Two hundred musicians, singers and dancers will perform his full arrangement as well as selections of their own. It’s unlike anything Onovwerosuoke's group has ever done before.

“It’s one huge collaboration,” he said. “It’s just a mixed bag of exciting music.”

Fred Onovwerosuoke describes each movement of “A Tribute to African Composers.”

From rousing to ethereal to folk

Diversity defines the 90-minute concert, from the types of performers to the music itself. Local groups like the St. Louis Children's Chorus, the Songs of Africaensemble  and St. Louis Women’s Hope Chorale will share the stage with performers like AttahPaku, a drum poet from a royal Ghanaian court. Paku will say part of a poem in the Twi language, then play them on his drum, after which St. Louis poet laureate Michael Castro will translate the words into English.

The Hope Chorale will perform the third movement of Onovwerosuoke's composition.

“It sounds like chant, so it has a very ethereal sound to it,” said Leanne Latuda, the chorale's director. “And then we switch and do a folk kind of piece called ‘Cedar Swamp.’”

The concert will be held at two different locations. A Saturday night performance will take place at 560 Music Center in University City. Sunday’s afternoon concert is located at Trinity Presbyterian Church on Washington Avenue.

New York maestro Marlon Danielwill conduct Onovwerosuoke’s work.

Watch Daniel conduct the fifth movement of Onovwerosuoke’s "A Tribute to African Composers" in this 2009 video.

Onovwerosuoke hopes events like these will not only entertain but eventually shift the makeup of orchestras all over the country.

“We have less than 2 percent African Americans in all American major orchestras,” he said. “That’s not going to change unless we begin to educate our young folks about black composers.”

Here’s a look at a dance rehearsal for the third movement of  Onovwerosuoke’s "A Tribute to African Composers" with choreographer Jana Thomas.

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

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Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.
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