Fela Sowande

1907 - 1987


Fela Sowande (1907-1987), born in Oyo, Nigeria, is known as one of the earliest advocates of indigenous African art music in the 20th century. He studied at various institutions in Nigeria and London including Mission School, King’s College, Trinity College, London University, and studied formally with T. K. Ekundayo Philips. Sowande taught for three years after completing his basic training in Lagos. While teaching in his native country, Sowande was exposed to jazz in 1932 through radiobroadcasts of Duke Ellington, which lead him to create jazz ensembles in Nigeria. In the mid-1930, Sowande moved to London under the guise of studying engineering, however he found his way back to music. He studied with well-known tutors such as George Oldroyd, Edmund Rubbra, and G. D. Cunningham. He became a fellow at the Royal College of Organist and won prizes for his theoretical work, facility on the keyboard, and sight-reading skills. In London, Sowande again came in contact with jazz through recordings and incorporated the some of the musical language into his compositional style, eventually leading him to collaborate with African-American singer and dancer Adelaide Hall. During World War II, Sowande produced West African Music and the possibilities of its Development, a radiobroadcast in he pursuance of preserving and communicating African music in more refined settings, and used his works as examples of properly continuing African musical traditions. Throughout the 1940’s, Sowande worked as an organist and music director at select churches in the U.K. while he continued to compose works, including Africana. He returned to Nigeria for a few years and expounded on his knowledge of Nigerian folklore before he toured as a lecturer and guest conductor in the United States in 1957. For Nigeria’s independence in 1960, Sowande was commissioned to write his most famous symphonic works: Nigerian Folk Symphony, A Folk Symphony, and Oh, Motherland. Furthermore, he committed himself to the musical development of his country by establishing the Sowande School of Music at Nsukka and taught music at the University of Ibadan. From 1968 on, Sowande remained in the United States to escape the civil war of Nigeria. There, he worked as a teacher at various universities and lectured around the country.

(source:  International dictionary of Black Composers, http://chevalierdesaintgeorges.homestead.com/sowande.html#8)