The African Concert Series: From renaissance of African art music to fostering education across cultures and bringing communities together to celebrate their heritage

by Segun Fajemisin

It was in good understanding that the African Concert Series was birthed in 2019 by the classical-trained pianist, Rebeca Omordia. The important contributions of black and minority ethnic composers in classical music, although should be there in the mainstream, are however conspicuously understated. As a result, the rich components ensconced in their musical compositions are often unknown and it has therefore become expedient to build platforms such as would highlight their contributions, including the cultural nuances that influenced their creations.

Rebeca Omordia, Founder and Curator, The African Concert

UK-based Omordia, born of Nigerian and Romanian parentage, had launched the project following the release of her debut CD, ‘Ekele: Piano Music by African Composers’ in 2018. The album, first of its kind to be released ever in the United Kingdom, was widely acknowledged. Gramophone Magazine credited it as a “fascinating programme”, while it was commended as a “beautifully delivered recital” by the Sunday Times.

The success of the debut album thus paved the way for what has developed to be a powerful channel providing an ambience of enablement for presenting music of the classical genre to a global audience, notably from the perspectives of African composers.

With the debut in 2019 of the African Concert Series, the award-winning Omordia presented monthly concerts of music by African classical composers. The series comprising l0 concerts featured music from Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Morocco and music by black British composers performed by internationally established musicians.

An       overview     of    The     African    Conceit     Series     2019    can     be    watched    here:

Eulogised by the BBC World Service as “the African Art Music makes a comeback”, it had also helped to raise the level of awareness amongst the generality of the people regarding this genre. In the words of founder and curator, Omordia: “Bringing African classical music to the western audience was right from the start an endeavour meant to unravel the cultural diversity of the African continent, reflected in its music, and to create a platform for the African classical music to be performed. Africa is very colourful each country in Africa has a multitude of ethnic groups and each ethnic group has a music of its own, with characteristic melodies and rhythms, quality which I have tried to emphasise in the programmes of the African Concert Series, through individually themed concerts:

‘African Art Song- featuring lgbo and Yoruba songs’, ‘Nigerian Odyssey Piano music by Nigerian composers’, ‘The South African Double Bass commissioned works by South African bass player Leon Bosch’, ‘String Quartets by African Composers’ and ‘Arabesque: Piano music from the Arab world’.

Rebeca, with South African double bass legend Leon Bosch

The artists featured

Each artist that has performed in the series is a pioneer in their own land. Nigerian pianist, Glen Inanga, is a Cambridge University graduate who has worked closely with Nigerian composer and ethnomusicologist, Professor Akin Euba. South African double bass legend, Leon Bosch, had arrived in the UK while trying to escape persecution during the apartheid era and would become one of the most distinguished double bass players in the world. He has commissioned works from at least six South African composers, music that he has recorded on his ‘The South African Double Bass’ CD. There is also the Moroccan-Hungarian pianist, Marouan Benabdallah, whose project ‘Arabesque’ led him to the discovery of 100 composers from Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, and Egypt, to mention just a few of the countries. Benabdallah has toured the world to a great acclaim, promoting music from the Arab world. The celebrated Chineke! Chamber Ensemble promotes the music of black composers. Established in 2015 by British double bass player and Professor of Historical Double Bass Studies at the Royal Academy of Music, Chi-Chi Nwanoku OBE, The Chineke! Foundation is Europe’s first majority Black, Asian and ethnically diverse orchestra.

The Famed Chineke ! Chamber Ensemble In Concert at the African Centre

Since 2019, the African Concert Series had taken a broader outlook. From the initial focus on bringing classical music by African composers to a global audience as a way of unravelling the cultural richness and diversity imbued in traditional African folklores, the vision has expanded.

A new horizon beckons

Traditions in Africa have always been expressed through the many art forms. These include, but are not limited to music, dance, art, sculpture, etc. and they are deeply ingrained into the culture. Oral literature, folklores etc. are graceful components of traditional Africa. Not only do they reflect the rich and diverse cultures of the people, but they also instil the cultural values and ethos guiding the daily social interactions.

The significance of the Rebeca Omordia project becomes more endearing when one considers that folktales, as customary in the classical music compositions by Africans, are veritable vehicles for the transmission and preservation of shared values and collective existence of the people.

As it progresses in its quest, the African Concert Series will continually strive at fostering education across cultures and bringing communities together to celebrate their legacy.

Three pulsating editions, and upwardly mobile still…

While the 2019 African Concert Series, brought to completion with self-financing by Rebeca with a £10,000 loan, was an opportunity for the communities to come together to celebrate their heritage, the circumstances caused by the pandemic in 2020 made the project to adjust to the new conditions. The performances, made possible with the support of the artists featured, shifted to online broadcasts. The 2020 edition, “Music for Lockdown” streamed globally from Nigeria, USA, Cayman Islands, Hungary and the United Kingdom, reached out to an international audience through online concerts and was featured on BBC World News TV. The edition also featured a rare appearance of the acclaimed composer, Fred Onovwerosuoke.

First Concert, October Gallery in the UK

In the first quarter of 2021, and with performance venues still closed because of the lockdown measure started by the government, The African Concert Series created working partnerships. It launched the 2021 series, streaming performances from the Africa Centre and the October Gallery, and reaching an online audience of over 100,000 people. The 2021 Series was funded by the Arts Council England’s Lottery Project Grants, the crowdfunding platform and in partnerships with FourChiefs Media, Colourful Radio and The Africa Centre.

For such a laudable project, it is hoped that the African Concert Series will attract the support (finance, personnel, volunteers, etc.) that it justifiably deserves. Rebeca Omordia, her team and partners have done a huge job by creating the awareness and raising the profile of African art music.

For a project that was born of humble beginnings, the series has positioned itself firmly in the vanguard of highlighting the important contributions of Africans in art music. So far and in this, it has earned its pride of place. Into the future, and as it continues its crusading stance, the project may yet develop as a veritable platform, offering itself to an enduring cultural revolution by fostering education across cultures and bringing communities together to celebrate their heritage.

*Photo credits: The African Concert Series

Segun Martins Fajemisin, journalist and publisher, writes in from the United Kingdom.

© Feferity Media Group 2021

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