Walking among the black sounds. For a "cultured" music of today's Africa, by Silvia Belfiore

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Silvia Belfiore


With ON THE WAY THROUGH THE BLACK SOUNDS, the pianist Silvia Belfiore, one of the most transversal and passionate Italian interpreters of contemporary repertoire, re-elaborates for Finnegans a critical reflection on the musical and concert experiences that have characterized the last fifteen years of her interpretative activity, since In 2008 he held his first concert with music by 'contemporary' composers of African origin in St. Louis in the United States where a biennial festival of African composers, or of the diaspora from the Black Continent, takes place. An exciting and very significant musical and cultural adventure in the contradictory horizon of postcolonial multiculturalism, in these years of frenetic and accelerated globalization, which led Silvia Belfiore to hold study trips in various African and European universities with over one hundred concerts with 'black sounds' ' in various African countries: from South Africa to the Ivory Coast, from Ethiopia, Tanzania and Togo, to European stages, from Germany to Great Britain, the United States and Italy.
And it is precisely at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, a prestigious leading Italian musical institution, that Silvia Belfiore proposed the works of some contemporary African authors in a concert-show with the percussionist Antonio Caggiano and the actress Maria Claudia Massari last July 2022. (NC)



SB, concert in St. Louis, 2013


Walking among the black sounds
For cultured music of today's Africa


     A walk among the black notes is a fascinating experience that has involved me since 2008. My interest in African classical music has grown step by step. The engaging dimension of this project lies in the continuous research that attracts me more every day and stimulates the most diverse and variable initiatives: this "photography" is destined to evolve.  
     My curiosity for the African continent and its classical music arose from my interest in contemporary music. Does scholarly music interest Africans? Is there music education on the black continent? Born almost by chance over the years, this curiosity allows me to discover how surprising the attention paid to classical music in Africa is today. My growing interest therefore triggered a research process, which began by coming into contact with university departments dedicated to musical composition in various African cities. I thus had the opportunity to meet many composers with whom I began collaborations and to receive numerous scores from them. The real work begins there: understanding the different styles, qualities and choosing a first repertoire to play in concert. My first concert of music by black composers takes place in the United States, in St. Louis, where every two years a festival of music written by African or diaspora composers takes place. Subsequently, more than a hundred concerts in different countries around the world (South Africa, Germany, Ivory Coast, United States, Ethiopia, Great Britain, Italy, Kenya, Peru, Tanzania and Togo) with African music on the program and recording of two discs: the live of a concert held in Acqui Terme in 2012 and the recording of "Yokuwela" in 2020 in the JaneStudio in Cagliari. These discs contain original works by composers from different African territories.



     But let's see what the cultured music of the so-called black continent is.  
     First of all, as Western observers, we will never be able to completely adopt the point of view of those who experience African music as a cultural baggage linked to their origins, from within the same maternal womb. We even ask ourselves to what extent we are really able to study these musics in a relevant way without being able to abandon our Western education. Similarly, we ask ourselves to what extent we will be able to develop new theoretical models for analyzing African academic music and whether we will necessarily relate it to our own methodologies and analytical parameters. To understand the work of sub-Saharan composers, we must therefore ask ourselves whether our analytical methodologies and our very conception of musical work are adequate for research into contemporary production in Africa. On the contrary, the problem of evaluating the adaptability of African composers to the codes of Western classical music also appears. In other words, we must question the relationship that African cultured composers have with Western culture to understand as accurately as possible when it comes to interactions of a syncretic nature or real mimesis.
     In the context of written African musical production, not only the question of the relationship with Western culture arises, but also and above all the problem of the relationship with their own tradition. Sometimes African composers themselves modify their musical heritage to adapt to Western academicism. For example, the piano – the main instrument of cultured music production in Africa – imposes a tempered intonation unknown to traditional African music. Is the adoption of the Western regulatory framework considered a mimesis? what, in a social and political context, Antonio Gramsci could have described as cultural subordination to hegemonic civilizations? This imitation can be explained both as a conscious choice of an external and different aesthetic phenomenon, and as an unconscious subordination on the part of African peoples who apparently demonstrate great pride and a strong sense of belonging to their territory.
     Traditional written music is relatively recent in Africa as it begins in the 1930s. Consequently, the stylistic development of musical language, closely linked to the historical evolution of musical genres and repertoire, is still little present. Nonetheless, all contemporary African composers possess in-depth knowledge of Western culture: most of them study in Europe and the United States. Out of curiosity we underline that already in the 18th century Chevalier de Saint-George fits fully into the framework of Western cultured music, representing, however, a unique and isolated case1.


SB with flutist Wendy Hymes and violinist Rudy Perrault, Togo, 2010

     The emergence of art music is determined by a confluence of historical factors. Why and how have forms of domination influenced black composers and why are there fewer Francophone than Anglophone composers? What is the influence of colonization and the changes it brought? It is impossible to consider cultural developments in Africa in the 19th century without taking into account the colonial system designed by imperialist policies.
     Colonial expansion generates the entry into Africa of new forms of culture through traders, sailors and settlers, who participate in a growing network of exchanges and diffusion of cultural identities. The advent of the Christian religion in the mid-19th century strongly influenced the musical panorama. Foreign musical influences accompany the growing transnational presence in sub-Saharan Africa. There is certainly a process of literacy in European music among Africans caused by the popular and patriotic melodies played by military bands. As music evolved through the efforts of African musicians influenced by Spanish and Portuguese sailors, England's imperial colonial administration and missionaries from Europe and the Southern United States worked to propagate their music. Africa's colonies have no choice but to integrate and merge with it. Just a few examples: since the early 19th century Freetown's musical life has encompassed a mixture of musical styles derived from the music of European missionaries, military personnel, African-American settlers, and indigenous peoples; American and African-American folk music enters West Africa around 1800, when the Maroons of Jamaica introduce the square-frame gumbe drum with its repertoire of songs; in 1841 a group of natives of Cape Coast Castle played many English folk songs by heart.
     In this particular context, among others, the problem of the teaching method in general and, given our field of interest, of music in particular arises. Christian missionaries in black Africa have various roles in education, ranging from teaching skills to literacy and Western-style education. Despite their laudable intentions, these missionaries unfortunately also have the practical effect of alienating Africans from their cultures of origin. The imposition of the colonizer's language into the educational process is not the only traumatic change imposed on black peoples. The Western educational system is based on literacy and a writing that was almost unknown to them until then. The African elite, largely a product of Christian schools, is educated in the white school, speaks and writes in their languages and begins to forget, to the point of despising, the indigenous languages which they sometimes consider inferior. The same goes for musical education, often reduced to scores of choir songs practiced by missionaries. The colonist also brings his own tools, made and tempered, completely different from those used up until then in Africa. The latter, in fact, vary depending on the raw materials available locally and their solid relationships with the original language of the group. The objective is to accustom Africans to Western music, its repertoire and its musical instruments such as the piano, harmonium or organ. The new musical culture, associated with the Christian religion, becomes a social symbol and a sign of identification with Western civilization. 


SB with William Chapman Nyaho, Ghanaian pianist and scholar

     In pre-colonial Africa, education was instead based on transmission: there was no school and music was learned through observation and imitation. Knowledge was transmitted from parent to child or, in any case, within the group. Everything happened spontaneously and the teaching was never theoretical. In reality, musicians learned very complex musical forms with a skill that can sometimes be astonishing. Rules linked to precise and specific codes for each African ethnic group with their own customs and oral traditions also guided the music. Memorization often occurred through the nonsense syllabic: a sort of rhythmic solfeggio based on sequences of onomatopoeic syllables with no meaning other than that of orally reproducing the rhythm played on the drum. Learning therefore passed through listening, observation, memory, ear and the ability to improvise.
     In the missions and Christian schools, however, the natives study musical theory, keyboard instruments (piano, harmonium and organ), the repertoire of hymns, sacred, classical and light music. The missionaries, despite being generally against indigenous music, sometimes feel the need to refer to it for practical purposes in order to "Westernize" the taste and customs of the indigenous people. Some glimpses can illustrate the situation in Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries: in April 1880, twenty organs destined for the British possessions in Africa where churches and Christian schools were the main destination were shipped; the African elite of Freetown and Lagos, which had already been imitating the customs of the British bourgeoisie since the end of the nineteenth century, organized concerts with music by Bach, Beethoven and Handel; in 1892, students at the institutes of Freetown (Sierra Leone) regularly offered concerts, operettas and choral performances, both sacred and secular; in British West Africa, African urban groups form dance groups whose music is influenced by ragtime and jazz and between the 1920s and 1930s the urban elite of Accra is fascinated by Western popular music, ballroom dancing , of country and western styles; European-style military bands – with brass, woodwind and percussion – are a point of reference in colonial Africa promoting a particular style of patriotic music associated with police, military and public institutions; the use of Western instruments in the British and French colonies spread to all social classes: accordions, harmonicas, harmoniums, guitars, tambourines and flutes replaced traditional instruments.


Stone Town Music Academy, Zanzibar, where Silvia Belfiore taught in December 2015

     The difference in musical evolution in Anglophone and Francophone African countries is notable. Cultural and educational developments were very different in the states colonized by the two European powers. The territorial choices made by France and Great Britain were not at all similar: Great Britain adopted a commercial strategy, taking an interest in those African countries that appeared economically stable and strong; France instead tried to satisfy its desire for military conquest by grabbing the poorest lands. The colonizing powers have developed divergent educational policies. The English system of indirect government (indirect rule) supported an educational system decentralized and flexible which could adapt to the local populations, did not modify the traditional structures, and relied on the already well established missionary schools. This allowed the UK to reduce costs. At the level of educational content, the colonizers authorized the use of the local language and have tried to impart a basic level of teaching. The Crown preferred to maintain order and leave the educational role to the missionaries already present in the area. The spread of education was much faster in the ancient English colonies which always had a much more important number of school structures than the ancient French colonies. France instead supported a policy based onassimilation. Colonized Africans were to become French citizens. The school inculcated French values under the control of the state. Contrary to English policy, local leaders were divested of their functions, to be replaced by a new elite trained in French schools. The lessons were taught entirely in French and followed a study plan imposed by the central state. A very educational system was developed selective and little accessible to the masses. The schools run by the French state coexisted with the pre-colonial missionary schools run by the state itself. Those that did not cooperate were forced to close, so more than two-thirds of the schools disappeared. This French position towards missionary schools is also explained by the fact that France counted many Muslim countries among its colonies. The State preferred to ban missions in these places for fear of fueling hostility towards the colonizers. The colonial education system continued even after decolonization: There is a relationship between the results of today's education policies and their colonial foundations. The economic results of the former French colonies have been less brilliant, in particular because they lag behind those of the English in terms of education2. African education was built through the colonial past. If colonization was an enrichment to the African educational system, it is regrettable that it destroyed so much on a traditional cultural level. 


SB with composer Évangéliste Premier Lolonyo Dogbe, Togo, 2011

     In this social, cultural and musical environment, the first composers were born, each of whom transposed the traditional heritage into classical music in his own way. Between the wars, the music of Christian congregations consisted of a conventional Western repertoire to which missionary hymns were added to a classical and romantic repertoire. In the aftermath of the First World War, a generation of composers emerged who developed a choral style still marked by strong Western influences, but in which African elements played an increasingly important role.
     The first contact of many composers with written music is in fact through Protestant hymns or through short pieces by European composers of the 18th and 19th centuries. The language of the anthem is a fundamental part of the cultural capital that colonization passes down. A largely Protestant heritage dominates the musical consciousness of many budding composers who are also often brought closer to 20th-century Western art music, including that of the European avant-garde. World Music has also certainly influenced the imagination of composers. However, contact with the heritage of traditional music among African composers is very differentiated: if acquiring elements of this heritage seems a natural path for some, for others the process turns out to be more complex. The acquisition process can only occur as adults when they consciously study traditional music in a systematic way. This choice appears as a reaction to an unbalanced educational system, based on knowledge of the great European composers to the detriment of knowledge of traditional music, often denigrated by Western elite educational circuits.


SB with composer Girma Yifrashewa, Addis Ababa, 2014

     Since the end of colonization, recordings on magnetic tape have multiplied, sound libraries have been enriched, record publishing has developed and the study of oral tradition music has spread. Africans themselves study the traditional music of their country and thus make a valuable contribution to the knowledge of the African repertoire. However, even if the possibilities of access to African music have never been easier, the desire to discover and study them has never been so strong, it would seem that the breath of the West is contributing precisely to their loss by eradicating or radically transforming them. The modern technical means of communication, which reach even the smallest village where a traditional musical art is perpetuated, are the same ones which on the one hand allow us to know them better today and on the other brutally force traditional Africa to adopt the culture Western and to merge with it.
     Sometimes even the possibility of listening to Western classical music is limited, but many composers develop their art abroad or in universities founded between the Second World War and independence, such as the University of Ghana (1948) , the University of Ibadan (1948), the Makerere University of Uganda (1948), the University of Dakar (1957), the University of Lagos (1962) or the vast South African university system.
     After independence, the new African states almost without exception choose Westernized music for their national anthems, in major modes and with melodies that are easy to sing and remember in 4/4 time. The verses are normally in the European language or in combinations between the official national languages and one or more African languages. For example, the Senegalese national anthem is Western-style: written by the French ethnomusicologist Herbert Pepper - who also composed the anthem of the Central African Republic - it is based on the verses of Léopold Sédar Senghor and deals with nationalism, pan-Africanism, respect for African traditions and universal brotherhood.
     The school systems of Senegal and Ghana include the study of Western and African music, and this example is followed by many other African states. In 1958, in Ghana, the state supported the creation of a Western-style symphony orchestra: the National Symphony Orchestra, which also promoted symphonic music by black composers. In Guinea a network of several orchestras is created, providing them with new instruments and amplification tools purchased in Italy with the aim of developing new national music, with Western instrumentation. Starting from the 1960s, Western musical influences, initially limited to urban centres, spread and reached small towns thanks to radio broadcasts, the development of means of transport, emigration, trade and the growing presence of government bodies inland.


SB with Burundian composer Bosiko Beiz and pianist Rebeca Omordia, St. Louis, 2013

     Record production began to expand significantly and from 1927 to 1930 Zonophone released hundreds of records for the West African market. Since 1928, the Indian branch of the Gramophone Company has been printing Swahili records recorded in Mombasa. Furthermore, many houses – such as HMV, German Odéon, French Pathé and English Columbia – made recordings throughout Africa in the early 1930s. The records include traditional songs, Western-influenced music, Christian hymns, ragtime and imitations of American country. Radio and records continue to transmit Western and African musical styles to growing numbers of fans. In Nigeria, radio broadcasts increased significantly after the inauguration of the Nigerian Broadcasting Service in 1951.
     With a very young population, a fragmented cultural situation, high levels of poverty and social inequality, low levels of education and hygiene and excessive piracy in the recording industry, Africa today has very varied musical practices depending on the region, language, religion, ethnicity, age and sex. The continent therefore still has very few professional music production centers and many artists move abroad, particularly to Europe, Canada, the United States and sometimes Australia or Japan. Furthermore, we must distinguish rural environments from urban ones: in rural areas (where approximately 70% of the population lives) traditional musical practices continue to be maintained, despite the close relationships currently existing with urban areas, where they are instead relegated.
     According to composer and musicologist Godwin Sadoh, musical practice in Africa exists at two levels: what he calls intracultural musical practice, already documented in traditional African music before the 19th century, and modern African music as manifested in postcolonial Africa. The first consists primarily of traditional indigenous music that dates back to before the arrival of colonizers and missionaries and permeates all aspects of African cultural life (social, political, economic or religious). The second, linked to the postcolonial experience in Africa, looks at the creativity and musical performance that emerged from colonization and Christian missionary exegesis from the mid-nineteenth century to the beginning of the twenty-first century. Islamic conquest is the third factor that influenced the emergence of multicultural music in Africa, although it is not related to the development of modern African art music.
     Although colonialism has left its mark on politics and culture, it seems that no one expected the African continent to produce a Mozart or a Beethoven. This prejudice is made famous by a quote by Saul Bellow: “When the Zulus produce their Tolstoy, I will read it.”



     Academic music and the performance of composed and written scores reaches only a small audience. This is due to political, economic and social factors that influence the training of musicians, as well as the availability of patronage and public reception. To clarify what art music represents in Africa, Akin Euba provides us with a definition in which he highlights that, unlike traditional music whose performance context is community-based, art music is music designed to be performed routinely in an auditorium of in front of a defined audience. Johnston Akuma-Kalu Njoku characterizes much classical music as written and composed for performance in concert halls and as aimed at an audience of static listeners who associate the aesthetics of beauty with that of sound. Classical music, less associated with Africa than urban popular music or traditional music of pre-colonial origin, is certainly the least widespread of the three: its presence is relatively weak in villages and cities, whatever its symbolic power.
     The five-volume anthology from 2009 Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora, compiled and edited by Ghanaian pianist and scholar William Chapman Nyaho, is a particularly interesting publication. It offers a wide range of piano compositions. The recognition of the different authenticity of cultures increasingly seems to be a necessity in the face of the homologation of international civilization. This anthology is an opportunity to reflect on the repertoire of African composers and how the legacy of tradition influences their choices of sounds, rhythms and phraseology. It is therefore an important publication for spreading written African creativity. It offers piano students a hitherto marginalized repertoire that includes works by composers such as the Egyptians Halim El-Dabh, Riad Abdel-Gawad and Gamal Abdel-Rahim, the Nigerians Akin Euba, Christian Onyeji and Joshua Uzoigwe, the Ghanaians Gyimah Labi, JH Kwabena Nketia and Robert Kwami, the South Africans Martin Scherzinger, Bongani Ndodana-Breen and Isak Roux, the Sudanese Ali Osman; the Congolese Bangambula Vindu and the Afro-British Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, without forgetting the composers of the African diaspora from Great Britain, Jamaica, Cuba, Canada and the United States. In this anthology – the first of its kind ever published to date – all the music collected dates back to the 20th century and comes mostly from living composers.


Egwu Amala Dance

     The contact that every African maintains with ethnic music indelibly marks the creativity of composers in whose works there are traits derived from tradition. Furthermore, just as the panorama of ethnic traditions and associated music is varied, the panorama of the influences they produce on classical music is also varied: it is therefore always important to place each composer in his own context of origin and growth. The art music of late 20th-century Africa covers a wide range of compositional approaches with the explosion of new musical forms resulting from the creative synthesis of styles. African composers dissolved the aesthetic dichotomy with the creation of a new style with specific characteristics, neither African nor European. At the end of the 20th century, the union of popular and academic music increasingly bears the mark of hybridity and cultural mixing. It is a world in which musical boundaries become highly penetrable through transnational cultural exchanges that produce a richly intersecting array of multicultural musical forms. “Polystylism” is considered a representative sign that goes beyond the very concepts of cultural authenticity and artistic originality. THEThe line between African art music and other forms of African music often remains difficult to draw. First of all, there are many examples of traditional African musical expressions that emphasize contemplative listening, which therefore does not remain the prerogative of classical music alone. After gaining independence, most African states create and finance various national musical groups, ballets or cultural groups: an example of this is the Pan-African Orchestra. These projects function largely as symbols of national identity, but state institutionalization reflects a Western-like attitude towards art music. Although popular music and classical music are related to relations with the West and although they are an urban phenomenon, they differ radically in attracting heterogeneous audiences and drawing on different sources of creativity. Like the modern African novel, which emerged in the twentieth century from a vast and varied oral literature in response to a network of external stimuli, African art music is beginning to be cultivated in the new institutions created by colonialism. There are many studies that concern African music and there are many universities in the world that have a department of African literature studies - in particular oral literature - which is inseparable from music. In most cases, the interest of scholars is aimed at the traditional heritage. Only more rarely and recently has attention turned to the cultured musical repertoire.


Joueur d'arc musical, photo Pierre Salée

     At the end of the 20th century, intellectual and popular music were conceived in the name of hybridization and cultural mixing. Musical boundaries become extremely blurred and transnational cultural exchanges produce a richly intersecting set of musical forms. The plurality of styles, considered a modern characteristic, actually subverts the very concept of cultural authenticity and artistic originality. The cultural heritage of the African composer is therefore multiple and the influences that fuel it come from both outside and inside, both from Europe and from Africa itself. But if a composer's education is subject to various types of traditional and popular music, classical composition is decisively shaped by European technique. After graduating from national schools, many composers enroll in universities or conservatories in Europe and America. They thus become capable of mastering Western composition techniques which are visibly the basis of most of their works. A number of African artists and composers choose to explore the world of scholarly music by composing works with complex orchestrations and drawing on an African or European repertoire or fusing multiple musical genres. In the preface to his book Modern African Music (1993), the composer Akin Euba proposes a summary division of African art music into four categories. The first includes music entirely based on Western models in which the composer does not consciously introduce African elements. The second concerns music that draws its thematic material from African sources, even if Western in language and instrumentation. The third includes music in which African elements are an integral part of the compositional language (use of African instruments, lyrics, stylistic concepts or other) but which also includes non-African ideas. The fourth concerns music whose style derives from traditional African culture, which uses African instruments and in which the composer does not insert Western ideas. Instead, the composer and musicologist Kwabena Nketia not only emphasizes the technical aspects of musical composition, but also the importance of the intercultural approach. How do composers draw inspiration from traditional resources? Some find collaboration with ethnomusicologists, immigrant musicians and virtuosos fruitful, others seek direct contact with the musical traditions of their cultures of origin and still others focus on collecting recordings to study the structure of the music they intend to use.
     Generally the primary identity of African music lies in the rhythmic organization linked to the prosody used in the Aboriginal languages. This results in a close connection between vocal rhythms and musical rhythms. Composer Ephraim Amu was the main proponent of the principle of adapting the melody to the tone of speech.
     The recovery of traditional music in contemporary African art arises from the desire to reaffirm the sense of identity suffocated under colonial rule. It constitutes an important but indirect strategy to ameliorate the effects of European cultural hegemony. The acceptance of Western classical music as a creative resource incorporating African elements is also politically significant. Today it is possible to accept or reject it, unlike the colonial period in which things were done under the dictates of authority. Do we adopt Western musical techniques or not? Nothing stops you from borrowing from other cultures, and all cultures do so. The obligation to have it is very different. The juxtaposition of African and European musical syntax in a way that symbolically restores the integrity of one and undermines the hegemony of the other therefore resonates as a particularly strong political message.



SB with composer Fred Onovwerosuoke


Interview with Fred Onovwerosuoke3 in his home
in St. Louis (USA), on 13 May 2019


 How was your life in Africa?

FO My life in Ghana was normal. Like most children, I went to school, to church on Sundays and to the mosque on Fridays. After school I helped my parents.

SB Did this period influence your compositional style?

FO I sang in choirs very early on. But unlike many children, I also loved traditional rituals. I loved their songs, drums and dances.

SB You have dedicated a lot of energy to the diffusion of African music. In your experience, how is classical music by African composers received in the United States?

FO When I came to America and started an organization to promote African composers. I wasn't received very well. But little by little the new compositions intrigued the public.

SB Your compositions arose from field research on traditional music across Africa. How did you do this research?

FO I have traveled to many countries in Africa. I have friends and collaborators in at least forty countries. I have many colleagues on site with whom I stay in contact to study various types of traditional musical practices.

SB For example, this research determined the composition of 24 Studies in African Rhythms for solo piano. How did you use traditional material in these compositions?

FO For the 24 piano etudes, my goal was simple: replace various drums and other traditional musical instruments with the piano.

SB How does the choice of instrumental composition come about in your works?

FO My strategy is also simple for the arrangements of popular songs: piano accompaniment has replaced several typical African instruments.

SB How do you think classical music composition has evolved in Ghana from the time of Amu and Nketia to the present day?

FO In my opinion, the influence of the Western church has limited the practice of traditional music. So, unfortunately, few compositions take traditional materials and make creative use of them, as Nketia or Amu have done.

SB What prospects do you see for the future of African scholarly music in relation to reclaiming the identity of African societies?

FO I think the influence of the Church will begin to wane and more and more people will want to return to their traditional cultures. Pop music and cinema are at the forefront in this sense: they help young people to re-identify with their traditions.

SB In your opinion, do white musicians who approach works by African composers – as in my case or that of your wife (the American flautist Wendy Hymes) – encounter particular difficulties, or is understanding your works simple? Do Black instrumentalists demonstrate greater innate facility?

FO Mastery requires much study and practice in all musical forms. It does not depend on the race or ethnicity of the performer. Before flutist Wendy Hymes met me, she was like most Western-trained classical musicians: ignorant of African musical traditions. But when he started traveling with me to Africa, his perspective changed completely. Why? Because he dedicated more time to studying and understanding different musical styles and cultures. Peter Henderson and Darryl Hollister are the two greatest pianists I have encountered throughout my studies of African rhythms. Peter is White American and Darryl is Black American. I could also talk about you (Silvia Belfiore, Italian pianist), Rebeca Omordia from the UK and others. Their approach is similar to that of Wendy Hymes, based on diligent and dedicated study. I have often said, in various interviews, that a Nigerian, for example, can be indifferent to the traditional rhythms of Ghana; that a Kenyan has no idea about the traditional Sabar dances of Senegal and Gambia. All musical forms are therefore dependent on diligent study, immersion and practice. There is no relation to the racial or ethnic origin of the performer. My answer is therefore no: my music is no easier for a black musician than for a white musician. My studies (Twenty-Four Studies in African Rhythms) were designed for classical musicians who wish to understand African rhythms.

SB What are your current studies and what are your compositional prospects?

FO Regarding my vision of composition, I always look for new inspirations from my personal experiences and, of course, always from Africa. 





1. Joseph Bologne de Saint-George, better known by the name of "Chevalier de Saint-George", was born in Guadeloupe in 1745 and died in Paris in 1799. A soldier who frequented the abolitionist milieux, Saint-George is, by his own position social, a symbol of the emancipation of slaves of European colonial empires in the second half of the 18th century. Brought to France at a very young age, he will be educated by his adoptive family where he will live as a freed man, as a free black man. Stylistically, he is a very conventional composer of the classical period.

2. On November 22, 2016 we visited Jean Claude N'Guessan, director of the École Nationale de musique (ENM) and the Institut National Supérieur des Arts et de l'Action Culturelle (INSAAC) in Abidjan. In the main music school of the capital of Ivory Coast there is no tradition of written music and the first compositions are from these years. He himself is a composer, but his works are mainly related to the church. He believes that in Africa, English-speaking countries are generally more inclined to write music and compose erudite music. The École Nationale de Musique today aims to promote the study of harmony and composition and to stimulate the composition of music in Côte d'Ivoire, but today there are only a few examples of compositions.

3. Fred Onovwerosuoke was born in 1960 in Ghana to Nigerian parents. Although not musicians, her family listened enthusiastically to music, especially that broadcast on a shortwave radio station that played Gregorian chants, motets by Renaissance composers such as Tallis, Gibbons and Byrd. He was drawn to the children's missionary choir from the start of elementary school.
Study the African music of different ethnic groups by conducting field research and making comparisons with Caribbean and Latin American traditions. He understands that music is truly a universal language, a language whose various dialects should be enjoyed across national, cultural and ethnic boundaries. It is on this premise that his music is based.
Onovwerosuoke now lives in St. Louis, USA, where he works to promote new compositional genres, inspired in particular by American immigrant populations from Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia.
He believes that society can improve by making resources available so that the works of black and other ethnic minority composers are performed regularly in concert halls in America. According to him, the arts and music sector would be enriched and the resulting intercultural appreciation would strengthen coexistence between communities and improve the quality of life. 




SILVIA BELFIORE (, pianist and musicologist, is interested in the most varied forms of expression and artistic collaboration. She graduated from the Conservatory in piano and graduated in Musicology (supervisor A. Clementi). He attended the “Ferienkurse für neue Musik” in Darmstadt in 1986, 1990 and 1992. He participated in various workshops and masterclasses with S. Celibidache, M. Damerini, A. Kontarsky, J. Micault, P. Rattalino, M. Schroeder and R. Szidon. He deals with the most diverse musical fields, always looking for innovative, unusual and captivating forms of expression.
He maintains a busy performing and recording schedule. He has held more than 550 concerts as a soloist and in chamber ensembles in Brazil, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, India, Italy, Kenya, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania , Spain, South Africa, Switzerland, Tanzania, Togo, Hungary, USA, Vietnam. He has recorded for radio and television stations in Moldova, Brazil, Germany (Southwestfunk of Freiburg), Radio RAI3 Italiana (live recording of the concert at the Quirinale on 24.5.2009 with music by John Cage for piano and percussion). She has performed world premieres by various composers and many composers have dedicated their works to her.
His discography is varied and spans different genres and periods of music. He has recorded 23 CDs for solo piano and in chamber ensembles with classical and contemporary repertoire, including: 1991, music by Feldman (viola: M. Barbetti) Music Worx / 1996, music by Perosi, Petrassi, Respighi (violin: D. Scalabrin ) – VideoRadio “… beautiful performance of my work, which I particularly appreciated for the incisiveness of the performance and the correct understanding of the music. … ” – Goffredo Petrassi – 9 VII 1996 / 2016-2019, 7 CDs “Suoni e …” complete piano works by Federico Gozzelino –HIT-CL / “Contemporary Piano Works” music by Brizzi, Cisternino, Flammer, Radulescu and Scelsi, Da Vinci Classic / “Yokuwela: Contemporary Piano Music from the African Continent”, music by Uzoigwe, Sadoh, Grové, Yifrashewa, Blake, Onovwerosuoke.
For years she has been involved in the technical and operational organization of musical activities: from 1998 to 2015 she was artistic director of "Omaggio a...", International Contemporary Music Festival of Acqui Terme (AL). He teaches at the Cagliari Conservatory.  


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