William Chapman Nyaho

Asa: Piano Music by Composers of African Descent

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This release by American pianist William Chapman Nyaho, who is of Ghanaian background, collects music by black composers in a way that has rarely if ever been done before, and it's highly recommended to anyone interested in the intersection of African music with European concert forms. The program is unusual and instructive in two ways. First, it's cross-generational. Much of the music is by contemporary composers, but there are also a few classics of the genre like Florence Price's Dances in the Canebrakes. Nyaho brings out the continuities between the generations, with the basic impulse toward drawing on African-based rhythmic materials intact even as the younger composers add contemporary techniques. The program also includes more non-American than American pieces, and here, too, Nyaho makes a powerful case for the African diaspora as a musical unity. The older pieces are especially interesting in this regard. "Pomme Cannelle" (Cinnamon Apple) from Guadeloupean composer Alain-Pierre Pradel's Sept Pièces Créoles, could have passed for a piece of American ragtime. Much of the music has never been recorded before, and several of the African pieces are real finds. Sample especially South African composer Bongani Ndodana's Flowers in Sand, with its delicate impressionist portraiture superimposed on rhythms on the Venda culture. The music isn't particularly virtuosic for the most part, but Nyaho's way of finding the threads that connect it all is a kind of virtuosity in itself. Worthwhile for anyone who enjoys Joplin's classic ragtime or William Grant Still, and a major find for students of the way African musical ideas have been diffused around the world.

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