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Ephraim Amu

Ephraim Amu

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As noted by the eminent African scholar J.H. Kwabena Nketia, “there is no single individual who has influenced the course of the development of art music in contemporary Ghana as much as Dr. Ephraim Amu.” (J.H.Kwabena Nketia, “Introduction” in Amu Choral Works, 1993.) Ephraim Amu commands a prided place in the history of his native Ghana as father of Ghanaian art music and as the primary shaper of musical studies there. He was born in Peki Avetile in the Volta region during the colonial period, the son of a traditional drummer and stool carver who converted to Christianity. Amu was raised, then, in a Christian home, lived by Christian ideals, and sang Christian hymns. His faith, and his music training in Western harmony, experienced first in church and then in his studies, were enriching for him. Yet, he also inherited from the colonial church notions about black Africa that were damaging. Indigenous ritual, indigenous music, indigenous dress, indigenous customs—all were identified by European missionaries as pagan, vulgar, and as habits to be suppressed.

In the late 1920’s, Amu began to explore the music of indigenous Africa. He set out at this time to write original “African” songs with uplifting texts, in Twi and Ewe languages, following the tone of the native dialects, and reflecting some of the unique features of African rhythm. Harmonies were still Western. Reception was tremendous. Amu’s biographer, Fred Agyemang refers to Amu as a quiet revolutionary. Through music and the writing of texts that seek to inspire young Africans to take ownership of their gifts and give them boldly, Amu was engaging in subversive acts visa vies the dominant culture of the time. His aim was not political – it was human. Yet, for Africans to respond to his encouragement would necessarily mean a change in society, governance, and power. Ghana was the first Sub-Saharan African country to gain independence in 1957. Amu made his music before, during, and after this pivotal moment.

A complete and critical edition of Amu’s music is well underway and will be available in 2020-2021.