Fela Sowande

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Olufela (Fela) Obafunmilayo Sowande
File:Fela Sowande.jpg
Born May 1905
Abeokuta, Nigeria
Died 13 March 1987 (1987-03-14) (aged 81)
Ravenna, Ohio, United States
Nationality Nigerian
Occupation Musician and composer

Olufela (Fela) Obafunmilayo Sowande (May 1905 – 13 March 1987) was a Nigerian musician and composer. Considered the father of modern Nigerian art music, Sowande is perhaps the most internationally known African composer of works in the European "classical" idiom.[1]


Sowande was born in Abeokuta, near Lagos, the son of Emmanuel Sowande, a priest and pioneer of Nigerian church music. As a child he sang in the Choir of the Cathedral Church of Christ. He studied at the C.M.S. Grammar School and at King's College, Lagos.[2] The influence of his father and Dr T. K. Ekundayo Phillips (composer, organist and choirmaster) was an important factor in his early years. At that time, Sowande was a chorister and was introduced to new Yoruba works being introduced into the churches. During that period, he studied organ under Phillips (including works by Bach and European classical masters), and earned the Fellowship Diploma (FRCO) from the Royal College of Organists. At that time, he was also a bandleader, playing jazz and popular highlife music. All of these had considerable influence on his work.

In 1934 Sowande went to London to study European classical and popular music. In 1936, he was solo pianist in a performance of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. He also played as duo-pianist with Fats Waller, and was theatre organist for the BBC as organist and Choirmaster at Kingsway Hall (unfortunately recently demolished) London and as pianist in the 1936 production of Blackbirds. In 1939, he played organ in some recordings by Adelaide Hall and Dame Vera Lynn. Later, he studied organ privately under Edmund Rubbra, George Oldroyd, and George Cunningham and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists in 1943, winning the Limpus, Harding and Read Prizes.

He also won several prizes and obtained a Bachelor of Music degree at the University of London and became a Fellow of Trinity College of Music. He also worked as musical advisor for the Colonial Film Unit of the Ministry of Information during the Second World War, providing background music for educational films.

From 1945, he was a renowned organist and choirmaster at the West London Mission of the Methodist Church until 1952, and a considerable amount of organ music dates from this period. These are based on Nigerian melodies that gave a special appeal to the Black members of his congregation in the early years of migration from the African continent and the Caribbean. Also during this time, he became known as a dance pianist, bandleader, and Hammond organist, playing popular tunes of the day.

Western and African ideas prevail in his music which included organ works such as Yorùbá Lament, Obangiji, Kyrie, Gloria, Jesu Olugbala, and Oba Aba Ke Pe. Most of these show a strong influence of Anglican Church music combined with Yoruba pentatonic melodies.

His orchestral works include Six Sketches for Full Orchestra, A Folk Symphony, and African Suite for string orchestra, and show African rhythmic and harmonic characteristics. The final movement of African Suite became known to Canadian audiences as the theme of the popular CBC music program Gilmour's Albums,[3] and is now a Canadian orchestral standard.[4] He also wrote a significant amount of secular and sacred choral music, mainly a cappella. Some of these works were composed during his period with the BBC Africa Service. He went back to Nigeria to scholarly work with the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation and later the University of Ibadan. In 1968 he moved to Howard University in Washington, D.C., then the University of Pittsburgh.

In the last years of his life Sowande taught in the Department of Pan-African Studies at Kent State University, and lived in nearby Ravenna, Ohio with his wife, Eleanor McKinney, who was one of the founders of Pacifica Radio. He died in Ravenna and is buried in Randolph Township, Ohio.

Sowande also held the title "Chief Bariyo of Lagos".

There is currently a move to set up a centre to research and promote his works, as many remain unpublished or are out of print.

some of his works include


  • 1945 – Ka Mura, Chappell, London
  • 1952 – Pastourelle (for organ), Chappell, London
  • 1955 – Jesu Olugbala, Chappell, London
  • 1955 – Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho, Chappell, London
  • 1955 – Kyrie, Chappell, London
  • 1955 – Obangiji, Chappell, London
  • 1955 – Yorùbá Lament, Chappell, London
  • 1958 – Oyigiyigi, Ricordi, New York
  • 1958 – Gloria, Ricordi, New York
  • 1958 – 'Prayer, Ricordi, New York
  • 1959 – Responses in 'A’
  • KÕa Mo Rokoso
  • Oba Aba Ke Pe


  • "The Wedding Day2 for S.S.A. with piano, 1957, RDH
  • "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" for S.A.T.B. a cappella, 1955, Chappell, London
  • "My Way's Cloudy" for S.A.T.B. with piano, 1955, Chappell, London
  • "De Ol' Ark's a-Moverin" for S.A.T.B.B. a cappella with tenor solo, 1955, Chappell, London
  • "Same Train" for S.A.T.B.B. a cappella, 1955, Chappell, London
  • "Roll de Ol' Chariot" for S.A.T.B.B. with piano and rhythm combo, 1955, Chappell, London
  • "All I d"o for S.A.T.B.B. with piano and rhythm combo, 1961, Ricordi, New York
  • "Goin' to Set Down" for S.A.T.B. a cappella with soprano solo, 1961, Ricordi, New York
  • "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray" for S.A.T.B. a cappella with soprano solo, 1958, Ricordi, New York
  • "De Angels Are Watchin'" for S.A.T.B. a cappella with soprano and tenor solo, 1958, Ricordi, New York
  • "Nobody Knows de Trouble I See" for S.A.TB. a cappella, 1958, Ricordi, New York
  • "Wheel, Oh Wheel" for S.A.T.B. a cappella, 1961, Ricordi, New York
  • "Wid a Sword in Ma Hand" for S.A.T.B.B. a cappella, 1958, Ricordi, New York
  • "Sit Down Servant" for T.T.B.B. a cappella and tenor solo, 1961, Ricordi, New York
  • "Out of Zion" for S.A.T.B. with organ, 1955
  • "St. Jude's Response" for S.A.T.B. with organ
  • "Oh Render Thanks" (hymn-anthem) for S.A.T.B. with organ, 1960
  • Nigerian National Anthem (an arrangement) for S.A.T.B. with organ, 1960

Solo songs

  • Three Songs of Contemplation for tenor and piano, 1950, Chappell, London
  • Because of You for voice and piano, 1950, Chappell, London
  • Three Yoruba Songs for voice and piano, 1954, Ibadan


  • Four Sketches for full orchestra, 1953
  • African Suite for string orchestra, 1955, Chappell, London
  • Folk Symphony for full orchestra, 1960


  • (1964). Ifa: Guide, Counsellor, and Friend of Our Forefathers. Ibadan.
  • (1966). The Mind of a Nation: The Yoruba Child. Ibadan: Ibadan University.
  • (1968). Come Now Nigeria, Part 1: Nationalism and essays on relevant subjects. Ibadan: Sketch Pub. Co.; sole distributors: Nigerian Book Suppliers. (All the material presented in this book first appeared in the form of articles in the pages of the Daily Sketch, Ibadan.)
  • (1975). The Africanization of Black Studies. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Institute for African American Affairs. African American Affairs Monograph Series, v. 2, no. 1.


  • (1971). "Black Folklore", Black Lines: A Journal of Black Studies (special issue: Black Folklore), v. 2, no. 1 (Fall 1971), pp. 5–21.


  1. De Lerma, Dominique-Rene. "African Heritage Symphonic Series". Liner note essay. Cedille Records CDR055.
  2. Godwin Simeon Sadoh (May 2004). "THE ORGAN WORKS OF FELA SOWANDE: A NIGERIAN ORGANIST-COMPOSER". p. 29. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Fela Sowande." African Heritage in Classical Music.
  4. "Fela Sowande." PhilPaine.org.

Further reading

External links