African art songs in Nairobi: investigating musical idiomatic expressions in performance practice
Makobi, Sylvester Matete
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The purpose of this project was to investigate musical idiomatic expressions in the performance of African art songs in Nairobi. The interest of the study came up after a voice recital was presented, and a variety of African and Western art songs were performed, but there was no clear distinction between the performance of the African and Western art songs. A cross section of the audience was in essence left wondering what could then define performance practice of an African art song. The study was guided by the following questions: (i) What are the characteristics of African art songs? (ii) How does the piano part enhance African musical idiomatic expressions in African art songs? And (iii) What is the performance practice of African art songs? “The African Pianism Theory” by Akin Euba and “The Theory of Musical Competence and Interaction” by Benjamin Brinner guided the study. The study was based on qualitative research method. Interviews and questionnaires were used to collect primary data from classical singers from Nairobi, composers of African art music, music heads and classical music educators. Secondary data was collected from library research and through content analysis of the selected African art songs performed during the recital, guided by an analysis schedule. The sampling methods used include purposive sampling and snowball sampling. The purposive sampling method was used for sampling the music heads. After getting interviews with the music heads, the snowball sampling technique was used in the rest of the study. The responses from the questionnaires and interviews were coded and analysed for detection of similarities and differences. The data was organized in line with research objectives. The study found out that the African art song is a growing genre and is approached from different angles. Some composers and singers lean more towards Western classical music; others lean towards African traditional music while others are in between. However, the African idiomatic expressions connected to African music include; the use of African languages or influences of African languages to the language used, use of African rhythms or rhythmic character, the simulation of African instruments, the use of performance practice borrowed from African traditional music such as costume and dance, dialogue between the piano and voice for instance by the use of solo/ call and response, repetition of phrases and verses, the use of African melodies and harmony through direct borrowing or adaptation and arrangement of folk songs or the use of African scales. The findings of this study are useful to music scholars, music curriculum planners, vocal pedagogy teachers, voice teachers, vocal coaches and classical singers. Some of the recommendations of the include; first, creation of more workshops and lecture recitals for African art song composers to share ideas on how to unify the genre and for students and the public to get more acquainted to the genre. Second, documentation and more publishing of African art songs. Finally, further investigation on how the intricate rhythms of African art songs are transcribed, such as ululations, yodelling and chants.
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