Fela Sowande

Fela Sowande at concert
Organist Fela Sowande at Dark Sophistication comic dance at Night Club, London. Source: Getty Images. Audio below is an orchestra’s rendition of Sowande’s Oyigiyigi.

Fela Sowande was a Nigerian music composer of international renown, born 1905 in Oyo. His early musical training was from his father, Emmanuel Sowande and a veteran composer, Thomas Ekundayo Phillips. Sowande went to London to study civil engineering, but he was soon supporting himself as a jazz musician. He founded a jazz septet, comprised principally of musicians from the Caribbean, and decided to study music. As an external candidate in the University of London, he studied organ and composition. He moved back to Nigeria in 1953 to become Head of Music and Music Research of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. He also worked at the Universities of Ibadan and Nsukka



Finally in the 1968, he emigrated to the United States where he spent the last twenty years of his life as an African musicologist teaching at various institutions such as Howard University, and the University of Pittsburgh. Throughout his career Sowande accumulated an impressive array of honors in recognition of his contributions to music. He died in nursing home in Ravenna, Ohio in 1987 and had his old wish granted as his Bury me eas’ or wes’ was performed at his memorial service. Sowande is most famous for his great organ compositions–Jesu Olugbala, Oyigiyigi, Gloria, Kyrie, Prayer, Yoruba Lament, and Obangiji, which Soyinka confesses in his memoir to have almost driven him to tears at the moment he stepped forward to receive the Nobel prize in 1986.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer