African and Western Aspects of Ballanta’s Opera Afiwa

Modified on Mon, 03 Oct 2022 at 05:29 PM

Beckley, Joseryl Olayinka Lucy. 2016. ‘African and Western Aspects of Ballanta’s Opera Afiwa’. PhD Dissertation, University of British Columbia 

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African and western aspects of Ballanta's opera "Afiwa"Beckley, Joseryl Olayinka Lucy


Nicholas George Julius Ballanta (1893-1962) was a Sierra Leonean composer, ethnomusicologist and scholar. Trained in Western art and church music both in his home country and in the United States, he also conducted many years’ research into tribal music in Africa, and indeed was a pioneer in the study of West African music. His most complete opera is “Afiwa,” which sets the story of a girl who stands up to her father, the king of the Anlo Ewe tribe in Ghana, for atrocities he had committed at her birth. This study identifies what is uniquely African yet also Western about Ballanta’s “Afiwa”. In chapter 1, an introduction to the work is presented, including Ballanta’s biography. In Chapter 2, I determine what Ballanta believed to be characteristic of the African music he studied by examining his writings about rhythm, melody, form, texture and harmony. In Chapter 3, I cite numerous passages from “Afiwa” where these characteristics are found. My conclusion is that Ballanta combined both African and Western musical aspects in this opera. Chapter 4 goes beyond the music to explain, referencing the 2010 Cottey College production, aspects of the libretto, plot and staging that will help any future producers to understand the opera better so as to provide as authentic a production as possible.

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