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Sowande, Olufela (Fela) Obafunmilayo (1905-1987)

Musician, composer, professor, and conductor Fela Sowande was born May 1905 in Abeokuta, Nigeria.   He was the son of Emmanuel Sowande, who was an Anglican priest and influential in the development of Nigerian sacred music.  Fela Sowande was a musician and composer of music in the classical European style.

Sowande studied at CMS Grammar School and King’s College, Lagos and received his Fellowship Diploma (FRCO) from the Royal College of Organists in Lagos.  He also worked as a band leader and was heavily influenced by jazz and popular music as well as the church music of his father and mentor.  After moving to London, UK in 1934, Sowande received his Bachelor of Music degree from the University of London and became a Fellow of Trinity College of Music.

In Britain, Sowande worked as a church organist, a theatre organist, a dance pianist, bandleader, and choirmaster. His organ music compositions were based on Nigerian melodies which had great resonance with the growing population of African and Caribbean immigrants to Great Britain.

Sowande was a highly prolific composer in a variety of genres: organ, choral, solo, and orchestral works as well as an author of four books. He composed music for the British Ministry of Information during World War II. After the War he worked for the BBC Africa Service and then in 1953 moved back to Nigeria to work for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation.

Sowande’s academic record was as geographically wide-ranging as his research interests in African music. He received a United States State Department Leaders and Specialists grant which afforded him the opportunity in 1957 to present organ recitals in New York, Boston, Massachusetts, and Chicago, Illinois, and to lecture on his research.  The Rockefeller Foundation later sponsored his work in New York.  He was a visiting scholar at Northwestern University’s anthropology department for the academic year 1961-1962 and he later studied composition at Princeton University.  Sowande received a grant from the Ford Foundation

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