Composers under the Tree of God

African Art Music in Ghana - Chor- und Instrumentalmusik aus Ghana 1994

Composers under the Tree of God
(Art – Music in Ghana)

A film by Hanne Kaisik Aumüller and Uli Aumüller

Documentary for Bavarian TV 1995
Camera: Toni Sulzbeck/ Sound: Marc Parisotto/ Film Editor: Miroslaw Perna
PAL Beta SP 4:3, 52 min., Stereo

For a long time a preconceived notion existed that African people do nothing but play drums and dance. This film speaks out against this prejudice. Not only are there different forms of popular and ethnological music in Africa, numerous African composers of serious music also work on an alternative to European classical music. Music that has never been heard of in Europe. Up till now!

Africa’s Johann Sebastian Bach is the Ghanaian composer Dr. Ephrahim Amu, who died in January 1995 at the age of 96. Although this news wasn't worth a single line in European media, it was a serious loss for Africa. In the early thirties, Dr. Ephrahim Amu became the first African composer whose written compositions were performed in public. It was the first time an African composer connected classical European music with African texts and traditions.

Amu was not alone, however. His pupils and the pupils of his pupils continue his work. When Hanne Kaisik and Uli Aumüller started to trace the life of Dr. Amu, they discovered an extremely rich and diversely developed musical culture, the very existence of which has been thoroughly ignored in Europe.

Ghana, for example, has two different symphony orchestras, a classical European one, and one which is made up of African instruments. The repertoire of these orchestras includes not only Haydn and Mozart, but also the works of contemporary African composers. Alongside chamber music (for European, African and mixed ensembles), there is an emphasis on choral music, because nowhere in the world are there so many choirs as in Africa. (Over 1000 in Accra alone!)

The film "Composers under the Tree of God" not only introduces a number of contemporary Ghanaian composers and excerpts from there works, but also examines the history of African classical music and the latest developments in present-day aesthetic debate. First and foremost, Africa is trying to break away from European models and to find its own way, an African way of identity and self-confidence. The film also examines the social conditions under which music is composed and instruments are played in Africa.

-The National Symphony Orchestra of Ghana plays the Accra Symphony by Nicholas Zinzendorf Najo under their chief conductor, Kwasi Adounun.

-The Pan African Orchestra (a symphony orchestra with exclusively African instruments) performs the New Africa Symphony, composed and conducted by its founder, Nana Dansu Abiam.

- The Ghanaian pianist Vincent Richter interprets the Volta Fantasy by music ethnologist Prof. Kwabena Nketia (a close friend of the Munich composer Carl Orff).

-The Nima Presbyterian Church Choir sings one of the four-part choral compositions by the legendary Dr. Ephrahim Amu.

-The Adyemma Choral Group sings one of the more than 1000 choir songs composed by one of the most prolific Ghanaian church composers, Rev. Br. Pius Agyemang.

- The ensemble of the jazz guitar player and musician at the Royal Court of Ashanti, Ko Nimo, plays one of his bebop songs in which re-imported American jazz and African tradition artistically overlap.

Further informations (in german):
Radioprogram 45 mins. Mp3

Cast & Crew

Hanne Kaisik
Uli Aumüller