© 2024 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ghanaian-American pianist William Chapman Nyaho brings African music to new ears

Seattle is a city that likes to experiment. From big tech to bold coffee, glass gardens to snow-capped mountains, Seattleites like to think outside the box — heck, even our hot dogs are a little unconventional. Our skyline's defining landmark is designed to look like a flying saucer from outer space.

So it's only natural that this same inventive spirit carries over into our music. From grunge to rock, pop, hip-hop, and the avant-garde, Seattle music has always been defined by open ears and open minds — shaped by a DIY aesthetic and set free to evolve and mutate in relative geographic isolation.

And those sonic experiments have led us to some pretty fascinating places. In this three-part series, Classical KING FM 98.1 explores the work of three artists who embody Seattle classical: the innovative, the unusual, and the unexpected.

You've probably heard the piano music of composers like Beethoven, Mozart, or Chopin — but what about Nkeiru Okoye, Halim El-Dabh, or Kwabena Nketia?

If you're like most classical listeners, you might not be very familiar with classical music from Africa and the African Diaspora. That's something William Chapman Nyaho is working to change. The Seattle-based, Ghanaian-American pianist has spent his career championing the works of lesser-known composers from across the African continent and beyond.

From folk songs and spirituals to cutting-edge new sounds, Dr. Chapman Nyaho brings African music to new ears and also to new fingers through his five-volume anthology of sheet music for intermediate to advanced piano students. (Calling all pianists: be sure to add Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora to your music shelf.)

If you thought classical music was still dominated by old, dead white guys, allow Dr. Chapman Nyaho to broaden your classical library. Here, he takes us behind the scenes of his latest album, Kete. Its title has a dual meaning: "Kete" is an intricate dance from the royal courts of the Akan people — and also the name of a vibrant and beautiful woven fabric of the Ewe people. In this album, he weaves together threads of his own family history with music by composers of African descent, spread out across the entire globe.

Watch more videos featuring Dr. Chapman Nyaho:

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Maggie Molloy