BALLANTA ACADEMY OF MUSIC
Mr. NICHOLAS BALLANTA.....
Ballanta was known as Nicholas George Julius Taylor before he went to the USA. He was born on the 14th of March 1893 in Kissy in Freetown. He went to the Kissy Mission and Cathedral Primary School after which he went to the CMS Grammar School. There he won the Mathematics prize, and became Head Boy in 1911. He taught himself the rudiments of music submitting exercises and compositions In 1924, Ballanta graduated at the Institute of Musical Art and with the assistance of
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Mr. Peabody, toured West Africa till early in 1926 when he returned to America to submit his report. During his tour he visited the Gambia, Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast, Nigeria, French and Portuguese Guinea and Liberia. (“Shine Like de Mornin’ Star” by Logie E. Wright)
In the following years he continued his research into the real nature of African music. He spent some time in Nigeria in 1932 studying the music of the Efiks, Ibos and other tribes of the Cross River and Niger Delta. He even went to Dahomey and Togo.
After studying the numerous items in his collection, Ballanta finally produced his results in two volumes in which he explained the principles which underlie the music of most of the tribes in the West Coast of Africa, with the exception of French Sudan. Among his observations, Ballanta states that in comparing his studies of the West African collection with the music of East Africa, he found very few differences since rhythmic association, tone association and the form of expression were always the same. (“Shine Like de Mornin’ Star” by Logie E. Wright)
He produced two volumes, the Aesthetics of African Music and The Philosophy of African Music which is unfortunately untraceable.
But for Ballanta, working in the first and second decades of this century, it could be truly said that he was indeed treading a lonely path. His emphasis on extensive field research, quite uncommon among African musicians during that period, is significant in the history of African musicology as indeed are some of his observations on form and structure which anticipate statements on similar themes by other writers many years later. It was unfortunate that he lacked the financial capability to publish his works after they were completed.
Ballanta spent many years studying the hundreds of musical examples collected during his visits to the United States of America and countries in the West African sub-region. Then with the help of his knowledge of Western music, buttressed by his study of tonal relationships with professor Erich Hornbostel of the University of Berlin he analysed his material, formulated laws and principles upon which African Music is based. In so doing he has helped, in no small measure to build up a body of knowledge about African music on which musicians and music scholars can draw. He has thus made a valuable contribution to our understanding of our African heritage. Further he made use of the very principles which he formulated in the works composed after his long period of research. There are in these works, not only an extremely imaginative use of rhythmic patterns which could so easily get out of hand and become monotonous in the hands of an unskilled musician, but also an exhilarating freshness resulting from his harmonies which are quite often unexpected.
(“Shine Like de Mornin’ Star” by Logie E. Wright)
Ballanta wrote three operas Afiwa, Efua and Boima. Only the manuscript of Afiwa is extant.