His recent credits include the Lingala chant, Bolingo (Ofrenda da Amor) in Robert De Niro’s film, The Good Shepherd (Universal Pictures). Completed and published compositions in 2007 include:
- Landscapes of African: A Tone Poem for solo Alto Flute, Soprano Flute, Piccolo and Orchestra. Commissioned by the Brannen Cooper Brothers Company.
- Tribute to Great African Composers No. 1 for orchestra and SATB Choir. Commissioned for the Ghana National Symphony Orchestra.
- Tribute to Great African Composers No. 2 for orchestra and SATB Choir. Commissioned by Emrt. Prof J. H. Kwabena Nketia.
- Meditation for Darfur for String Orchestra, Harp, Percussion (13 Timpani) and Treble Choir. Commissioned for both the Boys Choir of Kenya and the Winneba Youth Choir of Ghana.
Born 1960 at Secondi-Takoradi in Ghana, Fred Okorefe Kwaku Onovwerosuoke’s musical vocation began early as choir-boy and by 1992 he was performing with the Pieces of Eight, a St. Louis-based a cappella jazz octet in the United States. Although at 7 he and his baby brother Benjamin Otarodafirua Kofi (1962–1974) would invite their friends for weekend soirees of popular radio jingles accompanied on discarded cooking-pots and bamboo whistles, it was not evident to his parents that he had any musical promise. His late father wanted him to be a medical doctor or an engineer, a dream that FredO eventually fulfilled by earning a degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. But it was not entirely his dream, because later "I ended up acquiring a doctorate in interdisciplinary arts and sciences among other things to enable me document my work in the fields of music and multicultural education."
Musical activities have been a mainstay in all his endeavors. At 11 FredO was said to sneak into the local church to practice on the organ, "because we children were bared from fooling around with the instrument." He taught himself to play piano and violin, and paid his way through university giving piano and voice lessons.
He was always fascinated by the music of the Hausas, Foulas and Dagombas he encountered in northwestern Africa, and spent countless hours playing with them — comparing their kora, gonje and kontingu tunes on his violin, or balafon riffs on piano. FredO remains awed by his first encounters with the advanced vocal traditions of the Forest and Sand peoples of central and north-southern African regions of Africa, and remains a loyal student of these cultural practices. The sounds of the agogo bells and isologu thumb pianos he heard among the Urhobos, his father’s people, deeply affected him like the atumpan and dundun talking drums he fell in love with among the Akans and Yorubas.
By 1984 when FredO was invited to conduct the prestigious Terra Choral Group & Chamber Orchestra (then the premier musical organization at the University of Ife, Ile-Ife, Nigeria), he had already distinguished himself as accompanist, choral conductor and shown some promise as a composer. His descants and improvisations to hymn tunes were much sought and favored by his choristers. In the days when orchestra parts were not readily available, FredO would pore through scores to extract parts for his chamber ensemble at Terra. Where he could not afford to photocopy musical pieces that he adored, FredO was said to hand-copy entire works by Palestrina, Bryd, Handel, Bach, Hadyn, Mozart, to mention a few — a practice he’s maintained for, as he puts it, "By hand-copying scores I’m able to invite myself into a composer’s sanctum..." His favorite composers range from Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, Tallis to Korsakov, Barber, Bartók, Ives and Stravinsky.
FredO gratefully acknowledges the mentoring influences of Sam Anyanele (his high school music teacher) and Jim Dowcett (his music theory and 20th Century techniques professor at Principia College). He also maintains that he is a perennial student of the musical exponents and bards with whom he’s enjoyed association in over 30 African countries. "I see hidden across Africa a gold-mine of unlimited musical scales and modes, melodic and harmonic traditions, and, yes, rhythms — abundant yet largely untapped." His devotion to the works of J.H. Kwabena Nketia is now well known. Through it all, FredO maintains that, "my compositions are informed by my travels around the world, and each piece is harnessed and nurtured by an African sensibility that is unmistakable and genuine."
Fred Onovwerosuoke is editor of the Voice of African Music (a quarterly newsletter on African music), a founding trustee of the International Consortium for Music of African & its Diaspora (ICMAD). Onovwerosuoke maintains an active schedule as conductor, lecturer, and presenter of African choral and art music.