Director of the African Music Ensemble
Music Building, 123
Sowah Mensah is an ethnomusicologist, composer and a “Master Drummer” from Ghana, West Africa. Sowah has taught music in both Ghana and Nigeria and is currently a music professor at both Macalester College, and the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN where he also directs each school’s African Music Ensemble. In addition, he is currently a James Marsh Professor-at-Large at the University of Vermont in Burlington, VT and directs the African Music Ensemble at the University of Minnesota. Sowah is the director of Sankofa, a Ghanaian Folklore and Dance Ensemble in the Twin Cities and a member of Speaking in Tongues, a four-piece group based out of the Twin Cities that uses two percussionists, a bassist and a Chinese pipa player.
Sowah enjoys an active performance career. In 2003 Sowah toured Beijing, China with the Kenmore Wind Ensemble from Kenmore, WA to perform his composition “Nyamo” for Band and African Ensemble where they performed at the prestigious Tsinghua University. Sowah was then invited back in 2004 to conduct a series of workshops for high school music teachers and students. In 2000 he made his Carnegie Hall, New York debut as a soloist in David Fanshaw’s African Sanctus.
He has performed extensively in the United States, the Latin Americas, and in Africa, where he performed with the Ghana National Symphony Orchestra. In the United States, he has performed with notables such as Max Roach, Don Cherry, Roscoe Mitchell, and Julius Hemphill. He has also performed with the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra, Chanticleer, Minnesota Center Chorale, St. Paul Civic Symphony, Minnesota Sinfonia, Duluth Superior Symphony, Minnetonka Symphony Orchestra, Abendmusik: the Lincoln Chorus of Nebraska, and the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, Florida, as well as many folk festivals in the US. In addition, Sowah presents clinics, lectures, workshops, and residencies at many colleges, elementary and secondary schools, churches, and music organizations all over the United States.
Sowah is also an accomplished composer. In 2004, Sowah re-arranged “Sii Sii Sii” for Chorus and African Drums for the Central Middle School in Cape Girardeau, MO. The piece was first commissioned for Band and Chorus and it was premiered by Oak Park Elementary School, Stillwater, MN in 2004. “Asomdwee” written for SATB was completed in October 2003 and premiered by World Voices in December 2003 at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. In February 2003, Sowah completed “Agoo” for full Orchestra and Speaking In Tongues. This work was commissioned through the Ethnic Concerto Program of the organization International Friendship Through the Performing Arts and premiered by the St. Paul Civic Symphony and Speaking In Tongues at the St. Paul Landmark Center in 2004. “Bronya A Ba” (Christmas Is Here) for SATB and African Drums was commissioned by The University of St. Thomas Liturgical Choir directed by Rob Strusinski. It was premiered on December 5, 2002 at the UST Chapel in St. Paul, MN. “Kunkum” for band and African Ensemble was commissioned by the Webster Magnet Elementary Honor Band of St. Paul, MN. Conducted by Diane Sollenberger, this composition was premiered on Tuesday May 7th, 2002 at the Central High School Auditorium in St. Paul, MN. In October 2001 Sowah completed “Nyamo” (Celebration for Symphonic Band, Chorus and African Ensemble). The Symphonic Band and Symphonic Choir of Kenmore Jr. High School, WA commissioned this work, which was premiered at the Washington State M.E.N.C. in Yakima, WA in 2002. It was also performed at the National M.E.N.C. convention in Nashville, TN in 2002. Sowah’s third solo album, Sii Sii Sii, was released in March 2007.