To be a worldwide beacon for the development, promotion and research of West African music and performing arts, providing first-class tuition in classical, modern and indigenous music and performing arts for the people of Sierra Leone.
We exist to provide a center for music and arts education and entertainment of indigenous and international content through practice, training and research to people in Sierra Leone, thereby providing a platform for nurturing talent to be internationally recognized.
History of the Academy
The Ballanta Academy of Music bears the name of Sierra Leone’s greatest musical theorist and aesthetician, N.G.J Ballanta, who composed, conducted, performed and thought deeply about the character and nature of music, particularly African music. No introduction of the Academy would be complete without an understanding of who was Prof. Ballanta as he was affectionately called and a description of his work and contribution to music scholarship.
Nicholas G. J. Ballanta (1893–1962)
Sometime In 1914 a 21 year old Sierra Leonean called Nicholas G.J. Ballanta was serving as a Customs officer in the Gambia. He noticed that a flautist of the Bambara tribe produced a tone in his instrument which was midway between B natural and B flat. As was his practice, Ballanta travelled with his small harmonium but try as he may he could not reproduce that sound on what was essentially a western musical instrument.
He was intrigued by this phenomenon and it exercised his mind for some time. On his return to Sierra Leone a year later, he happened to spend some time in Bo. There he noticed that the songs of the Mende tribe had the same melodic and harmonic use of intervals that he had noticed in the Gambia.
These two experiences, together with some other minor factors led him to conclude that African music must be different to European music and therefore must be governed by a different set of laws and principles which he felt he had to unravel. He then started his research by collecting as many African folksongs as he could, analyzing them according to western principles which were the only tools known to him; and that got him nowhere. After a few years of fruitless work, he finally decided that his only hope of achieving his objective was to go to the United States of America where he thought some principles might have been developed with regard to the Negro Spirituals, which in turn might shed some light on this problem.
He was able to do so with the help of Mrs. Adelaide Caseley Hayford a Sierra Leonean patron of the arts. And so he arrived in the United States in July 1921.
On his arrival, Ballanta was disappointed to find that ‘’Musicians in America were then wondering what really was the origin of the Negro Spiritual; they were asking themselves the question how it should be harmonized; and that tone which gave him trouble in the Gambia was very much in evidence as being one of the most disturbing facts which needed correlation…’’ Despite his disappointment he was nevertheless encouraged by the presence of that elusive tone which had earlier bothered him.
Ballanta persevered with his investigations and was given a scholarship to study composition. Eminent musical scholars of his time that he came into contact with recommended that he should undertake a year of research work in the music of the people of the different provinces of Africa and that before returning to Africa he should visit the “black belts” of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina where he would be able to secure first-hand knowledge of the music apparently so natural to the Negro population of the Southern States. He carried out his field work at Penn School in South Carolina and was able to publish a collection of 103 Negro Spirituals in versions not hitherto published,
In 1924, Ballanta graduated at the Institute of Musical Art and with the assistance of Mr. Peabody, an American patron of the arts and Ballanta’s benefactor he 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. He also visited Germany working with Dr. Erich von Hornbostel or Berlin University. Were he studied in great detail the scientific relations of tones, which enabled him to understand “those extraneous tones” which had hitherto bothered him. He received a Fellowship and this assistance continued until 1929.
According to Ballanta, he was mostly engaged in analysing his collection of rhythms, songs etc. between the years of 1930 and 1934 in order to find some explanation regarding the various differences which existed between African and European music so that he could come to some definite conclusion about the nature of African music. He further toured Nigeria in 1932 to study the music of the Efiks, Ibos and other tribes of the Cross River and in the Niger Delta. On this occasion he also made a study of the people of 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.
The volumes were:
The Aesthetics of African Music, in 1934. Unpublished treatise.
The Philosophy of African Music. Lost treatise; probably written after 1934. Unfortunately this work is not traceable.
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.
He also wrote the following three operas:
Afiwa. First performed in Freetown in 1936. Has recently been performed in America
Boima. Performed in Freetown in 1938. Unpublished.
Efua. Performed in Freetown in 1938. Unpublished.
Fortunately, Professor Ballanta bequeathed his own collection of his surviving works to a former younger colleague the late Logie Wright who knew their worth and treasured them, hoping to get them published. These two volumes, together with his operas rank him together with other eminent African musicologists like Ghana’s Kwabena Nketia and Nigeria’s Fela Sowande, Akin Euba, Anthony King and Ayo Bankole. Sierra Leone’s the late Prof Eldred Jones refers to him as a genius.
Ballanta Academy Of Music
Unfortunately, it was only after Logie Wright had retired from formal teaching that he had time to take a close look at the composer’s work. These studies gave rise to a talk presented in Freetown in November 1994 by him, Sierra Leone’s foremost contemporary musicologist. Out of that talk grew the idea of a musical institution named after Ballanta.
A group was formed in February 1995, which set for itself the task of working toward the founding of an academy of music. Following representations made to various officials including the Head of State, 27 Liverpool Street a property belonging to the Freetown City Council was offered to the group on very reasonable lease conditions.
And so Ballanta Academy of Music was incorporated in 1995 as a Company Limited by Guarantee with the initial founders being two visionary professional musicians who had been Heads of the Music department at Milton Margai Teachers College and subsequently became the first two Principals of the Academy, an excellent team of twelve other founders, including a surgeon, a high court judge, consultant engineers, retired teachers, economists, educationists and writers all bound together by their love of music and the arts.
We prepare students for the practical music examinations of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) and the Music Teachers Board (MTB) in the UK. These are taken online. Students of keyboard are also taught how to play in contemporary style. They become members of One Sound Band, the students’ band.
Students of brass become members of Junior Brass. Students of voice become members of the Ballanta Music Makers and/or the Ballanta Gospel Band
OUR SUCCESS STORIES
Success stories: We’ve had students who have gone abroad to study, who have done very well. Pearlmira Kwesi-John studied voice in the Netherlands at the Utrecht Conservatory. She has a Master’s and is in the UK with her husband Derek Vincent who is also a product of BAM. There’s Raymond Okeke Macauley also a student at Utrecht, and now married and working in the US. There’s Bonnie Johnson-Williams also now in the US working as a music teacher with his family.
In country, there are singers Esther Michaels (Estar Mykels) and Jane Peters; both started their own musical enterprise, the former with Music for Girls Initiative, and the latter with her own entertainment company. There is also Christian George who is an accountant by profession, was a student at BAM, started his own musical enterprise the Music Room, importing some musical instruments, and has his own band, organizes concerts and performs under the Music and Music Entertainment name. There is also Dr. Joseryl Beckley, an opera singer who has her own Ryl Entertainment and Rozinka School of Performing Arts. Dr. Beckley did her undergraduate studies at Cottey College, USA. She’s an authority on Ballanta the musicologist and composer. Showers Jalloh is a musician living in the UK. He was a student at BAM too.