Akin Euba — Andrew W. Mellon professor emeritus in the Department of Music (1993-2011) and an influential teacher of intercultural and creative ethnomusicology courses — died April 14, 2020.
“Akin Euba was a big reason why I decided to come to Pitt as a grad student, for his understanding of composition and African music,” said Philip Thompson, the department’s concerts and communications coordinator, who first joined the department as a graduate student in composition and theory in 1996.
After taking Euba’s creative ethnomusicology course, “it’s not a stretch to call that a life-changing experience,” Thompson recalled. Euba’s teaching “broadened my mind in ways I’m still working at years later … It had a huge impact on how I think about music creatively and intellectually.
“The thing that was most influential was the way he encouraged us to explore freely regardless of our own usual cultural backgrounds,” Thompson added. “He wanted us to explore unusual cultures that we were unfamiliar with and incorporate it into our own work.” As an African scholar and artist, knowledgeable about African and European traditions, Euba “had this understanding that empires come and go, and you don’t let the empires define what you’re expressing. He just had this understanding: Culture is diverse and fluid.”
At Pitt, Euba also taught Music in Africa, Field and Lab Methods and World Music. As a memorial posted on the department’s website notes: “He was a leading composer of African Art Music and composed for a variety of mediums from solo piano to opera.” He was also “well known for his pioneering theory of African Pianism,” which uses the piano to translate African music for a worldwide audience.
The Guardian of Nigeria said that Euba was born in Lagos on April 28, 1935, and attended the Trinity College of Music, London, receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UCLA and a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from the University of Ghana. He received a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in 1962.
Euba’s career had impact across the globe, from starting a department of music at the University of Ife in Nigeria to serving as a research scholar and artist in residence at IWALEWA House, the African studies center of the University of Bayreuth in Germany (1986-1992).
He was also the founder and director of the Centre for Intercultural Music Arts in London (1989) and director emeritus of the Centre for Intercultural Musicology at Churchill College, University of Cambridge.
After Euba had a stroke about a decade ago, Thompson recalled his continued vitality: “I remember from that time his tenacity,” as Thompson was recruited to aid Euba in organizing and running the International Conference on Musical Intersections in Practice at Cambridge soon after. “He was determined to accomplish everything that needed to be accomplished. That was very inspirational to me.”
Department chair Mathew Rosenblum remembered Euba as “a huge mentor to students,” as Euba and other faculty drew students to Pitt from Africa for study. “He was very warm and very energetic. He always had a smile – he would always bring a lot of positive energy to the room, wherever he was…. His legacy lives on through many students throughout the world.”
— Marty Levine