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July 20, 2010

David Fanshawe - Obituary

Daily Telegraph (UK)

David Fanshawe, who died on July 5 aged 68, was the composer of African Sanctus, an inspirational work that blended the liturgy of the Latin Mass with sounds that he recorded on his travels throughout the continent; since it was first heard in 1972 this thrilling collision of musical cultures has proved to be extraordinarily popular with choral societies and audiences around the world.

African Sanctus had its genesis in a visit to St George's Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem in 1966. There, as the words of the Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy) rang out, Fanshawe also heard the muzzein's call to prayer from the neighbouring mosque, Allah Akhbar (God is great), and was immediately struck by the similarity. It was, he said, "a moving harmonising to God".

While other adventurers returned from distant lands with lion skins or elephant tusks, the trophies from Fanshawe's odysseys were recorded ones: cattle herders singing of their work; women chanting around the water well; the sounds of joy at a tribal wedding or of mourning at a funeral.

In the course of gathering raw material Fanshawe survived a plane crash in Kenya, was saved from a deadly snake by the quick thinking of an eight-year-old boy who speared the reptile and, in Uganda, faced down an angry hippopotamus over whose back he had inadvertently canoed. In Egypt he was arrested as an Israeli spy – only to be freed after his guard, a Coptic Christian, recognised the words of the Mass that Fanshawe was belting out in his cell. On another occasion he was beaten after an ill-advised attempt to record a male circumcision ritual.

Unsurprisingly, there were critics, both of his music and his methods. Cultural imperialism, they cried, drawing parallels with the controversy that surrounded Paul Simon's use of South African singers on the album Graceland. Fanshawe insisted that he always sought permission, donated a percentage of royalties to African causes and, in any case, was preserving for posterity a fast disappearing oral tradition. "It goes beyond money," he argued, pointing to the thousands of original tapes at his home near Marlborough, Wiltshire.

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I had the truly great pleasure of knowing David as we had adjacent booths at an ACDA convention and became quite friendly over the course of the week. He was an amazing man with wonderful tales and I am sadden to hear of his relatively early demise.

Posted by acapnews at July 20, 2010 12:22 PM

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