David Fanshawe (1942-2010)

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British composer best known for African Sanctus dies aged 68

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David Fanshawe was a composer who trod a unique and highly distinctive path. As an explorer and ethnomusicologist, he travelled the globe, visiting tribes in often remote areas and recording hour upon hour of their indigenous music.

His findings directly influenced his compositions, such as Salaams (1970), a work for singers, piano, tape and drums that is based on the rhythms of the chants of Bahrain pearl divers and Pacific Song (2007) for chorus, flute and percussion, that was inspired by the music of Tonga.

Fanshawe’s most famous work by far was the African Sanctus that resulted from his explorations down the Nile from 1969 to ’73.

A setting of the Latin mass that is scored for large chorus, assorted instruments and a percussion section that includes bongos, congas, a tam tam and a tom tom, African Sanctus has enjoyed thousands of performances worldwide.

Also a respected composer of film and TV scores, Fanshawe’s explorations in Africa were often undertaken at no little personal risk – he would go on to tell of threats from government henchmen, plus very close encounters with a hippo and a black mamba during the course of his work.

Despite those dangers, he went on to amass a collection that consists of thousands of photos and over 2,000 hours of recorded music.

Jeremy Pound

Image: Fanshawe