Sondheim’s vamps and Africanist musical practice

Masi Asare*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article attends to what emerges as, however unlikely, Africanist musical practice in the work of Stephen Sondheim. My analysis considers Sondheim’s use of instrumental vamps as the threshold of song, the articulation of character and the means to dramaturgies of transformation and mood. I hear Sondheim’s vamps as Africanist musical practice, resonating with the African pianism articulated by Akin Euba and J. H. Kwabena Nketia, the appropriated structures of Ghanaian drumming in works by Steve Reich, and the function of African American gospel vamps theorized by musicologist and theologian Braxton D. Shelley. I linger with moments from recent Broadway revivals of Company and Into the Woods, and with feedback I received from Sondheim on my own work as a composer/lyricist and musical dramatist creating songs for West African characters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)157-165
Number of pages9
JournalStudies in Musical Theatre
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2023


  • African pianism
  • Into the Woods
  • J. H. Kwabena Nketia
  • minimalism
  • Stephen Sondheim
  • Steve Reich
  • vamp

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Music
  • Literature and Literary Theory


Dive into the research topics of 'Sondheim’s vamps and Africanist musical practice'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this