New York city is the place to be if you are interested in African music! Since Friday night I have been immersed in African music. At Symphony Space, the Soweto Gospel choir’s rich voices brought forth the joy and humor which is so typical of the way the black South Africans celebrate their religion. The Soweto Gospel choir is a highly regarded, world known choir of 24 singers who are quite skilled at delivering a superb performance with a polished choreography. Forget the western idea of a choir singing with the singers standing stiffly in rows, men behind and women in the forefront. For sure that is how they started but quickly they broke the formation! Dressed in bright, colorful flowery gowns the female singers interacted playfully with their male counterparts dancing and swinging to the sounds of the drums and voices. I was sitting in the back nursing a bad toothache and feeling a bit out of it. That soon changed! Little did I know that I was sitting amidst a whole group of South Africans who sang along under their breadth or loudly; others added a piercing and shrill accompanying cry which I have heard many times in Africa. I have to confess that at first I was slightly disturbed by this, wanting to focus solely on the performers and expecting the audience to be passive. But I was saved by the sneaky thought that I was being a bit stuck up. In no time I was into it and loving this interaction and enthusiasm. It added a note of spontaneity to a performance that was perfectly orchestrated.
The following night, Uganda was front stage at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Spirit of Uganda, a group of young drummers, singers, and dancers from Uganda – the youngest was eleven and the oldest in the mid-twenties – has been on a long tour through the USA bringing along a flavor of the culture, traditions, and sounds of Uganda. They were outstanding! Uganda’s population has been ravaged by war and AIDS and these children have all suffered personally from both. Spirit of Uganda is an Empower Africa Children’s artistic initiative aiming to raise public awareness for the children’s plight in Uganda. The main goal of this initiative is to help vulnerable children in Africa and in particular Uganda where there are over 2 million orphans. All participants are from Uganda. Peter Kasule, the artistic director, was raised in an orphanage in Uganda and educated in the US in music technology. A charismatic and lively maestro during the performance, he introduced each dance explaining its origin and link to local lore or every day life thereby highlighting the authenticity of the performances. To the beat of the drums played with gusto by athletic young men, the young women and girls wearing lovely bright colored outfits danced skillfully rocking, hopping, swaying, twirling and shaking at times seductively enchanting the audience with their exuberance. I was in total awe when all the women danced carrying a ceramic pot on the head. None fell!