Categories: Entertainment

Becoming one with Africa

The St. Albert Youth Musical Association’s four choirs are out to freshen things up with Journey Through Africa: We Are One.

It can be tough to deliver bona fide African music if it’s not your ethnic background. But this uplifting congress of 70-odd children and youth from three to 18 is loaded with dynamic vocal interplay, authentic folk dances and stories.

“We even have costumes with fabric bought at a Kenyan market. One of the sisters of our choir members was in Africa and she phoned to ask if we wanted fabric. She hauled several bolts back with these bright patterns. We made wrap-around skirts, dashikis (men’s loose-fitting shirts with a v-neck), and castans (long flowing dresses),” said music director Criselda Mierau.

The concert is slated for Saturday, May 3 at St. Albert United Church.

Mierau is also excited to announce that Nathan Ouellete of Brandenburg Music, a world traveller and collector of instruments, will loan numerous African instruments for the concert such as the djembe and talking drum.

“He’s already worked with the kids at a workshop and we’re setting up a percussion area on stage where our own kids go and take a turn playing,” Mierau explained.

Inspiration for this concert surfaced after several parents and staff reminisced about a similar African-styled concert hosted at North Pointe Church about a dozen years ago.

Mierau spent the first three and one-half years of her life in Nigeria after her father, Dr. Eric Mierau, a scholar with a Ph.D. in linguistics was posted to Africa to write down a previously unwritten language.

“I have very few memories. I was so young. But I have pictures and I’ve heard the stories, and I feel I have a connection.”

She still fosters a pride in the music and acknowledges the admiration it illicits from other cultural backgrounds.

African music is generally formed through call and response or split into verses. For Mierau, much of the music’s beauty lies in the multiple harmonies all vying for the listeners’ attention.

Most of the concert repertoire – about 20 songs – stem from an authentic South African collection with a mix of Nigerian and Kenyan tunes.

“We chose stuff that kids could sink their teeth into it and could makes sense of it easily and quickly.”

The Youth Choir sings South African’s national anthem, N’Kosi Sikelel’ I Afrika (Lord Bless Africa). Not only is the five-minute number sung in Swahili, but the youth choir is also employing the use of authentic clicks traditionally made with different parts of the mouth.

“It’s a gorgeous, stunning thing. It has harmonies that speak to the soul and the way the phrases are shaped speak to the soul. It is a plea for blessings and the pathos of this national song cries out more than the hymn of our national anthem.”

The Grade 3-5 Children’s Choir sings Firefly and use flashlights to simulate the winged creatures.

“We wanted to touch on nature. The kids become fireflies and they love it.”

The younger Kindergarten to Grade 2 St. Albert Little Singers tackle The Lion King hit I Just Can’t Wait to Be King and the preschool St. Albert Mini Singers chant the Jambo Rafiki (Hello, My Friend).

Two of the most Afrocentric pieces are Siyahamba (We Are Marching in the Light of God), a popular freedom song and the upbeat, energized Wakati Wa Amani (A Time of Peace).

The older youth choir has also rehearsed a percussive Gumboot Dance, originally a series of stomping black miners used to communicate with each other. When authorities restricted drumming, miners created gumboot dancing as an alternative to circulate messages they did not want supervisors to understand.

Relaying the great African cultural traditions would be incomplete without a series of folk tales, many which provide life lessons.

“My hope is that people will come away realizing that while Africa is a large place, it is not that distant. The big take-away is that people are not so different. We express ourselves differently, but ultimately we’re the same.”


Journey Through Africa: We Are One
St. Albert Youth Musical Association
Saturday, May 3 at 3 p.m.
St. Albert United Church
20 Green Grove Dr.
Tickets: $12. Call 780-418-4184

Anna Borowiecki: Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.