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Africa University Choir is a blessing, pastor says

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Photo courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conference

Africa University's choir performs at the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference.

June 21, 2006

A UMNS Feature
By Milse Furtado*

The Africa University Choir’s performance at a local church compelled its pastor to describe the experience as a blessing to the congregation.

“I really enjoyed their presence here. They were a blessing for us. The members are still talking about the spirit they left with us,” said the Rev. Dorothea Stroman, pastor of Clinton (Md.) United Methodist Church.

Since its May 25 arrival in Baltimore, the choir has been touring throughout the Northeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, singing at eight annual conference sessions and in several local churches. It will leave the United States June 28 after a concert in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The Africa University Choir has 50 performances scheduled for its U.S. tour, aimed at promoting the United Methodist-related school and highlighting the denomination’s Africa University Fund.

The choir is touring with 12 voices — seven women and five men, including the director — from six countries: Uganda, Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Angola and Cameroon.

The “Tour in America” tradition began in the ’90s, when the choir performed at General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, to show appreciation for the funds sent to Africa University. Now having the choir sing at each quadrennial General Conference has become a tradition, and this is its eighth visit to the United States.

“It is not an annual tour,” said James Salley, the university’s vice chancellor of institutional development. “If we have an annual conference willing to pick up funds to bring them to United States, they will come.”

Salley described the difficulties the choir encounters along its journey. “Funding is the major difficulty we face; everybody wants the choir, but not everybody is willing to sponsor the costs of the trip and transportation.

“Traveling is also hard for the young people,” he added. “They stay away from home for a long time, but they get used to it.”

The choir has been performing throughout Washington, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and two major concerts are scheduled in the New York area, said Betty Henderson, the 2006 choir tour coordinator.

The choir’s schedule includes stops in several annual conferences: Baltimore-Washington, Central Pennsylvania, Greater New Jersey, New York, New England, Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Pennsylvania and Peninsula-Delaware, she said.

And the choir is drawing praise at smaller venues, such as the congregation in Clinton, Md.

“It was excellent! We really enjoyed the concert,” said Pam Stahl, director of music at the Clinton Church. “They were so sincere. ... The music selection was great, and the people that hosted them (the choir) in their houses really enjoyed having them.”

A rigorous process

Choir members are chosen through a rigorous process, said Director Benon Kigozi. “The process to enter the choir is through audition. I evaluate their sense of rhythm, if they can read music and follow it through the lines.”

The process of selecting students for the tour is even more rigorous. “I look for the students that are committed, secure, those with perfect choir rehearsal attendance, those who are academically secure and those with a good nature. We also try to balance the gender and the African diversity.”

The full choir has 120 voices, and it reflects the diversity of African countries and cultures through its membership, uniforms and song selection. The choir sings in more than 20 languages.

Last year, the choir wore luminous-yellow, traditional African clothing. This year, it decided to innovate with “new and different” uniforms, said Samantha Valoyi, an alto/soprano from Zimbabwe. “There are four different uniforms (that) have the same format, but different colors.”

Another difference this year is that the director is singing with the choir. “We don’t have enough men this year, so I am directing and singing,” explained Kigozi, who is making his third visit to the United States. “Half of the time I sing bass, and half of the time I sing tenor.”

‘I’ve learned a lot’

The traveling choir has 10 new members and one returning member. For most, this trip to the United States is a first.

The experience so far has been positive for Elijah Matamga, a bass guitar player from Zimbabwe. “We compared the kind of worship they have here with ours; they have such a freedom to worship. I’ve learned a lot with this cultural exchange.”

In addition to being ambassadors for their school, the choir members want to show that good things come from Africa and minister to the people they meet.

“We will be successful as a choir if we minister to people. We are not singing in vain,” Kigozi said. He also pointed out that the choir — as well as Africa University itself — needs more sponsorship.

The Africa University Choir won the 2006 National Arts Merit Award from the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe. It has also been invited to sing at the United Methodist youth gathering in South Africa at the end of this year.

Based in Mutare, Zimbabwe, Africa University enrolled its first class of 40 students in 1992 and currently has 1,283 students from 22 African countries.

*Furtado, an intern at United Methodist Communications, is a senior communications major at United Methodist-related Rust College, Holly Springs, Miss.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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