Africa University Choir is a blessing, pastor says
|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
“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
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
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
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
“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
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
‘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
*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 firstname.lastname@example.org.