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Kenyan audience comes alive for German choir

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Mokole, a choir from Germany which takes its name from the Zulu word meaning ‘bearer of secrets’ performs songs in Zulu, Xhosa and Sesotho from South Africa, Fanti and Ga of Ghana and Swahili and other languages of Tanzania and Kenya. Courtesy

The singers sway to the African rhythms and the audience comes alive, joining in the song and dance.

Even though the membership of the Mokole choir is purely German, their repertoire is composed of songs from various countries in Africa and they deliver their performances with the same gusto singers in Africa would.

Each week, about 63 singers belonging to this group meet and rehearse at a music school in Heidelberg, Germany. What brings this unique choir together is the love for African rhythms and the ability of the members to learn lyrics in different languages from around the continent.

30 of the group’s members arrived in the country last week and held their maiden show at the Kenyatta International conference last Saturday.

During each performance, the choir gives their audience the African vibe by adding energetic choreography to each song so that instead of staid singing, the group energetically dances to every note.

Eva Buckman founded the African choir in the German town of Heidelberg in 2004. It is the oldest and largest choir under the direction of Bruckman who also runs three other choirs: Mokoyaala with 20 singers, Mokosheela has 30 members while Mokolela has 15 singers.

Mokole, which takes its name from the Zulu word meaning ‘bearer of secrets’ performs songs in Zulu, Xhosa and Sesotho from South Africa, Fanti and Ga of Ghana and Swahili and other languages of Tanzania and Kenya.

Bruckman is a well-traveled within Africa where she has built a network with African choir leaders who exchange their songs and choreography with her choirs. In 2005, Mokole visited Heidelberg, South Africa (which shares a name with the German town) to gain firsthand experience of African music.

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There were several trips to follow back to South Africa and consequently a relationship was established with the Lesedi Show Choir, a group of singers from the township of Ratanga.

This choir, led by Thabang Mokoena has won several choral competitions and regularly performs on South African television shows. Mokoena has, in turn, made several visits to German to teach the three choirs a new set of South African songs to enrich their repertoire.

In 2009, Bruckman traveled to Accra where she spotted a talented young choir director called Francis Baffoe. The Ghanaian has been singing both classical and choral music since the age of six and has twice represented West Africa in the World Youth Choir. Buckman was so impressed with Baffoe that she invited him to Heidelberg in 2010 to introduce a whole new musical dimension to the German choirs.

Baffoe and The Akoo Show Choir perform classical pieces by composers like Bach and Handel along with traditional Ghanaian music and contemporary influences like highlife, gospel and jazz. He founded the group after falling in love with choral music from South Africa, Kenya and other African countries.

In May, both the Akoo Show Choir and Lesedi Choir will perform at an International Choral Festival in Germany. In 2011, Bruckman was invited to conduct a workshop with the Boys Choir of Kenya.

The following year, the Founder and Artistic Director of the Kenyan Boys and Girls Choirs, Joseph Muyale Inzai traveled to Germany where he taught Kenyan songs to the Moko choirs for one month.

Kenyan Rhythms

Last year both Bruckman and South African choir leader, Mokoena, conducted another workshop in Nairobi to facilitate an exchange of songs from Kenya and South Africa. The German says her mission is to explore the musical riches of Africa even further, meet many more talented African choirs leaders and exchange ideas.

As part of this cultural exchange, Inzai will be traveling to South Africa later this year to train the Lesedi Show Choir on Kenyan rhythms.

“While the Boys Choir has earned an international reputation with their performances, we feel it is now time to also woo cultural groups from around the world to also perform in Kenya,” says Inzai.

In the last one week, the Mokole choir members have been taking in some of the touristic sites in the country such as the Menengai Crater, Lake Bogoria and the Maasai Mara.

This weekend, they will stage their second performance at the Nuru Palace Hotel in Nakuru before traveling to Mombasa for the last show on April 5th at the Nyali Beach Hotel. VIP Tickets at Sh3,000 and Sh500 will be on sale at both venues.