Performing Arts

Safaricom Choir spreading hope in uncertain times


Safaricom Choir during a performance. PHOTO | POOL

One of the most powerful symbols of the strength of humanity is when a group of choral singers get together and pour out their hearts and souls in perfect harmony.

“It is important for our choir to choose songs with good vibes,” says Philip “Filah” Tuju, musical director of the Safaricom Choir and a Business Daily Top 40 under 40 honoree (2016).

The choir has released three new videos of songs purposely selected to reflect the current mood in the country, coming off the back of an election and undergoing a leadership transition.

An animated Tuju conducts the choir’s interpretation of Ride on King Jesus, a rousing African-American spiritual, celebrating hope and triumph, arranged by the renowned composer Moses Hogan.

“We present songs that are uplifting and celebrate the good in society,” says Tuju referring to the exuberant piece which has become a staple for many choirs around the world.

The other pieces in the set are The Size of your Heart by Canadian composer Eleanor Daley featuring guest conductor Esther Nashipae and The Lord Bless You and Keep You written by British composer, arranger, and producer of choral music, John Rutter, which is conducted by Anthony Mwangi.

“The two songs by the guest conductors are mellow, and easy going which is a familiar style for the choir, but the African-American spiritual is something new and the results of the performance are quite impressive,” says Tuju.

Mwangi who is a classical musician and opera singer says Rutter’s classical choral piece composed in 1981 and based on the Book of Numbers 6:24-26, speaks to hope and tranquility amidst the feeling of uncertainty that has gripped the country since the elections.

The conductor, who is also a music director at the All Saints Cathedral, quotes the line that says: The Lord make his face to shine upon you” as one that encapsulates the optimism of the music.

“It is not just about the elections period but we all know people who are going through tough times and so this piece of music also offers you comfort and strength to know that everything will be OK,” says Mwangi.

He explains that The Lord Bless You and Keep You is a very technical piece because the tonality changes very fast, but the choir was positive and cooperative during the three weeks that they rehearsed the music.

“They were very patient and professional throughout the process, considering these are people who are engaged in their day jobs and are not doing music full time,” says Mwangi.

“We gelled perfectly and Filah was very receptive,” he adds. “After all the work, my advice to them is that there comes a point when you have to trust what you have done and let the music settle and enjoy it,” says Mwangi. He hopes that the uplifting message in the music will rub off on the lives of everyone who watches the video.

Nashipae who conducts The Size of your Heart describes the music as “an intricate and very melodic piece”, opening with the female voices before the male voices join in during the second verse.

The violin teacher and chorister who has worked with the choir since its inception in 2009, says the message of the music is that the “kindness of your heart determines the quality of your life”

“When you show kindness, love, and compassion, then that brings healing and peaceful life,” she says. “This is a delicate composition which conveys emotions and the choir enjoyed singing it.”

She says it is a reminder that even though we all come from different walks of life and may have supported different sides during the elections, we should show kindness to everyone.

Tuju, who was a voice coach for the pop group Sauti Sol and founded the popular Redfourth Chorus choir, marked his first anniversary as musical director of the Safaricom Choir in June, says he has simply built on the foundation established by the founding director Ken Wakia.

“While Ken was more classically inclined, I have just broadened our repertoire to include works by African composers, contemporary pieces and even introduced some choreography in the performance.”

The choir has benefited from professional mentors including Nashipae (soprano), Belinda Shikwa (alto), Fred Kosgei (tenor) and guest conductors Joseph Muyale, Silvester Otieno, Helen Mtawali, and Anthony Mwangi.

They also collaborate with established ensembles like the Redfourth Chorus and choirs from other corporate organisations.

“There is a tremendous opportunity for collaboration and festivals to showcase the beauty of choral music,” says Tuju.

After their current break, they will resume rehearsals this month for the Safaricom birthday celebration in October and a Christmas concert at the end of the year.

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