World of Hans Zimmer: Nairobi Chamber Chorus travels across Europe with top musicians

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The Nairobi Chamber Chorus on stage with South African singer Lebo M during the World Of Hans Zimmer - A New Dimension concert tour in Cologne, Germany on March 12, 2024. PHOTO | POOL

One of Kenya’s most accomplished choral ensembles is part of a concert tour across Europe showcasing the works of the acclaimed composer of film music, Hans Zimmer.

“We are extremely lucky and honoured to be the choir for this tour,” says Ken Wakia, the Nairobi Chamber Chorus Director.

World of Hans Zimmer: A New Dimension is a concert of some of the popular film scores created by the celebrated German composer performed by a host of top musicians from around the world. Zimmer has made outstanding music over the course of a 40-year career for box office classics like The Lion King, Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean, Last Samurai, Top Gun: Maverick, No Time to Die, 12 Years a Slave, The Dark Knight trilogy and Dune.

The so-called Hollywood Rebel, has redefined the movie score, pioneering new techniques, innovating instruments and creating music that amplifies the sense of emotion and drama on the big screen.

Wakia describes the concert repertoire as containing works of genius but singles out the theme of Pearl Harbor, the 2001 film about a love story in the lead up to the WWII attack on a US naval base by Japanese forces, as particularly poignant. “There is a way it speaks to my heart and listening to Zimmer talk what inspired him to write this music is incredibly uplifting. I am a big proponent for world peace and in this work, the composer strikes all the chords that speak to my heart.”

Zimmer has raised the profile of movie scores as a crucial element of filmmaking and in the process acquired himself a superstar status. He has won a host of accolades including two Academy Awards, three Golden Globes, four Grammy Awards, an American Music Award and a Tony Award.

Zimmer has arranged a new selection of music from his diverse collection of scores for The World of Hans Zimmer – A New Dimension, a revamped programme on the original tour that has been on road since 2018. The tour’s precursor, A Symphonic Celebration, was first performed in Germany in 2018 and has since been seen by audiences around the world. For the Nairobi Chamber Chorus, being part of this tour means among other things that Kenyan choral musicians have the talent, ability and knowledge to perform on the world stage.

“I think the addition of our African dance movements during performance has been a wonderful addition to the show, without which it would have felt like there was just that one little thing still missing,” says Wakia in an online interview as they rehearsed for their performance in Brussels on Wednesday this week.

One of the tour organisers Wilhelm Keitel got to know about the Nairobi Chamber Chorus through an invitation to the choir to perform at a music festival in Germany scheduled for May 2024. He asked if the choir would be interested in joining the tour as a precursor to the festival.

“We accepted and we were sent an audition piece. After a couple of weeks, they got back to us saying the artistic committee was pleased with the group, and here we are now travelling across Europe in sold-out arenas of between 10,000 and 15, 000 seats every show. Honestly, it still feels like a dream,” says Wakia.

There are 12 members of the choir on the tour with a similar number joining the team for the Musca Sacra Festival in Maktoberdof, Germany next month. The tour that started in early March 2024 in Prague, Czech Republic takes the group across 13 different European cities. They have already performed sold-out shows in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Munich, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Amsterdam, Hannover, Paris and Brussels. This weekend they have dates in Glasgow and Manchester, before concerts in Birmingham, London and Dublin next week.

The performance conducted by English composer Gavin Greenway features the Odessa Orchestra from Ukraine and an international cast of top soloists like the legendary South African composer and singer Lebo M, who is famous for collaborating with Zimmer on the soundtrack to The Lion King. Other singers on the tour are Lisa Gerrard, Nokukanya Dlamini, and Gan-ya Ben-gur Akselrod, Woodwinds soloist Pedro Eustache, guitarist Alexios Arnest, violinist Rusunda Panfili, and multi-percussionist Luis Ribeiro.

“Google those names and tell me whether you will not get goosebumps if you were sharing the stage with them,” says Wakia. “We are performing with soloists from around the world but when we are on stage, we are one family.” Zimmer himself does not appear live on stage but is the musical director for the tour, curator of the musical setlist and artistic development supervisor.

“My aspiration with this new show is to preserve the culture of the orchestra and allow audiences to rediscover the unique facets of orchestral music,” he says on the tour website.

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