Classical The singing family of Africa

The singing family of Africa

“To a lot of people if you say choir, they think ‘boring’,” says Dalene Hoogenhout, the director of the Wits Choir. But the programmes lined up by the choir aim to challenge this stereotype.The chamber choir of 19 singers has two programmes: Charting South Africa Through Song, comprising South African songs; and Charting Africa: The Singing Continent, a selection of songs from African composers.

The choir has been selected as the first and only African choir to perform at the upcoming Festival 500 in Newfoundland, Canada. “When you perform at a festival like that, you are representing the whole continent,” says Hoogenhout. “It’s very exciting.”

Trip to Canada
The choir is testing its programme at the National Arts Festival ahead of its trip to Canada. “The Wits Choir doesn’t fit into the mould of ‘choir’,” she says. “Everyone has an individual take on how a choir should be. But the Wits Choir follows my philosophy of music being about communication.”

Hoogenhout, who has been with the choir for 16 years as conductor, trainer and director, works with “soundscapes” to achieve different sounds. “The choir moves around, changes position for some songs and sometimes surrounds the audience.”

The choir also breaks convention by inviting audience participation during their performances and allows its members to choose their own colours for their robes. Members of the choir are appreciated as individuals, Hoogenhout says. “We’re like a family. It’s really special.”

The choir’s theme of “charting” contributes to the notion of a representative choir, as the Wits Choir aims to represent South Africa and Africa. In Charting South Africa, the choir sings selected songs in nine of South Africa’s official languages. The choir will also premier one piece from up-and-coming South African composer Christo Jankovitz, who also arranged an Italian song that the choir will sing at the end of its performance.

Hoogenhout says although it does not really fit into the choir’s theme, “it’s just for a little fun”. In its Charting Africa programme, the choir will perform folk songs and incorporate dance and movement. The songs come from Cameroon, Namibia, Uganda, Malawi and the DRC, as well as other African countries.

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