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Ecstatic performance at evening Mass

By George Orido | October 12th 2012

By George Orido

Something special happened in Nairobi’s entertainment world recently. The Safaricom Choir performed at Robert Ray Gospel Mass at the Oshwal Religious Centre, which was special for two reasons.

The performance showed a degree of religious tolerance where Christian music was performed at a Hindu-owned facility and while the gospel Mass is endogenously Catholic, it has been sung by many evangelical and other Protestant outfits mainly in the US.

Yet the beauty of the evening at the centre was the finesse that the audience was treated to — subtle and soft music from the more than 100-member Safaricom Choir whose Niko Na choral commercial is a successful TV commercial, which captures various scenic sites around the country.

The tapping, clapping and little jigs made the event reverberate with energy.

Mellow soprano

Maureen Atieno’s voice was dramatic and beautiful. She hemmed various voices into some exciting harmony as they followed her mellow soprano.

Her ease and command of the negro-spiritual won her standing ovations as she led the choir in the title Credo.

Credo, which is also known as ‘I believe’, is derived from the Apostles’ Creed. Its rendition was an example of the intricate and multiple harmonies that kept the audience on the edge of their seats.
The audience tapped laps with their hands in line with the rhythm. Many raised their hands as they sang along.

“Now He sits at the right hand and He’s waitin’ for you and me,” Maureen’s melodious voice soothed the listeners.

As the evening moved to acclamation with the lines, “Praise him with stringed instruments,” Judith Njuguna on the bass guitar upped the ante as she fretted and strummed to rocking effect.

“It was such a delight to play the bass. It’s not just different it was refreshing and new,” said Njuguna who runs her own show on Wednesday at Club Galileo and plays for jazz maestro Joseph Hellon in his Thursday Jazz n’ Clad evenings at the same venue.

The song Sanctus was so jazzy as much as it was meant to sanctify and make the evening holy.

Well that was the sense.

When the number Agnus Dei, or ‘Lamb of God’, hit the stage, a beautiful aura of worship and spiritual soul-searching had engulfed the warm air in the auditorium.

As the choir bowed at the end of the show calls of ‘we want more’ grew louder and louder. And choir maestro Ken wakia had no option but to call back his troupe for a repeat of Credo.

I’m going home

James Laight, a master of the piano, was alight throughout the performance. When he hit the first note, the audience broke into a dancing mode as they sang along, “I believe when my life is over I’m going home just to live with my God.”

So did the drummer Dennis Kwanda inspired as his percussion rose with each song’s energetic performance.

“I chose these pieces for their deep but easy interpretation of 2,000 years of liturgical interpretation by the author, Dr Ray,” says Wakia who is currently one of the most celebrated Choral Conductors in Kenya.

Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass was composed in 1978 and was premiered at the University of Illinois  where University’s Black Chorus performed.

Sense of joy

The work was written while Ray was a liturgy team leader for the National Office of Black Catholics.

Ray, who was born in 1946, is an accomplished pianist and soloist,  who has said in an interview before that he wanted everyone to experience the sense of joy and celebration that is generally felt in true African-American worship.

Following the successful premier of his songs here in Kenya and Africa in general, sponsors of the concert plan to get permission to record them.

This will be a great step forward in enriching the Gospel repertoire available to Kenyans.

Previously the corporate has annually sponsored the Safaricom Fusion that attracts musicians from the region and the rest of the World.

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