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Rhythms of Africa

Jennifer Geens
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 26/04) - After the success of December's performances of the Messiah, the Yellowknife Choral Society decided to take things in a completely different direction.

Their spring concert is called "African Passage: a musical voyage from Africa to Beyond."

"Music was a part of keeping hope alive for people living in slavery, and it was a big part of the freedom movement," said choir director Margo Nightingale.

"It's inspirational."

She said you would be hard pressed to find a connection between the Messiah and African Passage, except that Handel was writing his masterpiece in Europe at the same time that some of the songs in the new concert were being sung by slaves in North America.

"That shows how culture and society shapes music," she said.

Nightingale said the evening's selections will be an eclectic mix, representing a musical voyage through time and space.

The choir will begin with pieces based on African vocal traditions, then move into spirituals and gospel songs, some based on melodies and lyrics that slaves shared in North America.

After that they will sing freedom songs and some modern pieces, and even a show tune.

"Our ultimate aim is to perform the music with respect for the context," said Nightingale.

The choir's most consistent challenge has been learning the rhythms. Many of the pieces are polyrhythmic, meaning there's more than one rhythm happening at once.

"It's almost like mimicking different drumbeats," said Nightingale. "And then the lyric line adds different textures."

Also, some of the pieces haven't been written down, they've been passed down orally from generation to generation, and that has been a challenge for choir members used to reading music.

During the performance, the choir will have the help of percussionist Al Bee on drums.

In the second half, a quartet made up of Maureen Crotty on flute, Amy Hendricks on piano, Pat Braden on bass and Al Bee on drums will perform the Suite for Jazz Flute and Piano by French composer Claude Bolling.

"I think there's a lot more awareness of world music," said Nightingale, citing the success of the African-inspired songs of the Lion King and the Power of One.

"The world's getting smaller and smaller all the time."

The Choral Society performs its spring concert next Friday and Saturday at the legislature's Great Hall.