Muungano National Choir, Nairobi, KENYA

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Founded 1979 by Boniface Mganga, Muungano National Choir's musical style is a cappella, using the most abundant of musical instruments (the voice) with drum, Kayamba, (reed rattle) and occasional triangle accompaniment. The songs, like a lot of Africa’s contemporary arts have sprung from a fusion of the rich and varied rhythmic and melodic traditional and neo-traditional African tunes with exuberant and intense quasi-western harmonic style. 

The success of Muungano National Choir is not limited to Kenya only. In 1984, it participated with great success in the Indian Ocean Festival held in Perth, Australia. Allan True of Music Maker Magazine, Jan/Feb 1985, had this to say of the concert review of the Choir at Winthrop Hall, 

Under their conductor, Boniface Mganga, they produced an effortlessly beautiful sound. They were an object lesson in choral singing with a sublime, smooth quality and marvelous sense of phrasing. Whether singing Western music or Kenya tribal songs, the effect of tonal control imbued with vitality obvious.

 Music Maker continues,

 It was difficult to believe all the music came from the singing – such was the range and quality of sound. The infectious rhythm, the swaying figures, the quality voices and their joy of singing completely captivated the audience.

 Following its resounding success in Australia, the Choir received an invitation in 1986 from the International Society of Music Education (ISME) in Innsbruck, Australia, where again the choir emerged the highlight of all the performances. During the 1986 ISME Conference the Choir was reviewed as follows:

 Since its formation in 1979, Muungano National Choir has become Africa’s leading Choir. Yet it is no ordinary Choir in the Western sense; it is an “African” Choir, which magically fuses movement and song in a truly African way, where the two ingredients of music – song and dance – are inseparable. Since its inception, the Choir has been directed by Boniface Mganga, whose enthusiasm and idealism has led the Choir to success at concerts and competitions worldwide…

 In 1987, The Choir took part in a festival in Belgium and another at the International Folklore festival in Dijon, France. The French organizers were completely hypnotized by the Choir’s exceptional rendition. They invited the Choir again in 1988, to tour many regions of France.

 In 1989, the Choir was commissioned by Phillips Classics Production, Holland, to record the MISSA LUBA, an African Mass that was written by Fr. Guido Haazen, a Belgium Catholic missionary Priest in Congo. This piece, written in Congolese African rhythms and recorded by Muungano National Choir, was subsequently released for worldwide distribution under Phillips Classical label.

With the release of the MISSA LUBA, the choir became the first Music group in East and Central Africa to be featured in the respected “World Music Chart” review magazine, and the USA Billboard, who reviewed the ensemble,

 “…with precise vocal craftsmanship and choral harmonies that are equal in beauty to the greatest of conventional cathedral choirs…”

 Domain O’Rane of THE DAILY BRUIN (University of California, Los Angeles), in May 1991, described the choir as “AFRICAN ANGELES who provide spiritual jubilation…with their simmering steady rhythmic folk songs, beautifully and vitally rendered”. Banning Eyre, of the BISTON PHOENIX, in April 1991, reviewed the MISSA LUBA recording as follows:

 The 60 voices Choir is one of the most acclaimed in Africa which has sound of serenely exultant voices soaring over the heart beat of drums and the chatter of shakers.

 In 1993, the Choir made its debut in the United States, performing as the Artist-in-Residence during  the DES MONIES INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN’S CHORAL FESTIVAL. Thereafter, the Choir undertook a performing tour to New York, Washington D.C., Minneapolis (Minnesota) Denver, Chicago and Nebraska. At the end of the tour of America, the Choir proceeded to the WORLD SYMPOSIUM ON CHORAL MUSIC in Vancouver, Canada, where they performed and also gave workshops on Africa choral Music.

 In 1996, the Choir once again toured America, and had the honor of performing at the North Central Division of American Choral Directions Association Convention held in Lincoln, Nebraska. John Cutter, of the Lincoln Journal Star of Friday March 15, 1996, had the following review:

 The Choir, which was found about 16 years ago, has become Africa’s most noted choral ensemble with world accolades. The Choir has become a world class vocal ensemble due to its great precision in dynamic control, vowel formations, beginnings and cut-offs, diction, breathing and its own uncompromising dance rhythm movements as well…In their exuberance for life Muungano communicates its thoughts convincingly to its audience. Its precision in every measurable Choir attribute is of the highest caliber.

 In 1996, the Choir took part in yet another International Music Festival in Milano, Italy where they were given the honor of performing the Opening Concert, an event normally reserved for a specially selected professional Choir.  The Choir received an instant standing ovation after the heart-warming performance. The Choir was pronounced the “highlight” of the Festival for “their incredibly faultless intonation, a well blended sound and voice quality equal to the best of the professional choirs often heard here in Europe”. 

During the same tour, in 1996, the Choir was most honored to perform for the Archbishop of Salzburg and his guests and also made a spectacular performance at the Musica Sacra International Festival in Marktoberdof, Germany.

 In July 1999, the Choir performed at the Namur Festival in Belgium, and went on to  the Netherlands, to perform at the World Symposium on Choral Music (WSCM), an event organized by the International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM).

In December 1999, The Muungano National Choir joined other internationally renowned choirs of the world to entertain pilgrims who flocked the Holy Land in celebrating Christmas, New Year and New Millennium festivities. On this occasion, Nobel Kassis, Minister and Coordinator-General of the event, forecast  the  choir’s performance:

The high standard of Muungano National Choir will contribute to raise the event to the level of excellence that we seek for all the events on the Bethlehem 2000 Project Calendar.

 True to the minister’s forecast, Muungano poerformed to great acclaim  in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and, finally, at  the Musica Scara Festival in Nazareth. It was standing ovations all the way for the "Kenyan Emissaries."  

For more information about the group contact the St. Louis African Chorus at 314-652-6800 or slac @ africanchorus dot org

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