©St. Louis African Chorus,
a new avenue for artistic expression
by Joyce Adewumi
On July 11, 2002 another page opened for the African Chorus Project. A group of new members met in Manhattan for their first meeting of the New York African Chorus took place on July 11, 2002. Today the membership has grown, and still growing. Musical training is a plus but not a must, and we emphasize this at auditions. The small group therefore is a cross-section of talents, from those who can read music to those who cannot, all with some degree of technical capacity in Gospel, Classical and other musical backgrounds. The New York African Chorus accepts people of all racial and ethnic background, from age 16 and up. Performing membership is by audition, after which successful candidates are invited into the membership.
One of the main reasons members join, and also a prerequisite for joining the NYAC is the love and desire to sing. Laleyna Gomez, a music producer, and Rose Mseleku, a South African, sum up other benefits they derive from the NYAC. Laleyna points out that she is getting free voice lessons; she is learning so much about the voice and its use. She applies the information she is getting to the work she does in the studio. Rose informed us that learning the correct way of breathing has helped to improve her health. According to Alison Rosa Clark, a pioneer member of NYAC:
“The membership of the New York African Chorus
As director of the New York African Chorus, I couldn’t agree with Alison more. Even my appointment is a testament to the fact that there is a higher force at work. It has been my lifelong mission to contribute to the education of the world about Africa and the African people. I believe in the power of education in the promotion of peace and understanding between people of diverse cultural backgrounds. Africa has often been misrepresented in the text books as well as in the media. This misrepresentation has, to a large extent, become a major factor in what premium most African Americans place on self worth. In my humble opinion music and the performing arts gives Africa a more positive face, and offers a small window, if you will, to a vast continent resplendent with proud traditions and socio-cultural diversity.
Following similar ideologies as the original St. Louis group, the the New York African Chorus is not a political organization, nor does it pan to any particular religious ideology. It is primarily an avenue for a new mode of artistic expression. However, it is our belief that this organization has the potential, among other things, to bring spiritual healing, increase members’ musicianship, and promote cultural awareness. Elaine Evans-Bradford, fondly referred to as “Mother Elaine” feels that the Holy Spirit brought her to the African Chorus in order that she might be in touch with her African roots.
Members learn songs in indigenous African languages and also learn to dance to these songs using culturally appropriate gestures. Rose, is intrigued by the similarities she has found in the various African languages. For some of the NYAC members, dancing and
singing simultaneously is a new experience. Mekka Timberlake enthused that membership in the African chorus affords her the opportunity to learn how to sing and dance at the same time.
“Everything old is new again,” is the expression Michael Boyd used in describing his discovery that the root of Western music lies in African Music.
Every member of the NYAC is a stake holder. Every member knows that the success of the group is dependent on the level of participation of each member. Every member of the NYAC aspires to, one day, perform in Africa. But members know that that goal is only achievable through hard work and dedication. Before we travel abroad we have to establish our presence here in New York, and other parts of the United States.
The New York African Chorus looks forward to collaborations with other performing arts groups. NYAC aims at presenting technically sound musicians, clothed in authentic African attires, on stage entertaining, teaching, and spreading the message that life is to be celebrated.
My role as director provides me the opportunity to utilize my talents as a musician, dancer, and choreographer while promoting the music of my people. I cannot think of anything more gratifying than that. I owe much gratitude to Fred Onovwerosuoke, Founder & Artistic Director of the African Chorus Project, for allowing the spirits to use him to manifest this wonderful, and powerful unifying force in music. Not to forget the guidance of Kevin Smoot, another St. Louisan who continues to play a leading role in instituting this project in New York.
Joyce Adewumi, a native of Nigeria, singer, dancer, choreographer, and teacher. She is one of the leading interpreters of African Arts songs as well as an innovative choreographer of contemporary African Dance. Ms. Adewumi served for ten years as a Professor of Music and Dance at the Nigerian Universities of Uyo, Nigeria, and Obafemi Awolowo, respectively.
A frequent and versatile recitalist, Ms. Adewumi has performed at various venues in Africa, America, United Kingdom, and Canada. She has premiered various roles including Noliwe, in Chaka: an opera in two chants, and was Soprano Soloist in Orunmila’s Voices, both works by Akin Euba. She has collaborated with other leading African composers such as Joshua Uzoigwe, Meki Nzewi, and Samuel Akpabot.
Ms. Adewumi is recognized in Nigeria for her pioneering work in the area of African Modern Dance. The Nigerian Government appointed her a consultant and panelist for the Akwa Ibom State Annual Children’s Cultural Festival in recognition of her innovative dances; a position she held for four years. She taught and choreographed dances for various projects organized by various organizations in Nigeria, the Board of Education, Techniques Dance and Cultural Arts, MACH/AILEY, and Children of Light, in the United States.