©St. Louis African Chorus,
Picture this: a mass choir, over 1000 strong, each member colorfully attired, about 100 multifarious instrumentalists, and one (ONE!) director. Intimidating as this may sound to any choral conductor, it’s often routine phenomenon for Toko Kua-Nzambi, the maverick conductor from Kinshasa in the Congo. Besides, with today’s urban Africa resplendent with stadium-sized worship auditoria Chœur la Grace never lacks a venue to hold one its gargantuan choral festivals.
The group was founded August 1985, under an initiative by Diasonama Ndungidi, Nlandu Wazolua, Mundele Pedro and Kua Nzambi Toko, all seasoned choral directors who came together to promote choral music from the Central African region. For its regular season programming the group has 140 members, from the metro Kinshasa area, and the hinterlands as well. 40 of these members are themselves choral directors of other choirs. But for its festivals choirs attend from all over the country, and some come from neighboring countries as well. Most are devotees of churches or other Christian groups.
From fractious beginnings, not unrelated to the political wranglings of the twilight of the Mobutu Sese Seko years, the group has made great strides beyond its original ecclesiastical intent. Now it is become a choral haven for non-church groups as well, and have incorporated much ‘secular’ singing into their repertoire. But that is to be expected, as the African naturally is perpetually in consonance both with his/her ancestral ways and the community.
Members of Chœur la Grace meet several times weekly to learn and rehearse a wide ranging a cappella repertoire. At least once, each year, all the choirs from which the members are drawn come together for a festival, clinics, workshops, or symposia, and everyone usually looks forward to the mass choir concert that often climaxes such gatherings. The number of voices range from 1000 to 3000 strong!
Chœur la Grace possesses a rich variety of repertoire. Afro Gospel, a milieu of simple hymnodic harmonies often heavily spiced rhythmically, is a main staple. Followed by folk and traditional songs and chants from different ethnic groups of the Congo, Central Africa, and neighboring Angola region. These include works by legendary figures in the choral movement in the Congo. Composers such as Georges Nlandu Mwana Nlongo, Dolumingu Lutunu, Prof Diawaku dia Nseyila (deceased), Tadi Tambwe, Robert Makiadi (deceased), Ntumba Katende, Lucien Fwasi (deceased), Zena Malengo, Jacques Nkalambote, and, of course, Kua Nzambi Toko. There’s also an ample dosage of American Spirituals, as well as folksongs from around the world.
Chœur la Grace is a member of the International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM), African Choral Network (ACHONET), and is a sister group of the St. Louis African Chorus.
Directed by Toko Kua-Nzambi, Chœur la Grace frequently tours in the Central and South Africa region. European tours have also become a regular feature, with recent tours to France, Belgium and the U.K. This year alone, the group has had a choral retreat, lecture and clinic (Speaker: Dr Massamba, January), Workshop on the Drums in Choral Accompaniment (Speakers: Bienaymé and Kua Nzambi Toko, February), Academic Concert on the Works of Jacques Nkalambote, also in February. In April there was a workshop on the consequences of religious polarization on Afro Gospel in the Congo, and in May, a lecture debate on on the topic: What Constitutes Good Music in Today Christian Church, with Kua-Nzambi Toko and Dolumingu Lutunu as presenters. Other events scheduled throughout the rest of the year include: Workshop on Choral Forms (June), Brazzaville Choral Festival (August), Classical Music Concert by the National Chorale (September), and finally, the African Traditional Choral Music Festival (December).
Chœur la Grace is available for tours in Europe, America and around the world. Tours are readily customized for interested presenters. The group could be reached through the St. Louis African Chorus, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or directly at email@example.com.
Ordinarily, he’s a quiet, soft-spoken man, inconspicuous and almost petit; he’d merge into any crowd, unnoticed. But at the podium Kua-Nzambi fills every space, and captivates both his performers and audiences with his maverick exuberance. Dr. Lupwishi Mbuyamba, UNESCO’s Cultural Attaché for Africa says of Kua-Nzambi: “when there’s music in the air, he is unstoppable!”
Kua-Nzambi holds degrees and advanced certification in musical arts. For 22 years he has composed choral pieces, directed groups, lectured, and served as an independent columnist on music. He is member of the International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM), the African Choirs Network, and other regional organizations.
He is in high demand as lecturer, clinician, and conductor, and, under the auspices of the Goethe Institute frequently produces educational programs for radio and TV audiences in the Central Africa region. In 2001 he received the Association Journalistes (AJIR) awarded him the Diploma d’Excellence to recognize his three albums, including a video production.
Kua-Nzambi passionately talks about forging a unified front to promote African choral music. His festivals, now legendary for their size and scope, are testament to this drive. They now attract participants from across Africa and Europe. His wish list includes establishing a school to train singers, building a recording studio, and a publishing a monthly journal about the choral music of the Congo region of Africa.