The Kenyan Boys Choir, the choir brought to worldwide fame after performing at President Barack Obama’s inauguration, is delighted to announce the release of its album ‘Spirit of Africa’ on 29th June 2009. ‘The Spirit of Africa’ is widely expected to be the feel-good album of the year, capturing the pan-African feeling of hope.
The Kenyan Boys Choir was signed to Universal Music, the world’s largest record company, under unusual circumstances. After seeing a YouTube clip of the choir performing on CNN as part of President Barack Obama’s inauguration celebrations A&R Manager, Tom Lewis, tracked the choir down and, discovering that their return to Nairobi would take them through London, he was granted permission to go airside at Heathrow airport with Universal’s lawyer in order to sign the choir there and then.
The story behind the Kenyan Boys Choir is inspirational. Joseph Muyale, the choir’s founder, gave up his job in order to run the choir in the hope that he would give the boys a better start in life than he himself had. That was no mean feat in a country that has no social welfare when he has a wife and two daughters to support.
The choir thrives on discipline and respect. Each of the choir members has responsibility not just to their schoolwork, their peers and their elders, but also to each other. It is a self-run, democratic organisation in which the members vote each other into posts including Prime Minister, Minister of Labour, Minister of Media and other essential functions to cover all elements of the choir’s life.
‘Spirit of Africa’ comprises a variety of popular chants and songs from across Africa with hope and optimism shining through every track. The repertoire reflects the choir’s egalitarian beliefs. There are songs from several of the 42 Kenyan tribes as well as from other African nations including Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Mali, Senegal and Guinea. The choir are keen to keep these multi-generational songs alive by continuing to teach them to each other and perform them around the globe.
‘Spirit of Africa’ includes new versions of well-known songs such as ‘Homeless’ from the Ladysmith Black Mambazo/Paul Simon collaboration, ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’, the ANC song that firstly became the South African national anthem and has more recently come to signify a pan-African anthem and Jambo Bwana, an upbeat Kenyan pop tune with the refrain ‘hakuna matata’ meaning ‘no problem’ in Swahili. But it also includes rarities such as ‘Malaika’, a Nigerian lullaby meaning ‘My Beautiful Angel’, ‘Kapchasan’, a hero’s welcome from the Kenyan Kalenjin tribe and ‘Ndumbu (Obama Yanza Vutswa)’, from the Kenyan Luhya tribe. Meaning ‘Obama, our first born, be happy’, this was appropriately the song that the choir sang in Washington.
Well-known or new to the listener, all these songs are united by their characteristically African complex rhythms, catchy tunes, resonant bass lines and rich harmonies. The broad harmonic landscape mirrors that of the African landscape and, with careful listening, imitations of indigenous animal sounds can also be heard. With the variety of textures and soothing harmonies within this music it is easy to see how music from the African nation has gone on to form the basis of jazz, blues, soul and dance.
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