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Mandela University Choir marks singing to the world for 25 years

Oct 31, 2019
Mandela University Choir marks singing to the world for 25 years

Port Elizabeth - This year marks the 25th anniversary of South Africa’s first multi-racial university choir, formed at the very start of this country’s democracy, and celebrates a journey of excellence that has taken Nelson Mandela University’s talented singers across the world.

At the request of the University’s arts and culture department, conductor Junita Lamprecht-van Dijk started the choir in 1994 – and continues to lead them today.

“In those early days, we experienced amazing social and musical challenges because we were so far removed from one another. But it was a wonderful opportunity to introduce different music cultures to each other, and to get to know each other.

“In a way, our choir has been a successful microcosm of South Africa … I actually wrote my master’s thesis on the choir, exploring this theme.”

As society opened up and became more integrated, the gaps became less. “But in a way, we’ve gone full circle and we’re experiencing similar challenges now [with the country and universities facing new challenges], but we are managing them.”

Lamprecht-van Dijk said her main aim with the choir has always been to empower its members, enabling those who are musically-talented to shine. “We have a young man in the choir at the moment, Sivuyile Mazizi, who is composing and arranging his own works for the choir … Another very creative choir member Siba Ngewu is responsible for the choreography.”

Over the years, many of the choir members have gone on to achieve further choral success.

Perhaps the most successful among them is Sidumo Nyamezele. He was the choir’s traditional singing leader from 1996 to 2002 and studied conducting under Lamprecht-van Dijk, before going on to teach at St John’s College in Johannesburg.

“When the World Youth Choir toured South Africa, he was responsible for teaching them African music, which was a very great honour.” Nyamazele conducts the acclaimed Mzanzi youth choir in Johannesurg.

The choir’s mix of African traditional, classical, Western European and Latin American songs have made them a favourite on world stages.

“I think the success of the choir can in a huge way be attributed to the dedication and enthusiasm of the singers to perform a diverse repertoire that makes an impact on those who hear it,” said Lamprecht-van Dijk.

Key highlights over the past 25 years

1994 to 2000: On separate occasions in the Bay, the choir performed before Queen Elizabeth II and former president Nelson Mandela, who told them: “I am so proud of you; you truly reflect the spirit of the new South Africa.” In 1996, the choir embarked on its first international tour, participating in the International Festival of University Choirs (FICU) in Valencia, Spain. This exposure led to an invitation in 1998 to perform at the centennial celebrations of the Philippines.

2000 to 2007: The choir featured in a film on Robben Island, based on the life of Nelson Mandela, and they participated in fully-sponsored international tours to a second FICU event in Spain and the Voices International Choral Festival in Norway.

2007 to 2010: The choir toured the United States for the world premieres of Windy City Songsand Magnificat(composed by Peter Louis van Dijk) in the Lyric Theatre, Chicago. They were invited to the famous La Fabricca del Canto choral festival in Italy and also performed for the Italian press launch of the 2010 Fifa World Cup in Milan. They won their first international choir competition in Spittal an der Drau, Austria in 2009.

2011 to 2012: The choir enjoyed two successful tours to Argentina and China (Beijing), performing for national radio and TV stations through the International Federation for Choral Music’s (IFCM’s) World Choral Symposiums. They enjoyed further global acclaim with the success of a flash mob in Greenacres Shopping Mall in Port Elizabeth, shared virally on YouTube, which has notched up innumerable awards both nationally and internationally.

2014 to 2015: IFCM invited the choir back to China (Shanghai and Nanjing), and they were the only African choir invited to sing in the first Choral Expo in China’s Macau Island, the gambling hub of the East.

2016 to 2019: The choir was invited to the United States and Canada in 2016, but the trip coincided with the start of the #FeesMustFall movement in South Africa, and they were unable to go. The choir was showcased in Varsity Sing’s finals on KykNet.

2019 celebrations

All past and present members of the choir are invited to share in its 25th anniversary celebrations, to be held on November 8 and 9. The festivities include an awards ceremony hosted by the University’s Alumni Association, and a sundowner performance and dinner, which includes performances by old members at the South Campus Auditorium.

At this event, the choir will premiere a new composition, Psalmus, by Peter Louis van Dijk, while choir alumni Siphokazi Molteno, an acclaimed mezzo soprano, and Kwande Cakate, a saxophonist and member of the well-known group Just 6, which featured in the new Lion King movie, will perform on their own and with the choir.

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