Bexhill welcomes back the inspirational London African Gospel Choir on Saturday, October 5, to perform their unique interpretation of Graceland.
Paul Simon’s seminal work saw him collect two Grammy awards in 1987 and had a profound impact on the reach of African township music across the world.
The choir are part-way through a UK tour, which sees them visit most major cities during the remainder of this year. They wowed Cambridge and Birmingham last weekend.
Hard work has paid off for LAGC and they have been invited to perform with the likes of Emile Sande and Mumford & Sons, as well as receiving plaudits from Annie Lennox and Paul Simon himself.
“We started 16 years ago to create something that brought together a mixture of African cultures,” says choir leader Crystal Kassi. “What makes us different is that we all come from different countries in the African Diaspora and we want people to share the joy, passion and fun that is core to Gospel music.”
So how did it all begin? Crystal explains how the founder, Charles Ngobi, was very poor. Without the means to buy a piano he made a mock keyboard for himself out of mattress sponge so that he could learn by watching other musicians. From here, he went on to form a band of multi-instrumentalists and then recruit for the choir.
“We wanted to have people singing a mixture of African languages as well as English,” Crystal explains. “We have Zulu, Mozambique and Swahili among others.”
Paul Simon’s Graceland more happened to them than anything else, Crystal reveals: “We had just returned from a tour abroad and the Jazz Cafe were offering Gospel choirs an invite to submit an arrangement for Paul Simon’s album, so we said okay.”
And the work required was intense: “We were given ten weeks, which meant two rehearsals per week and delegating songs across the band to work on the arrangements.”
“We first performed it at our local community cafe to see how it went down,” she adds.
It clearly went down very well, as the demand was so great for the Jazz Cafe shows that they had to programme additional dates, six in all.
It’s a well organised and resourceful outfit with choir members performing and taking on other responsibilities off-stage. Yeelen Hardwicke is one such person and is the promotional agent for London African Gospel Choir. She decided to commit more time to the project as the success grew.
“I was studying a degree in Forensic Science and working at a Theatre,” she explains. “But I found myself spending more and more time with the Gospel music, so it felt the right thing to do.”
But this is no ordinary choir; they write their own material too. ‘I Need Your Love’, for example, is a heartfelt ballad that builds and incorporates a clever nod to Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.
London African Gospel Choir is sure to get the De La Warr crowd to its feet next Saturday, October 5, when they come to Bexhill and Yeelen says people are also in for a few surprises.
Stuart Large is a freelance writer and reviewer. Follow him on Twitter @boyaboutsound.
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