African Sanctus: for soprano solo, mixed chorus, instrumental ensemble and pre-recorded tape

Composer: David Fanshawe

Performers: Maureen Brathwaite (soprano); Backbeat Percussion Quartet; Ross Milligan (lead guitar); Gareth Huw-Davis (bass guitar); Micaleff-Inanga Piano Duo; London Bach Choir; David Hill (conductor); Jonathan Dimbleby
Promoter: VSO HIV/AIDS Southern Africa Initiative
Venue: Usher Hall, Lothian Road, Edinburgh
Date: 13 October 2001
Reviewer: Pat Napier

In the thirty or so years since I first heard this deeply emotive, highly-charged marriage between traditional African music and a most unconventional Latin Mass, that troubled continent's current history seems always to be on TV. We feel we know all about its damaging wars and natural disasters, now intensified by that ghastly pandemic HIV/AIDS. But do we?

David Fanshawe brought his amazing, unique African Sanctus on a rare visit to Edinburgh to raise funds to combat this disease in Southern Africa. He, himself, donates a huge 4% of his personal royalties. I feared that Africa's exotic music and instruments would be less so today. I need not have worried. African Sanctus has grown and developed, and the music was every bit as exciting, exotic and moving as I'd remembered it.

Indeed, one month and two days after the atrocities visited on New York and Washington on 11 September, the Kyrie, which began with 'Allahu akbar!', the Iman's call to prayer, and ended with 'Kyrie eleison' became a stunningly apposite reminder of how much Christianity and Islam share as well as a powerful call to us all to work as hard as we can for peace.

This wonderful work was packed full of so many memorable things that it is difficult to choose what to write about. There were throbbing drum sequences, traditional songs and dances such as the Bwala (which celebrates tribal war victories); pre-recorded events captured in Fanshawe's journey down the Nile; an Egyptian wedding was immortalised as the Gloria: Bride of the Nile; a Sudanese mother's ringing of bells to celebrate her newborn son, which became the Sanctus' moment of Christ's birth. The Crucifixus was a stunning rain song. All African music was interwoven with the Latin Mass, making a work of great complexity and endless fascination.

Maureen Brathwaite's glorious high soprano soared out from the Bach Choir's beautiful sequences. We were swept along by an amazing mixture of live and recorded music played by the hugely multi-talented Backbeat Percussion Quartet and two electric guitars. Everybody clearly enjoyed performing this challenging music. Dona nobis pacem, the new and haunting hymn for world peace could easily have ended the piece but after a spectacular return to drumming rhythms of the Bwala Dance the Sanctus ended appropriately with "... Glory to Africa" and a single gorgeous drumbeat.

And that was just the second half! The evening began with Rio Grande, in which the Bach Choir was accompanied by the Micaleff-Inanga Duo
and Backbeat, who then took us into four short pieces using such exotic instruments as the mbira (a kind of thumb piano) and two footballs! Then Jennifer Micaleff and Glen Inanga played a delightful group of European pieces: the Russian dance from Petrouchka, Milhaud's Scaramouche and the Flight of the bumble bee which Inanga had specially transcribed for two pianos - virtuosic enough as a solo piece but given another dimension through a fascinating dialogue between the two pianos. Before the interval David Fanshawe talked with Jonathan Dimbleby about African Sanctus and its composition.

A wonderful, exciting evening which, sadly, played to a not-full-enough hall for such an needy charity's greatest benefit. But those who were there applauded long and hard enough to make up for the lack of numbers.

Pat Napier. 13 October 2001