for soprano solo, mixed chorus, instrumental ensemble
and pre-recorded tape
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?
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
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.
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