Sunday, May 29, 2022

A night of four-part harmonies at Westwood

Fans of acapella gospel music and close four-part harmonies will on the evening of April 6 head for Westwood International School, where Heritage Brothers, a Zambian male gospel music quartet, will be in concert.

“The supporting act will be an exciting female trio called Joy from South Africa,” says Alex Mwesa, the concert’s promoter.

Mwesa runs a concert logistics outfit called Ngoma Music Tours that aims to give a platform to both local and foreign artistes to showcase their talent.

The Heritage Brothers, a spin-off of Zambia’s Heritage Singers choir, one of the most accomplished chorale groups to have emerged from that country, started off as a group called Pearly Gates and has over the years continually transformed.

In 1986, the group became known as Heritage Singers Quartet and began to perform at the vast array of events ÔÇô both religious and secular ÔÇô the Heritage Singers choir featured at its height between 1986 and 1989, including the inter-continental Commonwealth Expedition (COMEX) events.

They were the first gospel group from Zambia to tour Sweden extensively on cultural exchange programmes in a period stretching from 1994 to 1998.

The Swedish tours kicked off following an invitation for an international music festival featuring some 2,000 musicians from Scandinavia.

“The Heritage Brothers were the only black group, let alone African group in the festivals,” says Mwesa. “Initially having no idea how their music would be received in Europe, the group nevertheless became a favourite at the Swedish city festivals.”

The group would embark on several more trips to Sweden over the next four years, touring half of the country. In 1997 they made their first visit to Botswana, and performed at the Anglican Cathedral along with KREM, a Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) male group.

“The 1997 concert in Gaborone was intense, one of the most successful in the quartet’s history,” says Mwesa.

In 2006, they came to Botswana for the second time to perform at a concert held by the group, Chronicles Music Ministry.

While an SDA quartet, the Heritage Brothers promote their music as trans-denominational, with an appeal for ears attuned to traditional four-part harmonies, says Mwesa, who is an original member of the group.

Originally borrowing a lot of their early influence from the King’s Heralds, the American gospel quartet that has been in existence since 1927, Heritage Brothers have over the years taken on other influences, including Negro spirituals.

Initially, most of their early music was a rendition of the King’s Heralds music, mostly arranged by Wayne Hooper for first tenor, second tenor, baritone and bass. However, their early sound included arrangements by the late Zambian chorale music icon John Mwesa, who had a rare genius for arranging African four and seven-part harmonies.

Believing in the co-existence of tones and chords, John Mwesa was always looking to promote African music, without completely casting away its western counterpart. He consistently aspired to African harmonies and tones, often arguing that church music as sung during worship was not ethnic, but merely western music translated into local languages.

This strong desire to incorporate music that reflected local harmonies, tonalities, melodies and instrumentation is seen in most of his arrangements from the mid 1980s to the late 1980s, some of which the Heritage Brothers have sung.

Alex Mwesa, who started out as the group’s second tenor before shifting to baritone part, stopped singing actively in the quartet in 2002. He now heads the arts department at Westwood International School.

“At least 12 different people have sung in the group over its 27 years’ existence,” says Mwesa.
A gifted arranger himself, he arranged a good measure of the quartet’s music from 1999 to 2002. Alwyn Njoloma, the group’s current first tenor, does most of the arrangements in the group’s current format.

The quartet has four albums to its name: “Amaka ya Mfumu” (loosely translated as ‘God’s power’) recorded in 1994; “God bless the child” in 1996; “Zambia the beautiful” in 1997; and “Beaulah land” in 2002.

The evening of April 6 promises to be one of enlivening and uplifting gospel harmonies.

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