Chorale is said to be the oldest musical art form and it has enjoyed popularity in Botswana once upon a time. Though misty-eyed enthusiasts may say otherwise, its popularity has waned. However, jazz and chorale, fused together, was Reggie Kopi’s vision of popularising chorale music in Botswana once again.
On Thursday, Botswana Chorus was launched, presenting a showcase titled Chorale Goes Jazz. The evening started with three jazz acts; Brand New Vibe, the jazz ensemble that accompanies the choir, lead by Gavin Bantom on keyboards, and has Enock Mbewe, a sought after session musician on drums. Brand New Vibe showcases two young men, Gomotsegang Rapoo (guitar) and Sakkie Nonong (bass guitar), who at ages 18 and 19 are probably Botswana’s youngest, able jazz instrumentalists.
Bassist City Seetso, who has two younger siblings singing in the choir, played two of his compositions, How Sweet and Kolobeng. Shanti Lo has also established himself as a jazz vocalist with panache and draws from the swing era performed Summertime and a South African jazz standard, Tsakwe.
The material performed by Botswana Chorus’ soloists included two South African jazz standards, Lakutshon’langa, popularised by Miriam Makeba and Meadowlands. The rest of their repertoire was Setswana folk songs arranged to popular afro jazz rhythms. The structure of the songs maintained traditionally chorale singing with music accompanying the singing.
Most of the lead singers where outstanding and sang in perfect pitch along with the choir but encountered problems finding their pitch when soloing with the band. A problem many vocalists experience in early days of singing alongside a live band.
Choirs have historically been silent-observer requisite performances. But With Choral Goes Jazz, chorale music has adopted an afro-jazz personality that encourages a sense of community in that the audience might not be able to resist singing along.