Gayle gets musical

A festival in Bury gave Gayle a chance to stretch her lyrical wings in an uplifting experience.

I don't often use this column to tell you What I Did at the Weekend, but I am making an exception this week because I was involved in a joyous and life enhancing experience that makes a tale worth telling.

Last Friday saw the launch of the Bury Festival, with a free concert of African songs in the Abbey Gardens. The band, Mbawula, was backed by a `township choir' of volunteers and I, dear reader, was among them.

Last year, a similar event raised a choir of fewer than 20 people. This year, in one giant bound, the numbers swelled to 300! Primary, middle and upper schools contributed more than 200 pupils and around 70 adult singers joined in.

The fact that this monster project took off is a tribute to the vision and imagination of Festival director Nick Wells, who coped magnificently with the logistical challenge of staging the event (as well as joining the choir himself) and musical director Paul Bartholomew who wove the magic that brought this huge, diverse group of singers together as one resonant instrument.

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Paul travelled up to Suffolk every week for a couple of months with singer Joyce Moholoagae to coach us all in various African languages, in four part harmony.

Women outnumbered men by about ten to one but the tenors and basses bravely soldiered on to hold their line!

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I enjoyed the whole thing tremendously and wouldn't have missed it for anything. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm and cheerfulness generated in rehearsals, a kind of playfulness and experimentation that we don't normally enjoy in our everyday lives (well, I don't anyway).

Joyce patiently talked us through the pronunciation of the unfamiliar words, urging us to exaggerate the vowels and move our mouths more. One of the consonants in Xhosa is a click sound, and she explained it as being like getting your tongue stuck to the roof of your mouth with peanut butter.

She explained in English what the songs meant and told us to be careful to NOT to pronounce the word 'mokoni' as 'makoni' because that's rude! (Apologies to any reader who knows WHY it's rude.)

On the night, the weather was perfect, the scene in the park idyllic.

We gathered at the Angel Hotel until the guardsmen had finished Beating the Retreat then processed across Angel Hill, chanting a song about Nelson Mandela, leading the audience down to a stage set up by the river.

Hundreds of people came to watch - and to dance.

The band, a mix of African and UK musicians, played to such an irresistibly swinging beat that people were soon clapping stamping and swaying (and that was just the choir on stage!) No, seriously, everyone in the audience seemed to be having a wonderful time - and so did we.

Singing is good for body and soul, they say, and this was an absolute tonic.

Caught up in the music, we could forget the weaknesses of age or youth, leave our troubles behind and live in the moment. For all of us, it was a chance to soar.

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