Kuumba Honors Black History Month

The Kuumba singers of Harvard University brought new meaning to the word Kuumba, Swahili for creativity, at last Friday night’s performance. The group expressed creativity in an artistic sense as well as in an ethical sense by defining it as leaving a place better than one finds it. Fofie Mgbako, a four-year senior at Harvard and president of Kuumba, said, “Kuumba spoke to an experience in college that I wanted to have, to learn about myself, history and to find a voice in a new place…Kuumba is about community, which originated with black students at Harvard needing a place to express themselves at a turbulent time. That is what we try to continue to do for each part, each rehearsal, each performance. We are learning about each other.” With a mix of spiritual and freedom pieces, the Kuumba Singers performed passionately and engaged the audience with each song. David Janovsky ’11 said, “It was great…the way the music really connects was uplifting.” The Kuumba singers took audience involvement further by asking the audience to stand for a piece dedicated to those who struggled for freedom in South Africa. The anthem, which is now incorporated into the anthem of South Africa, was a song of resistance and freedom. It was clear that each singer truly grasped the emotion and meaning behind each lyric he or she sang. The performance was interesting from beginning to end. Even if there was a recurring motive, the pieces never felt redundant because of how passionately the singers threw themselves into each and every word or hum. They also kept the sound fresh by clapping, swaying and stomping, which was very effective in creating an image of people who sang to keep their morale high as they trudged across a river in the last piece, “Jordan River.” Beyond the overwhelming spirit and enthusiasm each singer expressed, the Kuumba Singers had deep, strong voices. Their voices allowed them to sing without the accompaniment of any other instruments except for a small percussion accompaniment in the first piece. Each piece featured a different soloist or lead vocalist, and each lead vocalist featured a different quality in his or her voice to fit the piece. Even though there were moments when a singer missed a pitch, it seemed irrelevant because of the sheer power and soul in his or her voice. The group as a whole also had a very good balance between its basses, tenors, altos and sopranos. Balance of high and low was one of the few downfalls of Phillips Academy’s own Gospel Choir, which lacked sufficient bass and power on the low notes. Though clearly inexperienced, the Gospel Choir succeeded in creating an upbeat atmosphere before the more dramatic sound of the Kuumba Singers. The Gospel Choir opened for the Kuumba singers with an encore presentation of the same songs they sang for All-School Meeting on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, featuring Chelsea Quezergue ’10, who did an excellent job filling in for Hailee Minor ’08, and Peter Yang ’10 in “Testimony.” Mgbako, president of the Kuumba Singers said, “It was a great evening. [The Gospel Choir] was phenomenal, especially the soloists. We had a lot of fun; it is a beautiful space and really made it a special night. We are pleased to be here and hope to come back in the future.” Linda Griffith, Instructor in English and Director of CAMD, said, “I thought the choir was fantastic. It was a wonderful event for the middle of Black History Month. I was very pleased that they talked about the history and traditions, tying in art and spiritual aspects to create a nice climax [for Black History Month]…They were incredibly talented and inspirational.”