By LA Weekly
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By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Performing with Ninateen is Adaawe, an ensemble of six women of various ethnic backgrounds that came together in 1996 to perform "organic music with percussion and vocals. We do traditional West African music," says group member Joselyn Wilkinson, who spent two years in Ghana, where she became interested in music performed by the local women. "Their music combines vocals, hand clapping, shakers, bells and dancing, and it's quite beautiful. What really moved me about it, however, is the social structure it grows out of; the communities of women in Ghana are extremely supportive of one another. Adaawe's songs revolve around the drum, which is regarded as an instrument for healing and spiritual expression. It's the skin of an animal, the wood of a tree, and each drum has its own voice."
The John Anson Ford Theater will host a Friday-night (October 15) performance by the Agape International Choir, which features 160 singers and a seven-piece band. "We'll be doing chants, but our chants aren't something you just listen to -- they're participatory," says Rickie Byars, who's directed the choir since 1988. "I believe everybody can sing, because it's only in the West that people feel you need special skills to sing. In Africa everybody sings, and that doesn't mean everybody's a singer -- it means singing is integral to how they live."
SATURDAY'S SCHEDULE (OCTOBER 16) FEATURES 16 events, 11 of which are free of charge and ideal for families. Among them are a cleanup of the L.A. River, a Music Walk at El Dorado Nature Center and a performance by Jeffrey Barnes Baha'i Choir at the L.A. Baha'i Center. "Shape-Note Singing From the Sacred Harp Tunebook" can also be heard on Saturday, at the Eagle Rock Community Cultural Center at 2 p.m.
"There's no actual harp used in sacred harp singing -- the word refers to the human voice," explains group member Mary Rose O'Leary. "Sacred harp is an a cappella form that originated in New England, but the South is where it took root and became popular. Essentially, it's a simple notation system that was developed as a quick way to teach music to people, who studied with singing masters who traveled the country holding singing schools. The tunes in the Sacred Harp songbook are largely Christian, but there's enough open-ended spirituality to the songs that you needn't be Christian to participate.
"Sacred harp music is best sung in old Baptist churches, where all the surfaces are wood and the ceilings are low," she adds. "We sit seated in a square facing each other and sing with uninhibited vigor, so the amplified sound comes back to you immediately. The harmonies are incredibly haunting, and when you first hear this music the sheer force of it can really sweep you off your feet. I encourage people to come and hear it, because it's a sound unlike anything."
Singing with comparable vigor and volume is the Zurich Boys' Choir, which was founded 40 years ago and makes its L.A. debut at the Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church at 7 p.m. on Saturday. The full choir includes 170 singers and musicians, ages 6 to 17; 70 boys will be in town to perform Swiss folk music and classical selections from the Baroque through the Romantic periods. "We maintain rigorous standards, and the boys rehearse three times a week, but they're not professional singers," says Beatrice Lombard, who handles public relations for the choir. "They're lively, unspoiled boys who treat one another like family. There's something so pure and emotional about this music, and people often come up and kiss the boys following their performances. Their goal is to bring happiness, and it seems that they do."
Events for the festival's closing day, Sunday, begin at 10 a.m. and continue until 9 p.m. Included on the schedule is "Gospel: The Excellence of Praise," at Cal State Long Beach at 2 p.m. Among the performers slated to appear are the Clara Ward Singers, and the phenomenal Blind Boys of Alabama, who are not to be missed.
If you're not sanctified by the time the curtain comes down on this dauntingly ambitious Festival of Sacred Music, you probably can't be helped. Taking the long view of the whole shebang, Judy Mitoma concludes, "We've prepared the banquet, and we hope the people of Los Angeles come and enjoy it. Obviously, L.A. has all the pain of a complex urban city, but this festival demonstrates what we're capable of. Thousands of people devoted themselves to putting this festival together, and that suggests to me that people who live here are willing to work and are ready and able to rise to a higher level."
For more information, see Concert listings in Calendar.