Reviews: African Sanctus

Great Hall, University of Reading

On Saturday night I was impressed by the Wokingham Choral Society and Wokingham Choral Academy. Their performance of African Sanctus by David Fanshawe was electrifying.

The work is ambitious, seeking to unify Islamic calls to prayer, courtship dances, love songs, desert bells, rain songs, war dances and African lamentations with a modern western setting for the Christian mass.

The music produces a cauldron of religious fervours and a bubbling kettle of superstitions. Coming from the rhythms of Africa, it juxtaposes the simplicity of desert bells or Hadandua war drums with the traditional latin chants of the mass. The music of Africa merges into the music of the west.

I kept thinking of Wokingham’s Unum e pluribus motto – one out of many. The work finds the underlying humanity and common feelings that unite such different traditions and different ways of viewing religion and the world.

The main elements of the human condition, love and war, loss and joy, are summed up.

The high point is the singing of the Lord’s prayer in English after the noises of African happiness and fear, celebration and exhortation. The soloist, Jenny Stafford, sang it superbly, commanding the Great Hall of Reading with her clear high notes, reaching a crescendo of controlled voice power.

All were good on the night. The drummers were at the centre of the action, keeping continuity between the recordings of African music and the Fanshawe western score. They excelled themselves with the beats.

The singers were wonderful, especially the choirs’ sopranos rendering war dance notes.


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