They may be too young to know much about George, Paul, Ringo or John, but when the African Children’s Choir arrived to record at Abbey Road Studios earlier this week, they knew they had the privilege of being in a very special place. Just as the Beatles produced music there in the sixties that impacted their generation, the Choir hope their own music will make a big impact – on the lives and living conditions of thousands of African children.
The African Children’s Choir were delighted to be asked to accompany some tracks on the debut album of South African Opera Singer, Pumeza Matshikiza – one of the newest signings on London based label, Decca, who have recorded with opera stars like Luciano Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland.
Thirty four year old Pumeza started singing at church and in school choirs, but as a teenager she discovered opera on the radio. “I felt a connection with opera. I heard it randomly on the radio before it was introduced to us in choirs or before I even went and studied music,” she explains. “And when I heard this it was really incredible, the smoothness of the voice, the orchestra – everything just was beautiful and I fell in love with it.”
Pumeza auditioned for the South African College of Music and was discovered by the composer Kevin Volans. Impressed by her voice, he funded her ticket to London so she could audition for the Royal College of Music. After hearing her sing, they offered her a full scholarship. She went on to be awarded a three-year contract with Germany’s Stuttgart State Opera, one of Europe’s foremost opera houses, and has performed at London’s Royal Opera House.
Pumeza Matshikiza knows that today, she’s living a life that would have seemed like a fairy tale when she was growing up. She has made the journey from townships to opera houses with the help of some individuals who came alongside and believed in her. She also knows that the African Children’s Choir members are being given the opportunity to develop their God given gifts and have the potential to see their dreams come true too.
But for now it’s their authentic sound that will make such a valuable contribution at the Abbey Road Studios. “I have in me the African heritage and I’ve studied classical music, so it’s quite interesting that my debut album will have all the different textures of my musical heritage,” says Pumeza. The songs were selected to reflect the musical theme of her childhood growing up in Cape Town.
The children were also delighted to be reunited again with Dirk Brosse, the ‘Arranger’ for the Abbey Road recordings. Dirk previously worked with the African Children’s Choir on their ‘Africa’s Heartbeat’ album, recorded in Uganda, and also their theatre show, ‘Prince of Africa’. The children enjoy working with Dirk since he has the knack of drawing out their best performance, whilst keeping everyone relaxed and in good form. Their favourite piece was ‘The Lion Sleep Tonight’ with much pleasure taken in creating the jungle animal sounds.
Pumeza Matshikiza points out, “This music has never been sung in an opera before. The African Children’s Choir may see their Abbey Road experience as an exciting adventure, but they may also be part of making musical history in the process. The ultimate goal, however, is that it will lead to a better future for other children growing up in Africa.”