JULY 27: Chigoma!   Chigoma took first place.  Second place went to Mcondece, and third went to Chicaia.  Third place was a bit of a dark horse, but was no doubt due to the fact that Mr. Matifalo has created his own compositions and the completely adult choir of eight singers performed them with utter conviction, a novelty in this region that the crowd went wild for.  Hurrah!  The award for best choirmaster went to Mr. Jaime Chimphanga of Mcondece, a very-well deserved award for one of the most musical choral directors I know in this or any other culture.  I play one video recording over and over of my time there in Mcondece in which he improvises a sermon over the choir, singing “behind the time” (a difficult concept to explain – sort of singing out of rhythm while being completely aware of and in relation to the rhythm), but even as he was singing behind the time, he was dancing in rhythm and indicating with his arms when the choir should enter or stop singing.  A genuine master class.

The Miss Nkwichi left sometime between 6:30 and 7 in the morning.  This was a one-boat peacetime operation worthy of D-Day in terms of planning.  To give an idea, I alone had packed a complete change of clothes for the evening performance (a sport coat, tie, dress pants and dress shoes that I packed just for this one occasion), the sixty five judging sheets each for the choirs and choirmasters, the informational handouts the choirmasters needed concerning food and travel reimbursement, the music for “Chauta,” a pitch pipe, the award certificates, nice pens to write the village names on the certificates, paper and pen to write the information for any original compositions that came my way in the early afternoon, my iPad to document these original compositions (for submission to earthsongs, an American publisher of world music), matches to light the candles on stage, tennis shoes to change into once we had waded out of the boat and I was off and running errands, my computer to show a slide show of all the photos of choirs I had taken in the village to show during the time I was adding all the scores, my video camera… oh, and my PASSPORT!!!

The boat also was carrying pots and basins for cooking, 65 chickens (kept frozen in the Nkwichi solar-powered coolers, 715 mustard green leaves (they are sold by the bunch in averages of five), 15 kilograms of tomatoes, 7 kilograms of beans, a giant bag of nsima powder, giant wooden serving spoons made specially for the festival, prizes for the choirs and choirmasters, crates of empty wine bottles to serve as candle holders, the candles themselves, a generator and lights newly bought for the occasion and all the wires to hook them up, sleeping bags and blankets to accommodate the choirmasters from far villages who were staying overnight, and more bags and boxes that I never knew what they contained.  In addition to staff and volunteers from Nkwichi, we picked up a total of ten women volunteers and their six infants in the villages of Mala and Namisse (which is actually part of Mala), making a total of twenty-six people on the boat – a chapa on the lake, I thought to myself.  We were so full, we had to shout out to the village volunteers in Utonga that they would need to walk to Cobué because the boat would sink if we picked them up!  It was good to know boatmen are more sensible than chapa drivers, who would have picked them up anyway.

When we landed on Julius’ beach, we immediately started loading the truck to bring our supplies from the beach up the hill to the “kitchen,” otherwise known as the remains of the Catholic school that was gutted and burned during the wars.  Again as we were loading, I had a chance to marvel at the strength of women’s heads and necks here, as I watched one petite woman struggle to receive and lift a car battery.  I was rushing over to take it from her when she made a quick push to the top of her head, and instantly her posture changed and she quickly and almost elegantly carried the car battery to the truck.

We unloaded the supplies at the kitchen as some of the children went down to the beach to load giant drums of water from the lake to bring back for cooking.  I made my way to the church to begin to set up the chairs for the chiefs and honored guests.  The morning was a lot of waiting punctuated by occasional trips from the truck to drop off a few more tables and chairs.  Mr. Joe and Mr. Rafael began to work on the wiring for the new generator and the lights for the stage.  I was trying to figure out how to hang the giant welcome banner, and I was putting out our “candle holders” on the steps of the church.  Occasionally a child would walk by, see me and burst into “Chauta, Chauta….”  It was happening; we were really going to do this after all this time.

The band Body, Mind and Soul arrived and began setting up.  They had a huge amount of equipment, and we needed them to set up their massive (by local standards) sound system on some of the twelve bench pews that we had brought for the choirs.  We did not need twelve pews anyway; we knew each waiting choir would only have a maximum of twenty singers.

Some people had gone to the boardinghouse to get it set up for the choirmasters to stay the next three days.  The building was still an empty shell, and it needed to get the mattresses set up and mosquito nets hung.  Despite the measurements I took, the curtains had arrived too small, and only two windows could be fixed to be private.  We made sure the curtains were on the windows looking towards the neighbors then made sure the choirmasters’ beds were set up in those rooms.

Lunchtime (spaghetti) came at two.  No choirs had come to sing their original creations; that was scheduled at one.  One choirmaster had come to say that his village was hosting a traditional women’s dance that afternoon and that he would not be able to come at one (which of course I already knew by then!), but could he bring the group at five?  I wanted to encourage the creation of original pieces, so I told him I would be happy to do that.

Last minute errands and details were beginning to pile on; we were putting on a more elaborate event electrically and presentationally than heretofore.  Time was flying, but the choirs were still operating on African time.  I knew the choirs would be late for our rehearsal; but I had not counted on the judges from Lichinga arriving then, when I was doing something else, announcing to Mr. Joe that they were going to go eat something and would be back later.  There would not be time to explain the judging system to them before we started, especially because they spoke only Portuguese and all my interpreters would be too busy doing other things.

The six o’clock start time scheduled for the event came and went as we waited for final wiring and the cords to be secured, for the judges to arrive and for me to take videos of two late-coming choirs with original compositions.  Then it was time for rehearsal of “Chauta,” which was more an open dress rehearsal by this point.  The choirs were thrilled to do the piece together, and we all applauded for one another at the end of our run-through.  This was an auspicious beginning.

Then, it was time!  I would love to give a detailed report of all the groups and who did what; but to be honest, my evening was a blur of adding score sheets, running up to the stage to let Mr. Patson know which choirs to announce could go to the kitchen to get their nsima and mchicha, and writing names on certificates and judging sheets. I was happy that my opening speech in Nyanja was well received.  Mr. Joe came up on stage just in case I got into trouble (I almost did at one moment when my mind went blank, but I found a different way to say what I wanted).  I did see the choirs from time to time and noted that the posture was markedly different in many ensembles from the first encounter I had had with them.  This was enough information to let me know that I had been of some assistance to them, which freed me up to concentrate on the tasks at hand to make sure they had as good an experience as possible.

The awards ceremony went off without a hitch, and the band played until 1:30 in the morning.  We couldn’t begin to disassemble things until 2.  When we got to the beach, there was no boat for us yet.  The lodge guests had taken the speedboat back, and the volunteers and staff family members had taken the Miss Nkwichi.  The speedboat arrived to get us around 3:30 in the morning, and because it took time to load the boat and to drop people off at villages along the way, it was 4:45 before I was back in my hut ready for some sleep.  I was up by 6:45 in order to get the DVD transfers begun.

I have some photos of preparations but none of the actual event; I am hoping to take those from the videos later when I process them.  In the meantime, I don’t have time today to post any (and the lodge is running low on bandwidth for the end of the month) – maybe I can put some pictures in a later post.  Pardon the lack of editing on this post; I hope it makes sense.  All is well in the choral world in the Manda Wilderness today.  Tomorrow I will learn more about how the choirmasters are feeling about the entire event. 
Surprise! I got a picture up of our afternoon setup work... the judges tables and amfumu's chairs facing the "stage." Note the wine bottle candle holders. The speakers on the sides are resting on church benches.

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    A choral conductor walking cheerfully over the world...


    May 2013