After The London African Gospel choir’s uplifting and energetic set at Plug on Saturday, H Media’s Gabby Willis was lucky enough to speak with frontman Derrick Kiteke, who has been a member of the choir since 2009.
We were chosen by Jazz Café, a very lovely pub in Camden, to do the album and then ended up taking it on tour.
What does performing the album mean to you and the choir?
At first we really just saw it as covering Paul Simon’s songs, but as we have gone on it has really been a blessing to us as the choir. In all the places we go to perform, we always start with our own repertoire of African gospel music, so it is as if we are using Graceland as a platform to promote African Gospel music. Not many people really have a chance of listening to this kind of music, but we then give them a chance to listen to it for a good thirty minutes at the beginning of our set.
How did the crowd in Sheffield compare to your usual audiences?
The Sheffield crowd was very vibrant, loud and happy. When we sing Graceland, we really expect the crowd to sing along and join in with the songs, but when we sing the African Gospel songs, we are expectant to see how they will take it in. It was joyful to see the Sheffielders trying to sing along when they may not have even been able to understand some of the words.
We have quite a lot of different crowds, but they usually bring the same kind of atmosphere. It’s just the type of music that ends up getting them in to everything.
Is there any other albums that you think you may want to cover next?
This is the first album that we have actually covered, and most of our shows are at functions like conferences and weddings. Graceland has really given us a chance to expand into a different platform, so we are looking forward to another challenge after this. Maybe The Fugees?
When Graceland came, we didn’t think we would be able to do it. The first time our director brought the songs to us and told us which of us would be leading them, we thought there’s no way we can sing these songs. But at the end of it all, we’ve really conquered it!
Have you had any contact from Paul Simon?
Up to now, we are still wondering if he even knows that we exist. It is becoming a really big project, and today we had the BBC filming us, so you never know, maybe that is how he will get a chance to hear us! I hope if he ever contacts us, it will be a positive response.
What is your next project?
We still have a few more dates with Graceland (Leamington Spa, Newcastle etc). We have a few charity shows; even one with Tom Jones on December 6th. Sharing the same stage with him is something we are looking forward to.
We also have some Christmas shows ahead, so we are learning some African Christmas songs.
It’s evident from watching The London African Gospel Choir that they are all like a big family, in love with what they do. They can work a crowd, encouraging them to sing back with different parts for the ladies and men, and teaching them some of the dance moves that are seen on stage. Powerful solos and duets were mixed into perfect harmonies, and their accompanying group of musicians were as much a part of the group as the singers, each also getting their own introduction and chance to wow the crowd with a solo.
The album was preceded with a selection of traditional African Gospel music to warm up the room, before the choir took a short break and returned to the stage to great applause, launching into “I Know What I know”. The show ended on a similar high with the album’s title track, and then obligatory encore which was met with more excitement, as “You Can Call Me Al” gave the choir a chance to really play with audience participation.
Finally, the singers took it in turns to show off their dance moves to wind down the show, featuring a very impressive pop and lock routine from Charles Ngobi, who Derrick says is on “another high level” that none of the other choir members can reach.
There’s definitely something for everyone to love during a night with The London African Gospel choir, and we would recommend that as many people experience the rest of their shows as possible.