Turning a New Leaf, with the London Lucumi Choir

The London Lucumi Choir, the leading exponent of Afro-Cuban Santeria-based devotional music in the UK, recently launched new album called Lullabies for Naila. The album features contributions from several guest artistes, including yours truly. I performed a medley of Yoruba lullabies and children’s songs on the album (as a soloist) and also accompanied the choir on an Afro-Cuban lullaby, which can be heard at the end of the recording.

The Afro-Cuban Santeria belief system has roots in West African (especially Yoruba) beliefs. The devotional song repertoire in Cuba has retained some elements of Yoruba as it is spoken now by people of that ethnicity that originate from Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Togo and Ghana. The deities that are called upon in the praise and worship ceremonies of the Santeria faith still bear the same names they are called in contemporary African Yoruba communities, such as Yemoja, Oshun and Oya (all Goddesses of Seas and Rivers) Shango (God of Thunder), Ogun (God of Iron and War) and Eshu (Trickster God of Fate).

Bringing things closer to Transculturalvisions’ Singing Cultures project, Fela Sowande (the patriarch of Nigerian art music and one of our principal inspirational figures) became a scholarly authority on Yoruba religion in the Diaspora, after his most creatively fertile period as a composer. Many theologians of Santeria, Candomble and other Yoruba-derived belief systems in the New World draw inspiration from Sowande’s research and writings on this topic.

The London Lucumi Choir is also a great example of the dynamic flow and exchange of beliefs, feelings, thoughts and ideas that have emerged out of our shared history of slavery, colonialism and imperialism. Most of the choristers were not brought up in the Santeria faith, but they draw sustenance and energy from traditions that originated in Yoruba communities. The choir has a remarkable pedigree; comprising of people of many races and backgrounds. It has done very well in BBC Radio 3’s Choir of the Year on several occasions.

My association with this group dates back to 2009 when I was commissioned by Daniela De Armas (née Rosselson, the choir’s director) to compose a choral piece entitled Time and the Trickster’s Heart. The piece was performed in public on many occasions, sometimes incorporating the flamboyant physical talents of Union Dance. A highlight of that era was our performance in the Gardens at Kensington Palace, in a summer festival.

Time and the Trickster’s Heart is about to be revived in the choir’s repertoire, with a view towards making a recording for posterity.

This blog post written by Juwon Ogungbe 

Juwon OgungbeJuwon is a classical musician & composer of Nigerian heritage. His compositions have been commissioned by the RSC; BBC; Union Dance; and Southbank Centre. Juwon has a track record of devising and leading community music projects and conducting choirs.

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