“We close our season with not just a concert, but a celebration.”
These were the words of Charles E. Sykes, the executive director of the African American Arts Institute, as he took the stage to greet audience members and introduce the African American Choral Ensemble Saturday at the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre.
The African American Choral Ensemble is part of the African American Institute, which includes the African American Dance Company and IU Soul Revue. Each of these groups is a credited course in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies.
The show began with the ensemble immersing themselves within the audience. Some members stood on stage and sang, while others lined the inner aisles of the theater. The ensemble sang “Hlonolofatsa,” a South African greeting song.
The song means “bless everything in the name of the Father,” director Raymond Wise said.
The ensemble sang a variety of song genres, including spirituals, composed works and inspirational songs. The first spiritual song, called “I’ll Keep Marchin’ til I Make It Home,” was originally sung by slaves. They sang about finding freedom, not only in the north, but after they die, in heaven.
“I’ll keep marchin’ to that city, I’ll keep marchin’ til I make it there,” the ensemble sang.
Many of the songs told about times of slavery and African American strife. One song was sung during the Civil Rights movement, called “We Shall Overcome," Wise said. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
“Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome, someday,” the ensemble sang.
To introduce the Stevie Wonder classic “I Wish,” Wise talked about the issues kids face today, like bullying and school shootings.
“Kids just can’t be kids,” he said.
The ensemble sang the song while playing around on stage, just as kids would do.
The atmosphere was light and joyful, with audience members holleriong as the ensemble sang in soaring voices about freedom.
At one point in the show, Wise invited the audience to join in the performance. He asked audience members to stand on their feet. Wise and the ensemble taught audience members how to sway and clap to the beat of the music before performing a call and response, in which Wise would sing something, and the audience and ensemble would repeat it.
After singing the song, Wise got back on the microphone to say a few words about the audience participation before beginning the next piece.
“You are free,” he said.