June 28th 2014, a warm sunny Saturday, saw the choir up nice and early and making its way to Birstall Methodist Church to lay down the tracks of its first professionally recorded album. At 8a.m. a few eager members arrived to help set up mikes, run cables, do sound checks, set levels and the most important job on a day such as this, make sure the tea urn was full !
By 9a.m. everyone had arrived in various degrees of alertness. We were in place and ready to start. After a warm up we were off, starting with Famba Naye, to lift our spirits and get us in the mood for a full day of song and hard work. It certainly did the trick.
There was no holding us back now, we were on a roll with most tracks only needing one take despite the occasional interruption from lorry, plane or eager passerby who tried to be a part of our album.
It was 3 p.m. We had laid down all the tracks, including the beautiful thought provoking Sinomhlobo and Shenandoah; the toe tapping, uplifting gospel number I’ll fly away; the always popular Kwabonakala andFamba Naye and the haunting Ya baha ul Abha.
The end of the day saw the whole choir on the front steps of the church for a photograph which in typical Amika style turned into an impromptu performance as we all burst into song, startling the passersby on their way to the Birstall fete.
The festival was arranged over 2 days this year which, as expected resulted in a smaller attendance but this was further reduced by two choirs being snowed in, in more northerly parts. There were still about 250 people there, all raring to go and full of good singing and bonhomie. As always the organisation was immaculate. We quickly learned the first two songs and sang them to good performance standard after only an hour. Learning with individual teachers for each part is a great way of getting on top of songs quickly. Time for lunch and the busking started. Not so many buskers as most years, partly because of the weather. We looked each other in the eye and said 'How about it'? Not realising how close we were to the end of lunch we decided to give Dithotonyana a spin. After much humming and hahing about the start notes - 'Let's go on the stage' we said - and did.
Amika now has a magic switch that we seem to able to press and suddenly spring into song. I guess we all have Una May's voice ringing in our heads and we are brimming with the confidence that she gives to us. Well, we got stuck into 'Weile, Weile' with a vengeance! The dancing was great, despite some misleading steers form the front. I was facing the choir and hadn't noticed that lunch was finished and everyone was busy taking their places behind me. As we finished the song the audience behind me erupted in a spontaneous roar of real joy, with loud clapping and whistling. I turned to see all the smiling faces and we took a bow and moved off the stage just in time for the afternoon session to start. Lots of nice feed back from the audience - 'So much energy', 'That's the way to sing an African song', 'I loved the dance etc.' I was glowing with pride and thought 'Una May would be proud of us'.
Two more songs were learned in quick succession - so much so that the session was completed early, which enabled a quick sing through all the days songs before the concert rehearsal period started. The choir were in top form in rehearsal - singing 'Moon River' as sweetly as you could imagine. We decided to slip in a quick run through of Hamba Naye as a walk off song. Michelle's confident pitching and rendition of the call allowed us to make a good fist of it. Quick cup of tea and then ready to go on stage as first on for the afternoon concert. The organisers had taken pity on my need to make a quick getaway and allowed us to leapfrog the list.
The audience were already with us after 'Dithotonyana' and they fell silent to listen to Pat, Rob, Cee and Kitty sing the first part of the song as a quartet to perfection and we were on our way. Once again a genuine warmth from the audience and time to plug Leicester Sing for Water! Michelle then launched us into Famba Naye - one quick round and then move off the stage to make way for the next act. There was good cheer as we reached our seats - still singing. At that point I had to 'leg it' - so someone else will have to write the rest of the story.......