Namibian choir gives a taste of home, song

Audience members swayed in their seats and clapped their hands to the rhythm of African drums Tuesday evening when the University of Namibia Choir performed at Battell Chapel.

The concert, which was sponsored by the Yale Glee Club, concluded the UNAM Choir’s two-and-a-half-week-long U.S. tour and a cultural exchange that began two years ago during the Yale group’s tour of Africa. The group of 18 Namibians — high costs prevented the entire group of 60 from making the trip — performed “Pamwe,” an African musical, which told a story through a combination of songs, dialogue, dance and narration.

The U.S. State Department and several U.S. colleges, including Yale, sponsored the UNAM tour which included stops in Atlanta, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City.

Wynn Meyer ’04, a former member of the Glee Club who went on the African tour in 2002, said there was a difference between the more traditional western sound of the Glee Club and that of the UNAM choir.

“It’s a different sound, the Namibian choir has a deeper sound. They seem in general more spirited,” she said.

The group performs songs in many languages, including English, Afrikaans and Oshiwambo, the most common-spoken language in Namibia, Festus Naingwendje, a third-year student at the University of Namibia, said. The group’s concerts include dancing, and many songs are performed a cappella.

The musical the Namibians performed Tuesday night told the story of a village faced with a series of disasters. After villagers mistakenly blame a stranger for their woes and almost kill him, they realize the importance of tolerance and diversity.

The performers wore costumes that represented Namibia’s 13 major cultural groups, said Danie Strydom, artistic director of the UNAM Choir. He said blurring the lines between different artistic elements is characteristic of African performance art.

“In African culture, there’s no singing, dancing. One thing leads into another,” Strydom said.

Members of the UNAM Choir had been in New Haven since Sunday. In addition to the concert, the group sang with a graduate student choir and rehearsed with the Yale Glee Club on Monday, said Lee Davis ’05, the president of the club. They also had social events with the Yale students.

“On Sunday afternoon, we played American football on the Green,” Davis said.

The UNAM students stayed with the Yale students in their dorms. Naingwendje said he appreciated the hospitality of his Yale hosts.

“We have seen wonderful people. They are so friendly to us,” he said.

Meyer said she was impressed with the hospitality the Namibians showed Yale students when they toured Africa in 2002. On that tour, the Yale Glee Club performed with both the UNAM Choir and a youth choir in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.

Meyer said some of the most meaningful memories she had from the 2002 tour were of time spent with UNAM students in an informal setting, she said.

“We went and hung out on campus, and played basketball with the students,” she said.

Members of the University of Namibia Choir take the stage at Battell Chapel, entertaining the audience with a combination of song, dance and narrative. Their costumes are representative of the 13 major cultural groups in Namibia and their songs are performed in a variety of languages.
Jonathan Ferrugia
Members of the University of Namibia Choir take the stage at Battell Chapel, entertaining the audience with a combination of song, dance and narrative. Their costumes are representative of the 13 major cultural groups in Namibia and their songs are performed in a variety of languages.

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