CHCI News, Conference, Annual Meeting

“The African Choir 1891 Re-Imagined” Multi-Media Art Exhibit Added to Annual Meeting

The African Choir 1891 Re-Imagined is a site-specific digital projection featuring image, text and sound. The installation is based on the African Choir’s first tour to Victorian England in 1891. It comprises five songs re-created by the composers Phillip Miller and Thuthuka Sibisi from an original nineteenth century concert programme along with twenty photographic portraits of the original members of the Choir re-discovered in London at the Hulton Archive after 125 years. 

The original fourteen-member African Choir, drawn from mission stations and church choirs in the Eastern Cape, toured England and the USA. Choir members such as Charlotte Maxeke (née Manye), her sister Katie Makanya and Paul Xiniwe later became leading social activists and reformers in South Africa. They performed to great acclaim to large audiences in England, and before Queen Victoria. Their repertoire was divided into two halves: one comprised Christian hymns sung in English together with popular operatic arias and choruses; the other consisted of traditional African hymns, and some of the first originally composed hymns by South African composers John Bokwe and the Rev. Tiyo Soga.

The choir’s performances on tour were never recorded, although one of the concert programmes has survived.  This has given freedom for the composers to re-imagine the repertoire. Working with fourteen young singers in a series of improvised and collaborative workshops in Cape Town in 2015, they recreated the original repertoire. 

The African Choir 1891 Re-Imagined connects the composers with the curatorial research led by Renée Mussai as part of Autograph ABP’s on-going Black Chronicles/The Missing Chapter archive research program. The exhibit premiered in London in 2016 and is showing in Cape Town before travelling to Johannesburg to the Apartheid Museum and the FADA Gallery. 

Times and Locations

IZIKO South African National Gallery

  • August 8, 6pm: Exhibit Opening event
  • August 9 (Women's Day), 1pm: Panel Discussion 
  • November 13: Exhibit closing 

Cape Town Civic Centre Main Concourse

  • August 8–18: Running from 8am to 5pm daily
  • August 10, 5pm: Composers' Introduction at the projection site

This event is presented in partnership with Autograph ABP and Tshisa Boys Productions, curated by Renée Mussai. Autograph partnered by Arts Council England, and Getty Images/Hulton Archive. Hosted by IZIKO South African National Gallery, Centre for Humanities Research at the UWC, the Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg and VIAD, University of Johannesburg. Sponsored by the South African Department of Arts and Culture, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the South African National Research Foundation.