The African Choir 1891 Re-imagined

Charlotte Maxeke, The African Choir, London, 1891
Charlotte Maxeke, The African Choir, London, 1891

If you find yourself in Johannesburg sometime over the next few weeks do yourself a favour and pay a visit to the Apartheid Museum. A worthwhile outing on any day, the museum is currently playing host to the travelling exhibition, The African Choir 1891 Re-imagined. A collection of largescale framed photographic portraits, combined with sound recordings, the exhibition re-enacts the music of the Victorian-era ‘African Choir’, and reveals photographs that until recently, when they were discovered in London’s Hulton Archive, had been unseen for 125 years.

While there are no known recordings of the choir, whose members included the likes of Charlotte Maxeke, Katie Makanya and Paul Xiniwe, a concert programme has survived, and its from this that their music has been recreated. The choir toured Great Britain and America between 1891 and 1893 in order to raise funds to build a technical college in South Africa. They performed to great acclaim to large audiences, including a performance for Queen Victoria in the summer of 1891. Their repertoire was divided into two halves: one comprised Christian hymns sung in English, while the other consisted of traditional African hymns, including some of the first originally composed hymns by South African composers, John Bokwe and the Reverend Tiyo Soga.

Based on research to date, the photographs represent the most comprehensive body of portraits of Africans in Victorian London.

The African Choir 1891 Re-imagined opened at the Apartheid Museum on the 7th of February and will run until the end of March.

Leave a Comment