After hearing Clegg, Baez, and the Soweto Gospel Choir perform the song Asimbonanga at the Nelson Mandela 90th Birthday Tribute concert in London in 2008, Madiba lightheartedly said the following: “It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world.” Many years later, most singers will still give you an “amen” on that quote.

Almost everyone has a story about how singing in a choir changed their lives when asking any die-hard choristers about their choir journey.

When reading the word “choir”, most people immediately think of groups of people singing. Some find it beautiful others might even find it a bit boring. Most people, however, will never understand the word’s real meaning. For people singing in choirs, especially in a sometimes very socially challenged country like South Africa, the word “choir” might mean something completely different.

For many young choristers in SA, choir is a place where they can freely express themselves, no matter their background or circumstances. For many, it’s a place of safety where they have the choice of a better life, especially if they come from areas where violence and hanging with the wrong crowds are the norm. For many, it is a place where there is no judgment about their sexual orientation, religion, or skin colour. It is where they can be whomever they choose to be, and it is often a place of peace.

South Africa needs choirs, not only for the healing it brings to the people listening to their music but also for the healing it brings to so many people singing in it. And to survive, these choirs need opportunities to perform, need to be educated, and need to be heard.

As a mother of a son whose life was choir, Alta MarĂ© soon realised that the gap between privileged choirs and less privileged choirs was huge. Alta’s dream was to create a platform where choirs could celebrate music together, build networks and embrace diversity, regardless of background and experience. A platform where mental health and education had a preference. And that is how the Choral Celebration Network Foundation (CCNF) NPC came to life.

Since its inception in late 2018, CCNF has engaged with more than 9000 singers, 240 choirs and 390 conductors.

With 14 festivals in 2019, 26 virtual festivals during the COVID-19 pandemic, 6 festivals so far this year, and 4 Conductor indabas later, CCNF has allowed choirs and conductors to uplift, be uplifted, inspire, be inspired, educate and be educated in the art of choir. In all of these festivals you would have seen world-class choirs and conductors performing and sharing knowledge alongside lesser-known, lesser-experienced and less-fortunate choirs.

There are still 6 festivals left this year, but the project that excites CCNF the most is the launch of their UDUMO Project Choir on 7 October. This event will see choirs participate in a 2-day event consisting of fantastic development sessions hosted at Moreleta NG Church in Pretoria. The gala concert will include individual choir performances of a Primary school mass, two high schools and one adult choir of 250 singers and then various items by the combined 1000-strong participant mass choir on 8 October. Choristers participating will get exposure to some of the world’s best conductors.

This uniquely South African event will expand to two more provinces in 2023, and they hope to have an active UDOMO choir in each of our 9 provinces by 2025.

As an organisation, CCNF believes in giving back to the community through music and any other means possible. They will, therefore, also launch a new annual outreach drive at the first UDUMO event.

“As an additional outreach program, we would also like to use this UDUMO project to feed some less fortunate students. Audience members of our gala concert will be asked to each bring a tin of veggies, and these tins will then be distributed at Jacaranda Hostel for post-graduates at the University of Pretoria.” Says founder and director Alta MarĂ© from CCNF.

CCNF is a fully audited public benefit organisation (PBO), a registered non-profit company (NPC) and offers tax clearance certificates to all beneficiaries. For more information, visit their website at www.ccnf.co.za.