by Sarah Burack
I’d venture to guess that Kuumba enjoys one of the widest reputations among Harvard students; most, it seems, have either seen the group perform or at the very least heard of it. Before last night, I had heard Kuumba sing many times, but always as part of some other event, and never in the context of its own show.
But really, a Kuumba show is the only way to fully experience the group as it’s the only format that lets you appreciate the group’s range, both in terms of performance and in terms of meaning. Kuumba is one of those groups that means many things to many people, often simultaneously. At times triumphant and powerful, at times reflective, the group sang a selection of pieces ranging from traditional choral work and gospel, to original contemporary arrangements, Christmas-inspired spirituals, and music from the African diaspora. Audience and chorus alike enacted a complicated process of dispersal and cohesion—there were moments when a few individuals from the crowd stood and swayed to their own private raptures, and there were thundering crescendos that lifted every member of the audience from their seats. Within Kuumba too, sometimes the voices sang as one, so loud you almost couldn’t hear, and, at other points, the choir would break apart, address itself, each other, in an internal call and response.
The voices, it goes without saying, were amazing, a true blessing, as was often repeated throughout the night. And it’s the idea of blessing that I think makes the Kuumba holiday concert particularly special, because it is in fact a holiday celebration in its truest sense, a celebration of the spiritual, the virtuous, and, quite literally, the holy day. It’s this seriousness of purpose that undercuts all of Kuumba’s work and which, to my mind, makes their music so powerful. Regardless of your own personal faith or beliefs, their songs—even such popular ones as "Joy to the World" and "Angels We Have Heard On High"— promise to uplift the spirit in ways that "Jingle Bells" just can’t.
So if you’re free tonight, I’d recommend heading down to Memorial Church for their second show, set to start at 8pm. Chances are you'd notice it anyway, it'll be the building ablaze with light and song. Tickets are free, and while most have been distributed, you have a good chance of getting in if you just wait at the door.