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Alexander L’Estrange conducts Zimbe! at Carnegie Hall

May. 01, 2019

On May 24Alexander L'Estrange conducts a performance of his beloved choral work Zimbe! - Come, sing the songs of Africa! at Carnegie Hall. This performance will be presented by Distinguished Concerts International (DCINY).

Alexander L'Estrange describes the history of this perennially popular composition:

"A composer can find inspiration in the unlikeliest of settings, and the genesis of Zimbe! is as extraordinary as any. The seeds of my affinity with African music and the gospel tradition were sown in the early nineties through a chance encounter on a train en route to London. Sitting opposite me was a woman with a small book of manuscript paper on her lap. I asked politely whether she was a musician and she replied that she was on her way to lead a music group at a prison. She was working on “African and gospel” music, but, although she knew many excellent songs, she was really an artist, not a musician, and was rather lacking in confidence when it came to leading a singing workshop. “I could help,” I offered gamely, and it all took off from there. We struck up a working relationship, and she introduced me to songs, tapes, books, and friends with a plethora of songs to share. I immediately fell in love with the music. Together we ran singing groups, in Oxford, London and beyond, and I quickly became immersed in arranging, teaching, sharing and performing African songs.

I later produced a collection of choral arrangements for Faber Music entitled "Songs of a Rainbow Nation," and it was in response to performing these arrangements that Justin Doyle, conductor of the Dorking Choral Society, approached me with a view to commissioning a more substantial piece based on African and gospel themes. Justin happened to call the morning after "The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency" had been shown on TV; we had both watched it, and both had been moved by the use of music in the production (filmed on location in Botswana). One particularly moving moment depicted a funeral scene, involving a huge number of local “extras” breaking into an apparently spontaneous performance of a traditional funeral song. It was decided that my piece would aim to reflect some of the manifold ways in which music plays a part in everyday life in Africa – from the rising of the sun to its setting, both literally and figuratively. I wanted to capture the essence of the African spirit through glimpses into the human experience – simple children’s playground songs from Ghana and Zimbabwe; a Xhosa lullaby for mothers of the victims of Apartheid; a raucous drinking song; sensuous wedding songs; and some beautiful funeral and worship music – all imbued with the spirit, energy and simplicity that is so typical of the African song tradition.

Zimbe is Swahili for “Sing them”: just as others have shared these wonderful songs with me, I wish to pass them on now. Scored for SATB choir, unison children’s choir and jazz quintet, with copious percussion, the settings reflect my own musical make-up: within the piece we find references to jazz, pop, the Western choral tradition and, of course, “world music”. African songs are easy to learn and impossible to forget; that is the very nature of the communal song tradition. The songs I have chosen to arrange are fun, moving and infectiously tuneful – and through them we find ourselves in a wonderfully simple, joyous realm where music imitates life, and life inspires music. Njooni! Zimbe! Nyimbo za Afrika (Come! Let us sing the songs of Africa)."


To learn more about Alexander L’Estrange, visit:

Alexander L’Estrange
Zimbe! - Come, sing the songs of Africa! (2008)
for mixed voices
asax - perc(2): drum kit/shakers or mcas/2 bongo/2 conga/pair of agogo bells/tamb/mark tree/tgl - pno - double bass