It was almost exactly a year ago when the Nairobi-based Kenyan Boys’ Choir was invited to Washington to perform at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. The group signed a deal with Universal Records almost immediately after that performance. Reporter Cecily Hilleary recently reached Choir Director Joseph Muyale Inzai and asked him how the past year had gone:
A: Definitely, I would say our profile as a choir has gone higher.
Q: I understand that you were flying home and were in London’s Heathrow Airport, when you were approached by a record company?
A: Yes. We released a CD entitled Spirit of Africa [Universal Records]. We launched it in June last year. So far, the reports we’ve gotten from Universal records are that the CD is doing well.
Q: Let’s go back in time: How was the choir founded?
A: The choir was founded 10 years ago. I’m the artistic director and founder of the group. I used to train in a high school choir. Most of the boys that were in my choir loved the way I used to arrange and compose music, and boys from neighboring schools also wanted to participate, singing the kind of music I was training. That’s how I came up with the Kenyan Boys’ Choir.
Q: I understand that the boys are organized into their own government. Can you explain the structure?
A: We have the leader of the group is the prime minister. Then we have ministers in charge of different ministries, and basically each and every boy belongs to one ministry or the other, and they all participate in the running of the group.
Q: So, for example, you have a Minister of Finance, then?
A: Correct. He would manage the finances of the group. When we go out, if we have any small sales that we have to do, like CD sales or T-shirts or other merchandise.
Q: You seem to have a really large repertoire of songs—from European to African to Caribbean. Who decides what songs you’ll sing?
A: Not really one person decides. I do a lot of the research. I have some of the boys who are also technical, who are also assisting in getting part of the repertoire. But more than three-quarters of the repertoire I sourced around in some of the workshops I’ve facilitated in the U.S., Canada and across Africa. I’ve met friends and we’ve exchanged our music.
Q: I read that the Boys’ Choir actually entered an all-girl’ competition—and they won. Is this true?
A: Yes. The competition was talking about educating a girl child. Basically, we had girls’ choirs taking part in that, because they felt they were placed well to argue out the girls’ case. But I did a competition and I was saying these were boys who were encouraging members of the public to educate their sister. It came out so well that at the end of the day, the boys won. We really brought out the theme of the competition.
Q: Do you have plans to come back to Washington any time soon?
A: If you invite us like today, we will come.
Q: We’ll spread the word, and if Mr. Obama makes it to a second term, I’m sure there will be another invitation.
A: We can also come there and have a good evening with him—it’s not a must that he makes a second term. We can always come entertain him within this term.
Q: We’ll let the White House know!
A: OK, please do so (laughs).