Members of the Kenyan Boys Choir are thrilling audiences worldwide with their rich, deep baritones interlaced with light, pure soprano notes. Formed over a decade ago, the choir gained global recognition when it performed at U.S. President Barack Obama's inauguration early this year. But the choir's biggest accomplishment might be the personal development of the young men.
From the vastness of the African savanna…to the ground-breaking inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama, members of the Kenya Boys Choir move audiences wherever they go.
Today they are practicing at the YMCA in Kenya's capital, Nairobi.
They are singing a classic Kenyan song called Malaika, which means "angel" in the national language Ki'Swahili.
For 20-year-old Mitchell Mwamodo, the Kenyan Boys Choir is like being in a small piece of heaven. "There is the bonding with friends, there is the traveling - that is the best part of it, meeting new people, somewhere you can at least bring out your talent without people looking at you badly or anything, a place where you can develop your skills like leadership skills, there is a whole load of things - it is just lovely here," he said.
The 40-member Kenya Boys Choir was formed in 1998 initially as a school activity. It has since been expanded to include members from other schools.
Choir members come from poor areas of town where most families earn less than one dollar a day.
Joseph Muyale Inzai is the Kenya Boys Choir's founder and director.
He says he started the choir in large part to address the needs of these low-income youth and their families. "They are engaged positively. If not, they would have indulged in bad habits, drugs, and other things what you find in such low family set-ups. Two, the exposure out there has also broadened their horizons. They have now set higher goals in life, they want to achieve and make it in life," Inzai said. "Through our tours and our participation here, we are raising school fees for the boys and it makes work easier for their parents and guardians."
And the Kenyan Boys Choir has been soaring since. Their big breakthrough came at the beginning of this year, when they performed at President Obama's inauguration in Washington, D.C.
Events Manager Peter Ndungu says that that was the beginning of a relationship with Universal Records. "They actually discovered us at President Obama's inauguration. After they saw us, they had a little angel telling them, 'you cannot leave that.' So they followed us up to the airport, where they told us, 'You have to get into partnership with us,'" he said.
That led to their recently-released CD, "Spirit of Africa," which climbed to the Top 9 in the UK charts. The group has produced two other CDs and is planning to release more.
The Kenyan Boys Choir performs a variety of songs from Kenya's 40-plus ethnic groups as well as music from western and southern Africa. They also sing contemporary jazz and accapella pieces.
One of the main goals of the group is to develop leadership skills.
Choir member Mitchell Mwamodo explains that each person has a role to play in the way that the group operates. "I am in charge of public relations. I major in international relations, so here I get to practice my talent. We have a 'Minister of Labour,' we have someone who is in charge of spirituality, always making sure we are on the right path, we have a minister of trade and finance taking care of our financial stuff, and overall we have a director. So people come here to develop their leadership skills," he said.
Mwamodo says his group, which includes members from 20 different ethnic groups in Kenya, is a model of peaceful cooperation for Kenyans and the world. "I am a Taita, my director is Luhya, the boy standing next to me is Kikuyu - we are totally different. But the funny thing is that we co-exist like we are all just the same people," Mwamodo stated. "When we go out there, it is just a matter of saying, it does not matter who you are, where you are from, black or white, different religion or culture, we are all human beings."
Members of the Kenyan Boys Choir consider themselves to be ambassadors of Kenya abroad, a role they say they take seriously and joyfully.