Tenth Festival of Praise regales Abuja
Those who were privileged to witness the 10th anniversary of the yearly concert of Christian music known as the Festival of Praise at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, last December, savoured a musical feast that would not have been out of place in some of the cultural centres of Europe. Apart from the fact that the performers were accompanied by a full-fledged symphony orchestra the expertise with which a huge massed choir of more than 200 enthusiastic singers presented a wide variety of hymns, anthems, and native airs, proved to be a most appropriate celebration of the festive season. Those who were witnessing the concert for the first time were overwhelmed by the realisation that such an accomplished and well-organised event had been running for a decade.
The audience was presented with a programme of both spiritual and technical harmony that uplifted the spirit.The festival organisers have kept this unique and extraordinary cultural and religious event alive over the last ten years, but while it has developed into a major celebration in the nation’s end of year repertoire of events in the capital city, it has not been granted wide public coverage either through state or private broadcast media. The high standard of the performances has improved steadily over each year’s outing and the variety of the offerings has grown exponentially. Apart from Christmas carols, always a staple segment of the programme, there were some extraordinary solo performances delivered by classically trained singers. The choirs performed choral renditions that were sometimes familiar enough to the audience to encourage them to sing along. In addition, the symphony orchestra that provided the major accompaniment for the performers exhibited an impressive level of universal proficiency and creative energy. The orchestral offerings were directed by a trio of conductors who exhibited different styles of control but who were all highly talented and excitingly gifted with graceful and sometimes even amusing movements.
It was particularly heartening that the major choirs drawn from churches in Abuja, Zaria, and Minna to form the massed choir were joined at this edition of the festival by a selection of guest choirs and groups from other parts of Nigeria. The performances produced by these guests drew loud applause from the audience. Among these a performance of choreographed dance drills and choral games rendered by a highly disciplined team of school children almost stole the show. The children adapted the formula of traditional games from the village square into an evangelical performance that had older people in the audience joining in the choruses.
This section of the festival was also enhanced by a choral group, led by a disabled lady confined to a wheelchair, whose powerful contralto soared above her confinement. This group, known as the Ejoga Family Singers, served to underscore a prime purpose of the festival, which according to the Professor Jerry Gana, chairman of the organising committee, is to help nurture and unveil local talents. In keeping with this latter objective, the performances of the soloists were revealing and in some instances absolutely stunning. These included renditions of classical anthems by two powerful male vocalists, tenor Frank Ugochukwu Oboye, and baritone Egbujor Obinna. Exciting arias from the soprano Chioma I. Omapitch, whose voice seemed almost too powerful to be emerging from her slight physical frame, drew loud applause from the audience.
This festival of Christian music has always been a gathering of music lovers, according to Prof. Gana. He says it has been kept going almost single-handedly through the support of one-time Minister of Defence, General T.Y. Danjuma. In fact, according to Prof. Gana, the idea for the annual festive concert grew out of an almost offhand remark made by the General in 2006, when his (the Professor’s) son was getting married. A choral group, directed by the wife of the then German Ambassador in Nigeria, performed at the ceremony.
The General who was a guest was so impressed by the performance that he suggested that the performance of this type of music should be an annual event in Abuja. Apart from General Danjuma’s unfailing presence at the event, one of the most consistent elements of the annual festival is the regular attendance of some prominent statesmen such as General Yakubu Gowon, who has served for the last seven years as either the chairman or special guest of honour at the occasion. He was chairman of the 10th edition while the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, was the special guest of honour. The concert was also graced by the presence of Architect Darius Ishaku, the Governor of General Danjuma’s home state, Taraba.
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