Harlem singers bring passion back to SeoulAfrican-American music ― with its mix of sorrowful songs and unique rhythms rooted in the days of slavery ― has influenced many other genres such as swing, soul and ragtime.
In the early half of the 20th century, the Harlem district in New York was home to African-American music greats such as Roland Hayes and Marian Anderson.
Harlem also gave rise to musicians who mixed slave melodies with Christian songs, giving a distinctive genre of music referred to as “spirituals.” Emerging from local church choirs, they later formed professional groups.
The Spiritual Singers of Harlem, a group made up of three female and three male singers and two musicians, made its debut in the late 1980s, singing gospel and folk songs with distinctive harmonies.
They have toured around the world for two decades singing soulful folk and gospel songs. The group is touring South Korea for two weeks from April 11 to 24, performing in Seoul, Busan, Cheonan, Osan and Ilsan. It’s their second trip to Korea, and the group toured the country in 2003.
On their opening night Monday, the group sang gospel songs while a young female dancer fused modern and classical dance.
Led by music director Linda Twine, who plays piano, and Leopoldo Fleming on percussion, the Harlem singers wowed the audience with their powerful and heart-rending voices.
The songs’ rhythmical form with provoking lyrics were emotionally moving.
Among the repertoire were “Dry Bones,” “Amazing Grace,” “Lord I Want To Be a Christian” as well as the slave song and later a motto of the black human rights movement, “We Shall Overcome.”
The singers sang the song with their hands held together as one male singer recited the words from Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.”
Not all the songs were serious and mournful though; there was plenty of merriment in other songs, such as “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Professors and vocalists from the Harlem School of the Arts in New York City founded the group, which has since received acclaim for its profound and touching religious passion in its performances.
All of the musicians have performed at the Metropolitan Opera and in Broadway musicals. The Harlem Singers have also performed at Carnegie Hall.
For more information, call (02) 548-4480 or visit www.seoularts.com. Tickets range in price from 20,000 won ($19) to 80,000 won.
by Choi Jie-ho