This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is album retro-review number 114 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
The first fifty reviews were vinyl only, and the second fifty reviews were CD’s only. Links to these reviews can be found at the bottom of this page. From review 101 onward I have mixed vinyl and CD albums and, try and present an Australian album every fifth review!
African Sanctus is an album in the same genre as “Misa Criolla“, [Cream of The Crate #104].
The album was released in 1973 but is in fact the recording of the 1972 choral Mass of the same name and it is the best-known work of British composer and ethnomusicologist David Fanshawe.
It was released on the Phillips De Lux label and the code is 6558 001.
The album comes in a wonderful gatefold cover. It is thick and gloss with vibrant colours. The inside left hand side discusses the album and has a picture of David Fanshawe recording on location.
The right hand side has the list of tracks and a map showing his amazing journey. There is also an insert that provides the words in the native language with English translations.
It is a quality production.
In many ways this album predates what we came to know as World Music!
African Sanctus is very much an unorthodox recording of the Latin Mass blended and mixed with traditional African music recorded by David Fanshawe on his now legendary journeys on and along the River Nile from 1969 to 1972.
Recording the music using basic but proven film industry recording equipment (a Nagra stereo recorder) he traveled throughout Egypt, Sudan, Uganda and Kenya.
The real production comes with the brilliant mixing of this music with the live chorus, soprano soloist and instrumental ensemble.
The work is composed in 13 movements and reflects geographically the composer’s cross-shaped pilgrimage, from the Mediterranean to Lake Victoria, for exampe Kyrie represents Cairo and Sanctus Northern Uganda.
According to his biography:
DAVID FANSHAWE is the recipient of many international awards, including a Churchill Fellowship, Ivor Novello, ARIA Gold Record, & AFI Best Sound. He is a composer, ethnic sound recordist, guest speaker, record producer, photographer, author, media, film, and TV personality.
“Music and Travel is my trade mark
Life is my source of inspiration
Life inspires me to create
I am a Composer and Explorer“ – David Fanshawe
David Fanshawe was born in 1942 in Devon, England and was educated at St. George’s Choir School and Stowe. In 1959 he joined the Film Producers Guild in London, gaining valuable experience as a documentary film editor and sound recordist.
In 1965 he won a Foundation Scholarship to the Royal College of Music, studying composition with John Lambert.
Fanshawe’s ambition to record indigenous folk music began in the Middle East in 1966 and was intensified on subsequent journeys through North and East Africa (1969-75), resulting in his unique and highly original blend of music and travel.
In Africa he succeeded in documenting hundreds of tribes, achieving such close rapport with local communities that they gave him special permission to record their performances.
Yet for all his work, this in my mind remains his best and most memorable. As I referred to earlier in this review, taking the “Sanctus” works from the Roman Catholic Church and integrating it into ethnic music was Ariel Ramirez and the aforementioned Misa Criolla.
Whether Fanshawe was encouraged by Ramirez’s work, I can’t say, but what I can say is that I though Misa Criolla was excellent, African Sanctus is downright brilliant!
Years before Paul Simon bought the music of Africa to the attention of the world, David Fanshawe had done it, and done it like no one else prior or subsequently.
In talking about his journey through Africa and the music he bought back to share, educate and entertain, his web site says:
“It informs both listener and performer about African music and its relationship to Western polyphony and captures the eternal and spiritual soul of music. It is an event, a celebration of power and energy, both visual, aural and multi-cultural, now performed live all over the world. For David Fanshawe there are no musical barriers.”
[official African Sanctus website]
We need to consider that there really are two distinctly different elements to this composition.
We have the voices and original supporting instruments, largely drums and a shouter, both are live recordings and set recordings all on location, by Fanshawe.
Then we have the second element, the post produced recording.
Back in London is where Fanshawe added an operatic soprano, a light soprano, choir, African drummer, rock drummer, two percussion players, electric guitar, bass guitar, piano and Hammond M 100 organ.
* The post production choral work was by the Ambrosian Singers
* The Soprano solos were by Valerie Hill and Patricia Clarke
* Percussion – Gary Kettle and Terry Emery
* Masterdrummer – Mustapha Tettey Addy
* Guitars – Tony Campo, Martin Kershaw & Alan Parker
* Hammond organ – Gerry Butler
* Piano – Harold Lester
The album is a well presented gate fold album, and the material is thick enough to have endured some hard traveling over the years.
The vinyl is a heavy 200gm weight [note that today 180gm is considered as the heavy/best pressings), and as such it is a quality British pressing.
The colours are vibrant and the choice of pictures fantastic. There is a fold-out sheet of the words in Latin and translated into English.
||African Sanctus – “Bwala” Dance of Uganda||3:03|
|A2||Kyrie – “Call To Payer,” Cairo
|A3||Gloria – Egyptian Wedding (Luxor); Islamic Prayer School
|A4||Chant – (Gregorian style)
“Deo Gratias” – Sudanese Courtship Dances
Credo – West Sudan, four men recite the Koran in a trance by moonlight on a mountain-top
|A5||Piano Solo (Interlude) – Love song from East Sudan; Bells ring in the desert (an ancient custom) in this work signifying the birth of Christ||3:43|
|A6||Et In Spiritum Sanctum – Christian refugees from the Southern Nile sing of their flight. Frogs croak, and the thunderstorm breaks, disrupting tribal celebrations
|B1||Crucifixus – Equatorial “Rain Song”
|B2||African Sanctus – Xylophones (madinda) and the “Bwala” dance of Acholi warriors
|B3||The Lord’s Prayer – Lamentation for the dead fishermen of lake Victoria
|B4||Chant “Qui Tuum Est Regnum” – Masai milking song, cattle songs. Luo war dance, war drums (time included in B5)
|B5||Agnus Dei – War drums in desert
Kyrie – “Call to prayer”, Cairo
|B6||African Sanctus – Gloria – “Bwala” dance of Uganda||3:12|
At the risk of repeating myself, as I have made this declaration many times over the past 110 retro-reviews, the first track on any album generally tells a tale and sets the scene for what follows.
African Sanctus is not an exception to that principle.
We start with track 1 on side 1 – self titled African Sanctus.
This features the “Bwala” Dance of Uganda and we immediately experience the power of this album, the brilliance in the marriage between the western traditional catholic mass and the ancient and powerful rhythms of Africa.
In many ways this one track epitomises what Fanshawe is trying to capture – that through the African music and songs and ceremonies of Africa can actually live within the heart of the work whilst conceived along “Western” lines, in the form of a Mass.
As Fanshawe writes in the liner notes, “The driving force is one of “Praise” and a firm belief in “One God”.
The force of the chant and the power of the drums create a truly great piece of music, and even for an old agnostic like myself, I find that the hair on the back of my neck stands up due to some ancient a deeply rooted emotions that come from the powerful and ancient rhythms mixed in with the choral voices.
I particularly like the introduction of the “rock drummer” into this piece, as it does in fact add another dimension of urgency into an already driving track.
Finally, from the liner notes:
“The “Bwala” dance of the Acholi in Northern Uganda is renowned for its vitality and sheer splendour ……. (danced) especially for visiting kings and dignitaries. The tempo never varies and it consists of seven bars of 2/4 and one bar of 3/4 repeating. Each warrior beats his own drum and the “Royal” drummer sits in the middle beating with huge stick.“
African Sanctus [Bwala Dance of Uganda]
I move onto track number 3 – Gloria.
According to Fanshawe he was sailing down the Nile and became becalmed. In the silence of the night he became aware of distant celebrations coming from the banks of the rive, just south of Luxor.
It was mysterious and there was an exciting pounding with wailing voices. Although uninvited Fanshawe took a chance and beached the boat on shore and with a small party followed the sounds.
To his delight the villagers were not disturbed by his presence and made him welcome.
In fact he was invited onto a platform to witness a marriage and having his recorder with him he set about recording what he heard.
He notes that the lead singer’s voice was actually being amplified through loudspeakers. What he recorded and took back to England resulted in him developing out the track Gloria.
But the story wasn’t finished when several months later he heard another extraordinary sound from a small market town called Aroma, located in east Sudan. It turned out to be a “training school” for young boys who were learning the Koran from memory.
He was invited to sit in the middle of a circle of the boys to record. He writes, “Each singer sang his own note in his own time but the curious thing was that they sang a chord not unlike a dominant seventh. The relationship between the Arab boys and the fuge and chant of the Gloria is, I hope, moving.”
Now with the combination of the recordings from Aroma and Luxor, he knew the African part of Gloria was complete.
The resulting track is quite amazing and the combination of the chanting and drumming introduces a piece that really has your body swaying in tempo with the music, it really is quite like an African form of trance music that western music would pick up on decades later.
Then a drum, not unlike a kettle drum, comes in and is then accompanied by a short piano refrain before the Western chorus of Gloria comes in, and sets it up as quite a dramatic piece.
The work then builds to a crescendo – then it fades away to quiet chants accompanied by sparse piano, before the chanting comes back in a dominant form, which is actually the boys chanting the Koran.
This is juxtaposed with a beautiful choral piece where the chorus is not unlike the effect that is obtained in 2001 toward the end where “all is being revealed”.
Finally, there is a gong!
The piano is blended in with the boys chanting along with the choral work which resolves into a simply superb piece of drama. The surprises keep coming and I’ll leave you with something to discover yourself.
Gloria [Egyptian wedding & the Islamic Prayer school]
The pieces of music in between those I am discussing each play a part in both continuing the story that Fanshawe weaves, but each is unique in its style.
However I was drawn to the final track on side one – Et In Spritum Sanctum [I Believe In The Holy Spirit].
This is a piece that is built upon Fanshawe’s experiences as he then places it in front of us and, our imaginations.
Fanshawe has drawn upon the beliefs of the catholic faith (through the songs of the Mass), to build a story around the flight and terror of African refugees.
In trying unsuccessfully to reach Sudan, he was stopped by war. Then while making his way to the boarder of the Sudan and Uganda, he came upon refugees fleeing the war.
They were in some caves hidden near a refugee camp and here he met a Zande family from Yambio in the Southern Sudan.
It was here that he turned on his recorder as they began to sing songs of their flight from their homeland and of the terror of the war stricken area from whence they had come.
Their music was made with an improvised drum made from a bottle, and with a small thumb piano.
It turned out that they were Christians and they sang of their Lord Jesus, their Saviour and Deliverer.
In Fanshawe’s words, “I had met a Christian family and in my mass I chose to harmonise their song with the female voices echoing a similar passage from the Creed.”
What is really brilliant is how Fanshawe has blended all of this in with the sound of the millions of frogs that are found in equatorial Africa.
These sounds he uses to introduce the piece as the “family” begins their story which leads into the finger piano and “drum” and the songs from the family.
It creates quite a diametric opposed set of emotions – the simplicity of that African family, and the richness, complexity and stunning arrangement of the western singers singing the Creed.
Then the frogs return along with the families simple tune “fattened out” with some western drumming.
It really works so well.
Just as he was recording, a thunderstorm broke. Not unexpectedly he uses this as, in his words, “I imagined voices crying out “Crucify Him” – then the rains came down.”
A stunning conclusion to finish side 1.
Et In Spiritum Sanctum
Crucifixus – Equatorial “Rain Song” commences side 2.
We left side 1 with the rain, and this is picked up in Crucifixus, as Fanshawe uses the finger piano to tie in the last track of side 1 to the 1st track of side 2.
He was in South Sudan, having found a way across the boarder of this war torn country. During a very heavy tropical downpour he took refuge in the home of a local – Latigo Oteng [or policeman].
The storm was so powerful he picked it up again if the theme of “Crucify Him”, and he emphasises this emotive feeling with some great guitar work from Tony Campo.
It’s an unsettling guitar run, not unlike the one used in Jesus Christ Superstar during his Crucifixion, but remember, this recording was made a long time before JC Superstar was even composed.
The heavy use of drums, voices and guitar really do build up an image of power and energy.
As he listened to the rain, the homeowner began to sing and Fanshawe recorded it.
He says there is no translation for the piece but he was struck by its beauty and simplicity, and against the power of the western chorus, it again provides a perfect counter-foil to that choral power, by virtue of its simplicity.
Fanshawe has called it the “Rain Song” and the rain features heavily throughout.
He puts before us the image of the crucifixion, and the terror and horror of that story is equated to the terror and horror of war.
Both are the dramatic forces that men and gods face.
But there is relief – there is in the Christian world, the hope of Resurrection, and in the jungle the resolution is that of the forces of nature.
No storm lasts forever, and after the storm there is a moment of silence as all recovers, and then the sun breaks through.
Crucifixus [The Rain Dance]
The works in between track 1 on side 2 and the final tracks tell of the celebrations of life.
They tell of the sounds of happiness and grief which all peoples in the world experience and of the simple life of the farmers and cattle headers in Africa.
Then we come to the penultimate track – Agnus Dei/Kyrie.
It really is two parts blended together.
The Agnus Dei which seems to reflect all that we have heard so far, is mixed in with the music and chants of the warriors of Luo in western Kenya, as they pay homage and tribute to a fallen warrior.
Fanshawe reflects on how this to him, also signified the end of a way of life in Africa, the burial of the traditional culture.
As the songs die away we hear the Hadandua war drums in the desert of the Sudan.
Africa is a large nation, but like the butterfly effect, everything is affected by everything else in this ancient continent.
This is blended in with the Agnus Dei (The Lamb of God). The utterly brilliant soprano voice cuts through all, it builds up into a powerful and strident note – it demands attention – “Iesu Christe, Iesu Christe” [Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ”!]
This cry of the Christians is then answered by the Immam that Fanshawe first heard in Cairo at the beginning of his journey [Mu’azzin from the Muhammad Ali Mosque, Cairo].
They two blend, they sing and dance together in the return of the Kyrie – then the war drums fade away leaving all in peace.
Agnus Dei [war drums in the desert] / Kyrie [call To Prayer – Cairo]
So we come to the final track in this review! African Sanctus Gloria.
What Fanshawe has done is to conclude by bringing together the two most powerful pieces, African Sanctus and Gloria.
I can’t describe it better than the liner notes, which say, “The pounding energy of the “Bwala” dancers, the rock drums, guitars, African tom-toms, tambourines, piano, and full choir, plus all the nobs of the 16-track mixer unit, composer, conductor, and operators all swing together.”
A magnificent conclusion to a seriously amazing musical work!
African Sanctus /Gloria
It is indeed a mighty conclusion to a journey of exploration, of culture, of religious exhalations, both Catholic, African tribal and of the Muslim faith.
It is certainly about music and imagination, of ceremony and sound.
We are reminded of the differences in the cultures of the West and Africa, but we are also reminded of the similarities, the desire to “believe”, the need to find peace and a reason for being.
In this time where the West and the Muslim faiths are at such loggerheads, it is a timely reminder that it is not the faiths that cause the current issues.
It is the manipulation and selective exploration of those faiths that lead to conflict.
David Fanshawe certainly had his trials while recoding this work. he was thrown into jail, accused of being an Israeli spy and caught up innocently in regional conflicts.
However he never lost his focus and as an example of his amazing recordings, there are 500 hours of recordings along the Nile alone, that have not yet been translated.
He died on July 6th 2010 after suffering a stroke and in his obituary, he was deemed a “National Treasure”
At the time of his death he was working on copying and cataloging his Pacific Collections, whilst composing his new major work “Pacific Odyssey“. [David Fanshawe Biography]
His legacy is a big one, but for me, this album was his best work! African Sanctus is both splendid and unique.
When it was first released had some glowing reviews, but also mutterings of “confusing”, “cluttered”, “lack of focus” and other comments that make me wonder what music these people were listening to?
It certainly wasn’t the African Sanctus that I have!
The album is readily available on vinyl or CD, and there are many variations as it has been re-recorded by many orchestras all over the world.
For me? I still like this original interpretation as overseen by a man who left an amazing legacy – David Fanshawe.
This album righteously sits in my crate as an album that is very much a “Cream of The Crate”.
There are any number of videos of the music to African Sanctus put to still photos, and there are some videos of western choirs singing along to backing tapes of the African singing/music, but I could only find one actual video of part of a performance with him conducting, and sadly, the “African” section was from tapes.
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
Click to open the following Vinyl reviews from 101 onward:
#108: Paul Simon – Graceland