Origins of Zimbe!

What the composer says about Zimbe!

The seeds of my affinity with African music and the gospel tradition were sown in the early 90s through a chance encounter on a train. Opposite me was a woman with a book of manuscript paper on her lap. I asked politely whether she was a musician and she replied that she was on her way to lead a music group at a prison. She was working on African and gospel music but, although she knew many excellent songs, she was really an artist/sculptor, not a musician, and was rather lacking in confidence when it came to leading a singing workshop. ‘I could help,’ I offered.

Her name is Wren Hughes and we struck up a working relationship. She introduced me to songs, tapes, books and friends with a plethora of songs to share.

I immediately fell in love with the music. Together we ran singing groups in Oxford, London and beyond, and I quickly became immersed in arranging, teaching, performing and sharing African songs.

Songs of a Rainbow Nation

Alexander with Wren Hughes

Alexander with Wren Hughes

I subsequently produced a collection of choral arrangements for Faber Music entitled Songs of a Rainbow Nation and it was in response to performing these arrangements that Justin Doyle, then conductor of Dorking Choral Society, commissioned me to write a more substantial piece based on African and gospel themes. Inspired by the use of music in the recent TV adaptation of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, I decided that my piece would aim to reflect some of the manifold ways in which music plays a part in everyday life in Africa – from the rising of the sun to its setting, both literally and figuratively. I wanted to capture the essence of the African spirit through glimpses into the human experience – simple children’s playground songs from Ghana, a Xhosa lullaby for mothers of the victims of apartheid, a raucous drinking song from Zimbabwe, sensuous wedding songs and some beautiful funeral and worship music.

‘Zimbe’ is the anglicized version of the Swahili word for ‘Sing them’. Just as others have shared these wonderful songs with me, so I am passing them on. Scored for SATB choir, unison children’s choir and jazz quintet, the settings reflect my own diverse musical make-up. The songs I have chosen are all imbued with the spirit, energy and simplicity that is so typical of the African tradition. They are fun, moving and infectiously tuneful, easy to learn and impossible to forget.

Alexander L’Estrange


Celebrating Light by Wren Hughes


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