The London Lucumi Choir
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The London Lucumi Choir


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"Lucumi Choir, St John's Church, Waterloo"

As we gathered in St John’s Church in Waterloo last Thursday to hear The London Lucumi Choir perform, on the same day people in their thousands were making the pilgrimage to the Church of San Lazaro in Cuba. In that church, just outside Havana, pilgrims walk or sometime crawl the few miles to the Church, often bearing gifts of rum and cigars as penitence. It is a sign of the times that songs to the orishas – the deities that populate the Yoruba religious pantheon, who all have their own distinctive, trance-inducing rhythms – can also be heard in a Christian church in London.
Our presence reflects a syncretism between the death-defying San Lazaro (Saint Lazarus), and the orisha of healing known as Babalu Aye.

It’s not that long ago that England’s Christian emissaries to the colonies banned the drums of their African slaves but on this freezing, snow-flecked night, a stone's throw from the River Thames, the sound of the bata drums – the Iya Itole, Okonkolo - resounded around this church providing the complex rhythmic pulse that underpinned the multi-layered voices and harmonies of the 20-strong London Lucumi Choir.

Lucumi means "friendship" and that is the basis of this community choir. It was formed in 2006 and is spiritually linked to Ifa, the divination and belief system of many slaves transported from West Africa. It is best known in Cuba (where the Yoruba became known as Lucumi) and the USA as Santeria and in Brazil as Candomble. While it was once underground and shrouded in secrecy, the orishas, who interact between this world and God (Oludumare), are now celebrated by artists as diverse as David Byrne, Gilberto Gil and members of the Buena Vista Social Club

Led by the powerful voice of its MD, Daniella Rosselson, this award-winning choir embraces both women and men and draws its members from around the globe. Argentina, Malta, Jamaica, Ghana, Spain, Cuba and the UK were all represented. After opening with songs and dance for Elegua – who resides at the crossroads and is the opener of the pathways - and the female river deities Afrekete (Yemaya), Oya and Ochun, we reached the centrepiece of the performance, "Time and The Trickster’s Heart". Conceived by pianist/composer Juwon Ogunbe this was a witty tale aimed at conveying the wisdom of the Yoruba belief system and it featured an array of scintillating vocalists.

The third set of the performance culminated with songs for the Winter Gods, evoking the power of Chango (a warrior and orisha of thunder), the wisdom of Obatala (syncretised with Jesus Christ) and respect for powers of Babalu Aye who is both loved and feared as he can both cure and bring forth plagues.

As the bata drums gathered momentum around master drummer Javier Campos Martinez, so the power of the vocalists grew. This was reflected by the charged performances of both Daniella Rosselson and Mish Aminoff. It is left to Elegua, the trickster who lives at the crossroads, to close the session. As the mischievous and often misunderstood Elegua controls forces both beneficial and malevolent, and has the keys to all doors, it is a song dedicated to him that closes the session. It was a fitting and spiritually uplifting prelude to a fast-approaching Christmas.

Paul Bradshaw edits Straight No Chaser

- The arts Desk





After a series of workshops with Martica Galarraga, Daniela Rosselson co-founded The Loncon Lucumi Choir in November 2006 as response to the sucess of the workshops.

The choir’s diverse repertoire includes
rhythms and songs from the Yoruba, Arara and Palo traditions, accompanied by live bata drums and percussion, some songs honour the Orisha spirits worshipped in the Lucumí religion, some songs are fast-paced rumbas and other social song formats such as the Makuta, and others, elevating prayers.

We are a choir fusing musical traditions to live percussion and we move too!

We are a divers community choir with men and women of all ages and cultures.

Previous performances;
- Opening act for Buena Vista Social Club’s Eliades Ochoa at the Barbican February 2009
- BBC Radio 3 Choir of the Year competition finalists 2008
- Barbican’s Cuba 50 celebration June 2009
- Voice Lab initiative at the Southbank Centre October 2008 & June 2009
- Headlining the Southbank Centre Choral Festival May 2010
- British Museum Ife Exhibition on 22 May 2010