Appalachian chorus performs traditional a capella ‘freedom songs’ after studying in South Africa


Alexander McCall

Sifunda Umcolo, a musical group of students in the Hayes School of Music, sing South African songs during their performance Monday night. The students recently travelled to South Africa to experience firsthand the culture and musical traditions. Photo by Rachel Krauza  |  The Applachian
A South African-style choral music group performed Monday in the Recital Hall at the Hayes School of Music.

The group, Sifunda Umcolo, is made up of 10 Appalachian State University students whose performance featured a number of traditional a capella South African songs known as freedom songs.

Six of the 10 students visited South Africa this summer as part of a study-abroad program with Suzi Mills of the Hayes School of Music. During the trip, the students collaborated with 22 different choirs, which ranged from children’s choruses to college gospel choirs to Grammy award-winning ensembles.

“We used absolutely no sheet music,” said sophomore music education major Daniel Anauo. “All the parts that we sing we were taught by ear.”

The performance also serves as the culmination of Anauo’s honors thesis on the role of music in post-Apartheid South Africa.

The performers sang barefoot, encouraged audience participation and held a lengthy question-and-answer session to elaborate on their experiences abroad.

“We purposefully want to make this different from a typical Western performance,” Mills said. “At African performances, audience members are central participants rather than silent observers.”

Mills explained to the crowd that “Sifunda Umcolo” roughly means “we study music” in isiZulu, one of South Africa’s 11 national languages. 

The performers also taught the audience about South African history and musical notation, which heavily emphasizes aural skills – being able to recognize music solely by ear – and is radically different from Western notation, using two lines of text instead of traditional sheet music. 

The performances of each song included simple choreography the group learned abroad.

“The dance is part of the song,” said senior music education major Dominique Atwater. “If you don’t do the dance, it’s not the same song. It doesn’t have the same meaning.”

Story: COLIN MOORE, Senior A&E Reporter
Photo: RACHEL KRAUZA, Intern Photographer