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Amandla chorus announces two projects

  • Eveline MacDougall, founder of the Amandla Chorus, at left, leads a song at a memorial service. File photo


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Big changes are coming for the Amandla Chorus, including its name and plans for a brainstorming session about its evolving mission.

The group also will launch a new project, Songs With People in Jail, on Nov. 5 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at Hope & Olive restaurant in Greenfield, which hosts a monthly Free Soup & Game Night to support a wide range of non-profit organizations.

Workshops will take place over several months at the Franklin County Jail in Greenfield, where chorus members will build personal and musical connections with people incarcerated there. “This represents our 23rd program at the jail since 1998, but only our second ongoing series,” said Amandla’s founder and director Eveline MacDougall. “We did an eight-week series in 2006, and have been eager to do another ever since. We finally worked out the considerable logistics and are good to go!”

MacDougall added, “Our chorus is working outwardly and inwardly at the same time. We’re having vital discussions about our relevance in today’s socio-political climate and want to be transparent to the community. The world has changed immensely since 1988 when we first worked alongside many South African friends living in the Pioneer Valley to bring attention to the racist apartheid system in South Africa.”

When the chorus first came together, the renowned activist and attorney Nelson Mandela remained imprisoned in his native land, and international pressure was brought to bear on South Africa’s government to advocate for political reform. Mandela was released in 1990 after 27 years in prison, becoming South Africa’s first black president in 1994. Chorus members met and sang for Mandela in Boston soon after his release from prison.

“A South African member of the chorus suggested the name Amandla, which means ‘power’ in Zulu,” MacDougall explained. “We carried the name reverently for three decades, but in light of seismic changes in our world, we want to choose a new name to reflect the broadened scope of our work. Supporters who attend the Nov. 5 Songs With People in Jail launch can suggest ideas for a new name.”

MacDougall added: “At Amandla’s inception, I was a 23-year-old Canadian-American working on anti-apartheid campaigns. The more I learn about racism, the more I recognize that it’s embedded in U.S. culture, and therefore in me. I learn every day about unconscious prejudice, unearned privilege, and scores of biases woven into our institutions and thought patterns.”

She added, “I hope that as our chorus continues exploring topics related to oppression and injustice — while taking our songs into the oft-maligned community of incarcerated people — we’ll gain greater clarity and integrity. We must freshen our perspectives as well as our name.”

The singers will collaborate with women, men inmates, INS detainees, pre-trial and sentenced individuals, and those undergoing treatment for addictions.

As part of the name-change process, MacDougall invites feedback from community members who wish to weigh in on the work of the chorus.

The Nov. 5 Soup & Game night is open to all ages. Donations are accepted, and there will be a bake sale and raffle.