The London Performance Group Keeping Heritage Alive

The London Lucumi Choir
The London Lucumi Choir

The London Lucumi Choir

  • By Esteban Ibáñes

What should have been a terrible interview

In a somewhat humourous admin cock-up, an experienced Spanish speaking Arts journalist, I, Esteban was not sent to cover an interview with a grass roots, non-for profit, Afro-Cuban performance group. Instead a member of our board, more used to corporate financial meetings had to dash from his comfortable Central London desk in our Waterloo office overlooking the London Eye to the event at the South Bank Center across the road, with no preparation, experience or notes.
However, thanks to the warm natured openness of the performance group everyone managed to pull through.
Our amusing guest journalist for the day recants:

Not knowing what to really expect I was joined at my table next to the side of the River Thames by three ladies all full of smiles, energy and joy. The director of The London Lucumi Choir, a full time professional singer and an immigration solicitor, all performers in the group. They explain to me first of all how they are not only non for profit, but receive no funding. The group performs at their own expense for purely for the love of the arts, but this is so much more than art, this is culture, heritage and inspiration.

Who are The London Lucumi Choir?

I entered the interview knowing very little about the group and not knowing what to expect other than, being a bit of a language nerd: Lucumi is a Yoruba dialect of the liturgical language of the Santeria faith. Santeria, also known in Spanish as la regia de ocha and la regia de lucumi (a religious legacy of the Spanish empire in the Caribbean, influenced by and synchronised with Roman Catholicism.)

Although the choir is centred around the Santeria faith, the group is open to performers from all backgrounds with many of it’s members joining for the love of music and the Cuban culture, whilst others stated they joined for the love of performance and the strong sense of community that the choir provides.

From a plethora of ethnic, religious and socioeconomic background speaking a staggering array of languages The London Lucumi Choir are an inspirational group of people ranging from 18 into their mid-seventies.

The hardworking group of highly talented performance artists have to juggle their day jobs and overcome a total lack of funded transport to navigate the logistical nightmare that is; they all live in different parts of the city and beyond. Convening in the capital to practice the group perform at venues across the country ranging from individual’s premises and schools to large festivals and concert arenas such as the Barbican and the South Bank Centre, both in central London.

International airplay has attracted a following as far and wide as Cuba, Miami – Florida (USA) and Venezuela.

The group of mostly female performers tell stories about Afro-Cuban heritage and ideas of community though performances of music as well as music and dance. The passionate performances in Lucumi, Creole and Spanish are upbeat and moving, giving a sense of empowerment and community through diversity. Demonstrating to us all that no matter where our origins are from we can be proud of our ethnic heritage and part of a harmonious British society simultaneously.   

When asked about the implications of the lift of the US embargo on Cuba the group expressed their struggle between elation and trepidation. One member explains that her trips back and forth to the island have shown a rapid and drastic change since the 1990s. On one hand the “real lift off for the middle class emergence” can provide more opportunities to experience the world at large. However another member explains “The embargo was like a wall, I saw it not as keeping us in, but keeping American dilution of our culture out” With Puerto Rico as a classic example of what over exposure to the US mainland can do to a culture, Cuba’s long heritage that has survived through hundreds of years, through war, peace, communism, slavery, the cold war and attempted regime change, is entering a new era. Will groups such as The London Lucumi Choir help to preserve this rich culture or will it fade into the pages of history books?  Can Britain show that second generation citizens can benefit and uphold both cultures without loosing or jeopardizing either? The London Lucumi Choir demonstrate this exponentially, with Haitian, Ghanaian, Cuban, British and many other singers singing in Creole, Spanish and Lucumi, their mesmerised fans are just as diverse. A true cross section of London’s residence, the audience was at all times truly enthralled by the beats, singing and stories that the group had to offer.

Asked why they chose the South Bank Centre as a repeated location for their performances the response said a lot about the group’s attitude: “You never know who you are going to perform for here, the audience is always so diverse, we have audience members that end up joining our choir because they love the music, they are infected by the performance.” 

Struggling to release their first album without funding, the group were asked:

“If you could have three wishes granted for the group what would you chose?”

  1. Funding, funding without selling the integrity and diversity of the choir. (They really need a bus, or some sort of transport)
  2. More males to join the group, especially male singers.
  3. Assistance in creating more ‘micro plays’ song and dance orientated story telling.

If you think you can help The London Lucumi Choir or would like to attend one of their passionate performances please contact:

londonlucumichoir@wildindigo.co.uk or visit their website: londonlucumichoir.com

E.Ibanes@theinternational.org.uk