Putting together the pieces of an African Jigsaw

Sheffield Young Singers in full voice
Sheffield Young Singers in full voice

SHEFFIELD Young Singers take on one of the popular ecological musicals of Peter Rose and Anne Conlon, African Jigsaw, at St Mark’s Church, Broomhill next Saturday, July 9.

Given as a concert performance with reduced instrumental accompaniment provided by 12 young musicians, most of them from the city’s youth orchestras, there will also be a video stream of appropriate images.

In essence, the piece is about the casualties of ‘progress’ in Africa.

It reflects in song, both joyous and otherwise interspersed between seven narrations, the human cost of development, urbanisation and its effects on traditional tribal life as more and more people are drawn to the cities by the promise of work and prosperity.

Not finding it, many end up eking out a miserable existence in that general scourge on humanity, shanty towns, while back in the villages they have left is the growing realisation that the old way of life is slowly disappearing.

African Jigsaw was the second of five ecological musicals (SYS are describing the piece as an entertainment) in 1986 by Rose (music) and Conlon (lyrics and narrations), written for the choirs and musicians of St Augustine’s RC High School at Billington in the Ribble Valley.

Along with Yanomamo (rainforest conservation), Ocean World, Arabica and Song of Creation, all five were commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund and have been performed worldwide by thousands of children.

St Augustine’s built up a tremendous reputation in the process of premiering them and not on home turf: African Jigsaw at the Barbican in London, Song of Creation at the Royal Festival Hall in 2000, for example.

They were invited to America in 1988 to perform Yanomomo in New York and Washington with Sting and other luminaries who have appeared with them include David Attenborough and David Bellamy.

None of this is intended to put performance pressure on the 70 members of the Sheffield Young Singers choir but to highlight the huge international popularity and success of the Rose/ Conlon musicals.

Formed in 2007 by Helen Cowan and Tracey Shibli, Sheffield Young Singers, age range eight to 18, is a success story in itself – it really couldn’t be anything else with Helen as their trainer and conductor!

Speaking about next Saturday’s concert, Tracey, administrator of SYS, says: “The great thing about our Young Singers performing African Jigsaw is that they love singing this inspirational, heart-warming music and it has also taught them a lot about life in Africa and the issues facing the Third World.”

She adds: “It will be thoroughly enjoyable and thought provoking for the audience, too.”

The performance begins at 7pm and tickets, on the door, are priced at £5, £3 for under-18s.