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Monday, Jun 5, 2023

Mchakamchaka Running By Your Room

Author: Laura Rockefeller

One Monday night at the beginning of the fall semester I sat in Coffrin Lounge working with the window next to me open. The campus was relatively quiet since most people were probably engaged in pursuits similar to my own. Suddenly, the sound of male voices singing in a language I did not recognize came floating through the window. The sound was followed shortly by a group of about 10 men running past the window, singing with an energy that suggested they had not a care in the world. This was my first encounter with Mchakamchaka.

Mchakamchaka is a group of students who get together during the week to run and sing African choral music. The inspiration for the organization came from Bennet Konesni '04.5 and his first-year roommate Kiddo Kidolezi '04.5. Konesni's interest in African choral music started his senior year in high school when he was exposed to it in his school chorus.

When he arrived at Middlebury College he discovered that his Tanzanian roommate knew many traditional African songs similar to those he had enjoyed performing at home. Konesni explained that he and Kidolezi were running down Snake Mountain after a hike one weekend when Kidolezi just started singing. It looked and sounded like so much fun that Konesni asked to learn more of the songs. Friends started joining them for their singing runs around campus early last fall and now Mchakamchaka boasts 20 members in the male chorus and almost as many in the female group.

The male group was so popular that many women inquired about joining. However, Nikki

Holland '04, who would eventually start the women's group, explained that Konesni was hesitant to admit women to the ensemble because the group was composed of "a bunch of single guys, and they thought the girls would distract them." Konesni elaborated that he did not feel admitting girls would "help us maintain focus."

Also, from a musical standpoint, Konesni was already concerned that the group, which had grown much larger than he or Kidolezi had expected, was becoming too big for their purposes. The idea at the outset had been to create a male a capella group along the lines of the group Lady Smith Black Mombassa.

Holland was urged by a group of interested girls to undertake the organization of a women's division of the chorus. She explained that she really wanted to be involved in the group but had not expected to be asked to lead it. "I have a phobia of singing," she explained, but with help on the musical front from some of the other girls who had a stronger a capella background, she got the women's section up and running. Being a brilliant singer is not necessary at all. "The atmosphere is very laid back and that opens the group up," Holland explained.

Now every Monday and Thursday at 10 p.m. the men meet in Gifford and the women meet in Chateau to start their run. For an hour they work on their a capella music for performance. Then they take off on a half-hour run. Kidolezi commented that "the time spent for rehearsing is currently less than the time spent for running and singing. This is because we are adding a lot of new members to our group who love to run and sing." Each time a different person leads the group on an unknown route around campus.

Even though they are written in Swahili, the songs that they sing while running are a call and response format so it is very easy for anyone to join in. "Sometimes people are so enthusiastic they'll come running out of buildings to join us," Konesni said.

Most members heard about the group by word of mouth and just came along. Konesni explained that there is a core group of about 12 men that always come to rehearsals, and then there are a number of people who come when they have time. "One of the cool parts of the group is that there are always new people," Holland commented.

Each group develops its own repetoire but, on certain occasions, sing together. When they do, the combined power of the groups is a musical force to be reackoned with.

Mchakamchaka will be performing in the Hepburn Zoo during the week of final exams. Keep looking out for posters advertising their solo concert to be held early in May.