NEW YORK – From singing on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and riding the subway to recording a program for a Chicago radio station,Kenya’s Afrizo singing group is on a tour like no other.
“Every year Daystar turns away 300 to 400 students who are very bright but cannot afford school fees at Daystar University. … The reason why we’re here is to raise school fees for these who are unable to pay,” Hellen Mtawali,Daystar faculty member and Afrizo founder,said.
Its cross-country tour included performances in Philadelphia and New York churches last week and will end next month in California.
The tour is organized by Daystar U.S.,the fundraising arm of Daystar University in the United States,which hopes to raise $300,000 by the end of the tour. The school integrates Christian principles in learning with a goal to produce servant-leaders and charges about $6,000 in tuition per year.
“Daystar U.S. currently supports about 100 students,and wants to support 50 more,” Kathleen Johnson,Daystar U.S. executive director,said.
The university,has about 3,300 students on two campuses,one in Nairobi and the other in Athi,25 miles to the east.
Hellen Mtawali,a member of faculty at Daystar for 15 years,founded the group in 1998 to train students to sing African songs. They sing traditional songs from all over the continent,some a cappella,others with a piano and drum. They sing in English,Swahili and other African languages,and their performances include dance and story-telling.
“I really loved the a cappella. … The drum was a good thing,but I’m also wondering what other instruments you can use … something that may give more of an African flair,” Dan Nduati,a member of the Presbyterian Church of Upper Montclair,said. He is a native of Kenya who attended the Afrizo concert Sunday in Upper Montclair,N.J.
The group toured the U.S. in 2007,2009 and 2011,each time with a different set of students and raising an average of $245,000. The concerts are free,but donations and sales of Afrizo merchandise and CDs had raised $90,000 by last week.
For the seven students in Afrizo,the tour is their first visit to the United States. In New York,they visited Times Square,went to the Top of the Rock and saw “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway. In Minnesota,it was Mall of America and its indoor roller coaster and a boat ride on Lake Minnetonka.
They also share good-natured pranks and jokes to ease the occasional dreariness of travel.
While on a flight,Peter Chege,24,put a peanut in mouth of Lena Adhiambo,21,while she slept. She awoke,startled,thinking she had a cockroach in her mouth.
Manasseh Shalom,20,the youngest in the group,had a more nerve-racking experience. The group members stay with families in each city on the tour. In Minnesota,he shared a room with a pet snake in a glass cage. Whenever the snake moved,lights went on in the cage. He had a light sleep.
“After watching the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ in New York,I want to pioneer Broadway in Kenya,” Brian Aseli,24,said.
Peter Chege is considering venturing into music as a career and has written some songs.
The other group members are Brian Osweta,Grace Mwamuye,Lena Odhiambo,Manasseh Shalom and Falonne Tshizemba,all Daystar students. Jennifer Randolph,the tour coordinator,and Kathleen Johnson are traveling with the group.
“I got people who are able to exercise chemistry. They are versatile and smarter in terms of communication,” Mtawali said.
The tour also includes stops in Illinois,Pennsylvania,South Carolina,Texas and Arizona.
“The tour has been very successful. So far we’ve raised a lot of money. Not only that,but also new church connections,” Randolf said.
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