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Notre Dame Folk Choir's new album: an “encounter” with African traditions

Notre Dame's Folk Choir released their new album of sacred music, "Catch the Spirit." It explores African American and East African traditions, with a mix of gospel, jazz and spirituals. 

The choir's director, JJ Wright, explained how this album is a sign of encounter.

Director, University of ND Folk Choir
“This experience has really allowed us to enter really deeply into this experience of encounter that Pope Francis talks about. We don't want to merely be looking from the outside in, but we want to walk next to those with whom we minister and those whom minister to us.”

Choir members engaged with African Americans in the States and took a semester-long course to dive deeper into African culture. Expert guides also taught choir members word pronunciation and melodies for songs in Swahili or other East African dialects. They even went a step further, traveling to Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania to understand the culture even better.

Baritone, ND Folk Choir
“While we were there, we shared in some really great food, some great songs, and conversations, really great experiences while we were on our pilgrimage in East Africa. What we hoped to bring back was to share our experience with seeing God not only in the new place, but to see God in this new music that we were bringing back and that we had experienced.”

President, ND Folk Choir
“The music is full of energy and excitement and when singing or listening, you can't help but catch the spirit of zeal as we celebrate Christ.”

During the two-year period it took to make the album, members say the music was able to transform them, even though it wasn't part of their culture. 

Baritone, ND Folk Choir
“I think the diversity in the music that we were learning, as far as being from the African American culture, and the East African culture, it really helped me personally deepen my faith and stretch my faith. To see how other people are practicing their faith, especially in the context of music. African American music, there's some call and response, there's a lot of movement, hand clapping, but also singing that's not necessarily written on the page. It kind of comes from the soul.”

"Catch the Spirit" was originally planned to be released at the end of May. However, with pandemic, they pushed it up to April 17 and postponed their U.S. tour, which was to coincide with the release. It is available on Spotify, Apple Music and all major platforms. 

Melissa Butz