When Roy Mwesa first arrived in the United States more than 12 years ago from his native Zambia, he made it his mission to promote the African spiritual music traditions on which he was raised. Mwesa did just that when he appeared at Los Altos United Methodist Church’s “Africa Sunday” Jan. 26.
The United Methodist Women sponsor the annual “Africa Sunday,” which raises funds for the African Student Education Fund and celebrates the church’s missions work.
Mwesa and his sister, Nomsa Mwesa Chali, performed at the church with the gospel ensemble Thokoza, which means “be joyful” in several African languages. The group members, who hail from a number of African countries, Jamaica and even the U.S., attend All Nations African Seventh-day Adventist Church in San Bernardino.
Thokoza performs a cappella and unamplified music. Group members composed some of their songs, while others have been handed down through generations and draw from folk melodies. Most selections, shaped by the singers’ collective and individual life experiences, speak of struggle and hope. Their struggles were particularly difficult in South Africa during apartheid.
“Some of the songs also describe the beauty of this world provided by God’s grace,” Mwesa said.
The languages spill over borders. Thokoza performs songs in Shona, Zulu, Swahili, Bemba, Tonga and Ndebele.
“We sang songs while growing up, at home, at church and with friends,” recalled Mwesa, whose grandfather was a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Africa.
The connection between Los Altos United Methodist Church and Thokoza runs deep. Bill Hare, a member of the congregation and owner of a recording studio, has collaborated closely with the group.
“I have known Bill for over five years, and we have done some recordings together.” Mwesa said. “It was through him that we received the invitation to their church.”
Nhiimbi Ng’andu Bautista, a singer with Thokoza, praised the church’s “Africa Sunday” outreach.
“They cannot even imagine what a difference they make to the people there,” she said.
Thokoza has performed all around the country. The group’s CDs are available online at thokoza.com.
For more information on “Africa Sunday,” visit laumc.org.