Children's choir from Bahamas brings joy to Canadians
July 20, 2017
Neighbours would always know when Devin McKenzie was at home because of high-pitch musical notes emanating from his residence.
The young Bahamian loved to sing and his mother insisted he joined a choir which he did when he was seven years old.
A decade later as a seasoned member of the National Children’s Choir of the Bahamas (NCCB), McKenzie has toured several countries, including Canada for the first time.
He was part of the 30-member ensemble that performed in Toronto and Ottawa last week.
“After I auditioned and was accepted, I was so very happy,” said the 17-year-old after a performance at Toronto Police headquarters. “My mom always told me I should put my talent to use and I was excited to find a place where I could do that.”
McKenzie, who also plays the piano and cello and has toured Africa, North America and Europe with the choir, said he feels at home in Canada.
“Just a few hours after we got here, I felt this is a place that I could see myself living in,” he said. “It’s nice and clean and the people are warm and hospitable.”
Naketra Malcolm was stunned by the extraordinary skyscrapers that adorn the city’s skyline.
“There are not many high buildings in the Bahamas, so to come here and see these very tall buildings is very fascinating,” said the 15-year-old who joined the choir in 2013.
Though she loves singing, Malcolm didn’t always feel the need to be part of a choir.
“My mom pushed me and after I got accepted following a successful audition, I grew to like being part of a group of singers,” she said.
This is Malcolm’s second trip to Toronto following a visit as an infant.
Her mother, Nakeesa Beneby, was one of the chaperones for the girls.
“I knew of the choir and thought it would be a good fit for my daughter who has a good singing voice,” said Beneby who is the Central Bank of the Bahamas deputy manager of human resources. It’s certainly an opportunity for her to build her vocal skills and participate in something very positive.”
Through the program, Malcolm – who has travelled to Orlando and Washington with the choir and toured the White House last year while they were in the United States capital -- has matured in the last few years.
“Discipline, focus and time management are required when you are in the choir,” said Beneby who was a former chief executive officer with the Ministry of Health and the College of the Bahamas assistant director of human resources and training and development before transitioning to the banking sector. “They practice every Sunday and on other days during the week when they have an upcoming performance. Naketra has adapted to the changes in her life and is doing very well.”
The NCCB was launched 27 years ago by sisters Audrey Dean-Wright and Patricia Bazard.
They were raised in Bain Town, a challenged community just south of downtown Nassau.
“This was also a nurturing community when we were young and we wanted to give something back,” said Dean-Wright who started her own church choir at age 12 and is a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music.
Launched with 25 members, the Bain Town Children’s Choir morphed into the NCCB in 1993. With a current membership of 72 young people from Grades one to 12, the group has appeared in several choir festivals, including the seventh Moscow Children & Youth International Choir Festival in 2004 where they finished second in the 67-country competition.
Three years earlier, they took part in the inaugural World Youth Music Festival in Russia that attracted 83 choirs from Europe and Asia.
Dean-Wright, who founded the College of the Bahamas Concert Choir in 1988 and has written three music books, said the NCCB was excited to be in Canada.
“This is our first time performing here and everyone was looking forward to the trip,” she said. “Many Canadians visit the Bahamas and a lot of our nationals have Canadian friends.”
The Bahamas Tourist office in Canada played an integral role in the choir’s visit.
“Generally, we invite Bahamians and network with Bahamians that are visiting Canada during the summer months,” Paul Strachan, the senior director for the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism in Canada, said. “This occasion, however is very special because the NCCB is assisting in our efforts to promote the Bahamas by not only showcasing their talent and that of young Bahamians, but also by highlighting our culture through traditional classical music.”
The Bahamas is a coral archipelago of about 700 islands and more than 2,000 cays and rocks.