Thursday, 09 March 2023 12:26

Leicester’s EAGA Choir wins BBC Songs of Praise award

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The Emmanu’-EL Apostolic Gospel Academy choir, affectionately known as the EAGA Choir, based in Leicester, have won the 2023 BBC Songs of Praise Choir of the Year award. The members were presented recently with the prestigious prize in honour of their vocal abilities and dedication to the local community.

Under the leadership of Bishop Mark Anderson, who was born and raised in Portland, Jamaica, the choir members are strong believers of praise and worship being a vehicle to positively impact the nation and the world.

The EAGA choir performed a wide repertoire of medleys in the BBC Songs of Praise Gospel Choir of the Year competition. Having been shortlisted with four other choirs, the choir was very ecstatic and eagerly anticipated the challenge. Christian rapper, author and broadcaster, GuvnaB, affirmed passionately that the choir was EAGA by name and by nature.

The choir has achieved many accolades over the years. They were the first gospel choir to sing for the late Queen Elizabeth II, on her Silver Jubilee in Leicester in 2012, and in 2015 they received an official recognition of their service to the community by The Lord Mayor of Leicester before embarking on a Jamaican tour that same year.

The group was the 2016 winners of the University Gospel Choir of the Year and were runners-up in Gareth’s Best Choir in Britain. The EAGA Choir also performed alongside legendary Leicester band, Kasabian on their 2016 tour and was backing singers for two songs on the band’s album, For Crying Out Loud. In 2019, they performed on Britain’s Got Talent as the DMU Gospel Choir, and made it to the semi-finals.

Entry into the prestigious BBC Songs of Praise Choir of the Year competition induced something ‘more special’ among the members, gracefully pushing their vocal chords and blending their voices in higher levels of harmony while rehearsing these unfathomable medley arrangements.

Ellah Kandi, choir leader, signed British sign language to the medley In Christ Alone and Tis So Sweet. She shared how she is a believer in inclusion, the importance to feel that you belong, and the choir having a dedicated signer for every song they performed.

During the competition at the magnificent Manchester Monastery, there was an almost unmissable tangible atmosphere of humility mixed with much hope of a victorious outcome among the EAGA Choir choristers. Introducing his choice of songs, Minister Jordan Anderson, choir director and gospel music arrangements maestro, mentioned that he wanted the audience to experience “church as we do every Sunday morning”.

Evidencing inclusivity and the diversity within the choir, he also mentioned that this influenced the choice of the South African culture and Zulu songs. In addition, the choir coordinator, Pastor Samuel Gapara, translated the meaning of these African songs, highlighting that, “…Njalo means over and over we are going to keep praising, keep on offering and doing what we do as Christians … And the last one, Umu Jehovah, it means when God opens a door no man can shut it.”

Recalling the choir’s journey through the competition, Ellah Kandi said: “On stage, I began to appreciate the producers of BBC Songs of Praise, and the enormity of the scale of audience we were about to serenade with authentic spirit-filled gospel melodies through this competition. A deep sense of fulfilment suddenly hit the chords of my heart, as we, the EAGA Choir, stood in one accord, with one heart. Each member, as a piece of a jigsaw puzzle fitted into their rightful position, and so, gave it their all.

“As we ministered each piece of the two powerful medleys, the audience went wild, praising God, cheering, and applauding heartily. This eyeful fuelled us all to go higher in worship right on that performance stage. In these televised moments, we took all who were gathered at this place of grandeur to church, as we launched into the depth of true worship. Henceforth, we were enraptured in the moment as we sought not only to impress the judges but, most importantly our God, and to minister to the needs of all who were under our voice.

“Finally, all the choirs that featured in the competition were summoned back onto the stage for the night’s capping stone – the award ceremony. We had now reached the critical moment where the choir that performed the best was going to be crowned BBC Songs of Praise Gospel Choir of The Year 2023.

“The choirs were placed in a particular order and, as we stood together, some squeezing each other’s hands while some were praying, we were ever so hopeful. Drawing a large moment of suspense, UK’s Soul Queen, Mica Paris, announced that we, the EAGA Choir, had won the competition. Immediately, the glorious trophy was presented to our overjoyed choir master and that was such a significant moment in the history of EAGA Choir.

“It also seemed to be a special stamp of approval from our God, in recognition of our dedicated years of service to the UK community, while marking our 20th anniversary celebration this year. We erupted in victory praise, hugs and tears, as our supporters and the rest of the audience unanimously rose to their feet in a standing ovation.”

While still on stage, the competition’s host, Mark De-Lisser, asked Choir Director Jordan Anderson what it felt like to be holding the trophy. In response, he said: “This win is indeed a testament of EAGA Choir’s talent, dedication, and passion for gospel music”.