Mama Beyeke – Mother of the Chorous Movement in the Disciples of Christ Community in the Congo
Where can one find the best music? You may be surprised to learn that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is well-known for its innovation in music throughout the world. It is out of this rich cultural context that Marie Beyeke-Bofii, known to the Disciples of Christ Community and the ecumenical church in the Congo as, “Mama Beyeke” arose to transform the worship experience in the life and witness of congregations throughout the Congo with her melodic voice and artistic leadership. The music composed and sung by Mama Beyeke expressed the desire to rise above the despair and pain that one may be facing today and to celebrate the joy one finds in Christ and hope for the future.
Why was Mama Beyeke important in the life and witness of the Church in the Congo? As a gifted singer, she was able to use music as an evangelical tool to transform the hearts of people. She worked alongside of her husband, Pierre Engomba Ifulunkoy in the evangelistic efforts of the church and served in Lotumbe where church leaders recognized her gifts and appointed the couple to serve in Kiri. This was a challenging assignment because it is reported that the people of Kiri were hostile to the church, but as a result of Mama Beyeke’s musical talents and organizational skills she was able to develop a chorus whose music impacted the hearts of many people and enabled them to be transformed and converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Another aspect of Mama Beyeke’s choirs was the actual performance. She sang not only with her voice, but with her body. The movement of the body was incorporated into the performances, which included gestures with the hands, fists, arms, and legs. She knew how to engage the choir members and calling forth the best from them in terms of artistic expression.
The music of Mama Beyeke was essentially vocal, and her repertoire covered a variety of themes, such as; the proclamation of the Christian witness, calls for repentance, and the birth, passion and resurrection of Jesus. She was very clear that the themes were developed as a result of an inspiration from God. It is reported that in one of the congregations in Kinshasa, during one of her last meetings for rehearsals prior to her death, she affirmed that “it is especially at night when the Lord instructs me on the themes and sometimes even the melody which should accompany the theme. At the beginning, this practice of awaking at night to sing and write what I had received did not please my husband. But after he realized that it came from God, he encouraged me and prayed for me…Sometimes he joined me and wrote certain songs for me.”
As more and more congregations were able to experience the Mama Beyeke Chorale, they began to receive invitations from across the Congo to perform. Also, the chorus went on to gain international attention as they were invited to perform in Germany and the United States. They provided a spirited performance at the 1987 Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly in Louisville, KY.
Mama Beyeke will be remembered as a gifted choral director, composer, singer, evangelist, and teacher. Although, she died on December 9, 1996, her legacy lives on through the voices of new generations of Disciples who have incorporated her artistic style and music into their expression of worship and praise!
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