American songwriter, producer and musicologist Nolan Williams, Jr. has been invited by the US State Department to lead an ensemble of nine singers on tour to Cairo, Egypt. The NEWorks Inspirational Voices will represent the United States as cultural envoys singing for the Fifth Annual Sufi and Chanting Festival, an international festival sponsored by Egypt's Ministry of Culture.
The Sufi and Chanting Festival annually highlights various Muslim and Christian musical traditions from across the Middle East and the wider Muslim world, including India, Pakistan, Spain, Indonesia and Turkey. The festival will kick off with a spectacular opening ceremony on Saturday, July 29 celebrating the holy month of Ramadan.
According to Williams, "When I first received an email from a State Department official inquiring if I would be interested in this tour I was absolutely thrilled, to say the least. I had long hoped to become connected with their cultural exchange programs and had planned to one day apply. It is gratifying to know the work that I have been doing has raised a level of attention that incited this prestigious invitation."
Indeed, Williams' work speaks for itself. Williams is chief music editor of the best-selling African American Heritage Hymnal and is regarded as a leading authority on African American sacred music. During the spring term of this year, he served as visiting professor at Dartmouth College teaching a course he designed on these traditions. Last year, Williams coordinated music for the Dedication Ceremony of the MLK National Memorial, including the 75-voice choir formed especially for the occasion. And, earlier this year, Williams, along with his Voices of Inspiration, kicked off The White House tribute to African American History month in February--marking their fourth invitation to perform at the executive mansion since President Obama came into office.
For the State Department's Bureau of Exchange and Cultural Affairs [EOC], Williams was a natural selection. And, he will be joined by an impressive roster of singers including soprano Nova Tate, 2012 Helen Hayes Award winner for Best Supporting Actress in Signature Theatre's production of Hairspray, Washington National Opera soprano Samantha McElhaney, and Gospel recording artist Vanessa Williams. The full roster of NEWorks Inspirational Voices is: Nova Tate, Samantha McElhaney, Vanessa Williams, Dennis Sawyers, Victoria Purcell, Byron Nichols, Danton Whitley, Iyona Blake, and Joy Swafford.
Together, Williams and the NEWorks Inspirational Voices will be engaged in three major performances during the festival itself as well as multiple master classes, students workshops and media outreach events. According to the State Department EOC, their visit is purposed to "promote mutual understanding, [building] trust among Egyptians of American respect for Islam (particularly among the newly empowered Islamists who swept the last elections), and [introducing gospel music as] an important and unique form of the American culture."
In a statement, Rhonda Dallas, Executive Director of the Prince George's Arts and Humanities Council, says, "It is part of the mission of PGAHC to support arts programming that fosters inter-cultural understanding. We are excited to partner with Nolan Williams and NEWorks as the arts organization partner for this historic tour."
Throughout their tour, Williams and NEWorks will blog and tweet about their experience. Interested persons can follow them via Twitter @neworkspro and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/nolan.williams.
The envoys depart for Cairo this coming Thursday, July 26 returning August 5.