Jazz concert benefits Congo citizens

By Gabrielle Beacken
Nation & World Editor

After marrying at an early age and suffering through the death of her husband, a young Congo woman was left penniless and childless, as her brother-in-laws took her money, property and children away. Now, as a member of Woman, Cradle of Abundance — an organization empowering and educating girls in their fight against destitution and violence — the young woman is ready to change her life.

This young woman’s story was detailed by Elsie McKee, the international liaison and president of Woman, Cradle of Abundance. She illustrated the struggle and strife that young women in the Congo are forced to continuously endure.

Allyson is a four-time Grammy jazz vocalist nominee. (Keith Yoder / Staff Photographer)
Allyson is a four-time Grammy jazz vocalist nominee. (Keith Yoder / Staff Photographer)

“These are bright, attractive, remarkable young women,” McKee said. “Their stories are heartbreaking, inspiring and amazing.”

Woman, Cradle of Abundance, as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo-based charity, United Front Against Riverblindness (UFAR), were the organization beneficiaries of the jazz benefit concert, “Chanson pour le Congo III,” featuring four-time Grammy jazz vocalist nominee, Karrin Allyson, on Sunday, Sept. 20 in Mayo Concert Hall. The event was hosted by the College and sponsored by the Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) Department, Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL) and the office of the Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“Karrin Allyson is a national treasure and to have her at TCNJ put us on the map in a new way,” said Ellen Friedman, one of the coordinators of the event and professor of English, WGS and holocaust and genocide studies. “Here at TCNJ we are citizens of the world, meaning that we have global responsibility to make the world a better place.”

“Many A New Day: Karrin Allyson Sings Rodgers & Hammerstein,” the title of Allyson’s new album, is dedicated to classic songs of renowned musical duo, composer Richards Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein. The album was released Friday, Sept. 18, two days before the benefit concert.

Accompanied by longtime friend and bassist Ed Howard, the two performed songs from the new album, some of them for the first time for an audience. Watching an “American Masterpieces” special on PBS about Hammerstein, Allyson was inspired to compile a list of her favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein pieces to cover in a jazz format. Several pieces from musicals such as “Oklahoma!,” “The King and I” and “South Pacific” are featured on the album.

For six songs, Allyson played her own piano accompaniment and played the shaker for a few songs, as well.

Allyson began the night with “Many A New Day,” from “Oklahoma!” where she sang, “Many a new day will dawn before I do!”

The theme of empowerment, specifically female empowerment, was a prevalent theme throughout the night.

“Love one another and support one another,” Allyson said to the audience during a pause in between one of the 12 songs she performed. “I admire Elsie so much and what the organization (Woman Cradle of Abundance) does.”

This is Allyson’s third concert benefitting the two Congo-affiliated aid organizations. Woman, Cradle of Abundance and United Front Against Riverblindness partner with Congo aid organizations to help eradicate calamities in the area.

“I’d been in the country for 40 years and I asked, ‘What can I do?’” said Dr. Daniel Shungu, founder of the United Front Against Riverblindness. As a long-time employee of Merk, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, Shungu was exposed to the breakthrough research Merk was conducting with the disease Onchocerciasis, which eventually led to a helpful drug that was spread throughout the Congo area.

Onchocerciasis is triggered through the penetration of the parasite worm, Onchocerca, into the human body, Shungu said. Symptoms, oftentimes more apparent in women than men, comprise of severe skin irritations, like itching and bumps forming underneath layers of skin. Onchocerciasis affects 50 African countries, according to Shungu.

The goal of UFAR is to eradicate the Onchocerciasis disease, which is especially prevalent in the Kasongo region of the Congo, and eventually expand their influence to eradicate other harmful diseases in the Congo.

“If everyone takes this drug once a year, for 10 years, the disease will be eliminated, and we’re close to 10 years,” Shungu said. “We’re going after other disease… four other tropical diseases.”

All of the proceeds from ticket and merchandise sales, which were items sewn by the women from Woman Cradle of Abundance, went towards the organization and UFAR.

“The concert raised consciousness and addresses several elements of the college mission, including widening global perspectives, social justice and good citizenship,” Friedman said. “The crowd was very enthusiastic and the speakers communicated the value of their efforts on behalf of the Congo very well.”

The audience’s enthusiasm was maintained throughout the night — bobbing heads synched with the rhythm of the guitar, each vocal riff so prevalent in the genre of jazz resulted in widened eyes and loud applause succeeded the finish of each song.

Though the audience may have been enveloped in a world of bass and piano for two hours, the main mission of the night was not forgotten.

“It’s important to empower all of us,” Allyson said. “If you educate a woman, you do the world a favor. My mom taught me that.”