“We are one world, one people. And we all breathe the same.”
— from the song “Sisi Ni Moja”
Take a deep, unified breath. And sing.
“Sisi Ni Moja,” which means “We Are One” in Swahili, will be the signature song when the Fratelli Men’s Chorus performs on May 6 in Oxnard. “We Are One” is also the title of the concert, and reflects the eclectic group of presenters and performers partnering for the event: Congregation Am HaYam, a Conservative Jewish congregation in Ventura; the Diversity Collective Ventura County, an LGBTQ support organization; Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, where the concert will be held; and the Santa Barbara-based Fratelli Men’s Chorus, made up mostly of gay men.
“If this isn’t a testament to how we truly can be a collective celebrating our diversity, then I don’t know what is,” said Joseph Summers, president of Diversity Collective Ventura County.
“It’s been a fractious year politically and socially,” said Zack Thomas Wilde, founder and artistic director of the Fratelli Men’s Chorus, which will be performing in Ventura County for the first time. “With this concert we’re trying to bring some harmony and unity, to help people see the commonality within us rather than the division.”
Marc Goldman, a Congregation Am HaYam member who is helping to organize the concert, said that last year the congregation decided to do more outreach related to diversity, and hosted a cabaret featuring people with disabilities. This year Congregation Am HaYam wanted to present a diversity event that focused on the LGBTQ community.
“We are working together for total acceptance of all human beings, no matter who they are,” he said.
The concert in part benefits Diversity Collective Ventura County, which will use proceeds to help cover overhead costs at the nonprofit’s Community Resource Center that opened in August.
“Fratelli” means “brothers” in Italian. Wilde, who lived in Italy for three years, said he chose the name because “a feeling of brotherhood is what we go for.”
Wilde originally moved to Santa Barbara when he was 10; he performed there in school choirs and was a theater major at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He worked for many years in New York and San Francisco as a director, choreographer and performer before returning to Santa Barbara three years ago to care for his elderly mother.
“When I moved here there was no gay chorus, so I thought I should start one,” Wilde said. The 26-member group does not specifically bill itself as a gay men’s chorus, however, describing its singers as “gay men and their allies,” and two members are straight, Wilde said.
The chorus’ repertoire includes a range of tunes: theater, classical, folk, jazz, world and some original compositions.
“We sing a variety of styles, with a smattering of humor, some commentary on current events and definitely a lot of heart,” Wilde said.
The Oxnard concert program, Wilde said, will include “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” “Seasons of Love” from Rent, “Go West” by the Village People and “Seize the Day” from the musical Newsies.
The concert’s guest soloist is operatic tenor Eduardo Villa, who studied musical comedy at Santa Barbara City College and for many years has performed around the world on opera stages, including the Metropolitan Opera. Wilde said that he and Villa sang together as teenagers in Santa Barbara.
“Sisi Ni Moja,” a pop-sounding tune sung mostly in English, includes a refrain, “he ja” (pronounced “hey yah”) that “is a non-word with no literal meaning, and does not represent any specific culture,” wrote composer Jacob Narverud in online notes for the song’s score. “It is given a more instrumental treatment in the chorus, acting as a joyful, declamatory backdrop to the song’s message of unity.”
That’s a language everyone can speak.
The “We Are One” concert featuring the Fratelli Men’s Chorus takes place on Sunday, May 6, at 2 p.m. at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, 721 Doris Ave., Oxnard. For tickets or more information, call 644-2899 or visit www.eventbrite.com/e/fratelli-a-mens-chorus-tickets-43943015743.