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African Sanctus is a musical composition for choir, soloists, orchestra and prerecorded tape by David Fanshawe. It was composed in 1972.

African Sanctus is the best-known of Fanshawe's works. It was composed after Fanshawe had made journeys to Africa up the river Nile between 1969 and 1973. The shape of his journey forms the shape of a cross. This had a religious meaning for Fanshawe. He made recordings on tape of the people he met singing their traditional music. A lot of this music had never been recorded before. When he returned home to Britain he composed the African Sanctus. Some of the recordings he had made in Africa are played as part of the performance. The choir who sing live at the concert are singing some of the words of the traditional Christian Latin Mass.

The recordings are from Egypt, the Sudan, Uganda and Kenya.

At first it was called African Revelations, but then the title was changed to African Sanctus. It was first performed in London by the Saltarello Choir in July 1972, and was later played on BBC Radio on United Nations Day. A documentary film was made three years later showing how the work had been composed.

Description of the music

  • Movement I is based on music from North Uganda in which the Acholi people perform a royal welcome dance. The live choir sing the words of the Sanctus.
  • Movement II uses a recording of the Azan: a call to prayer by the Imam, in the Muhammad Ali Mosque in Cairo. The live choir sing Kyrie. Fanshawe is joining the two faiths: Muslim and Christian.
  • Movement III starts with the music of an Egyptian wedding. The live choir sing the Gloria, often shouting.
  • Movement IV consists of courtship dances. It leads to four men in a trance singing words from the Koran in a mixture of dialects and Arabic. The live choir sing a praise of thanks to God.
  • Movement V has the song of a cattle boy in the deserts by the Red Sea Hills. Bells announce the birth of a baby boy.
  • Movement VI A Zande family who had fled into Uganda from South Sudan sing a song about Jesus who has saved them from the terrors of war.
  • Movement VII We hear frogs and a Uganda dance in which young girls are praising their boyfriends who are fighting. A storm comes and this is combined with the live choir singing "Crucify!"
  • Movement VIII Many different sounds are mixed here, and we hear the Madinda, which is a kind of xylophone made out of canoe boards balanced across two banana trunks. The live choir sing "Sanctus!" ("Holy!").
  • Movement IX The live choir sing a beautiful setting of the Lord's Prayer. The words in this movement are in English, not in Latin. Fanshawe got the idea for this music from hearing a mother singing a lament for a dead fisherman on the shores of a lake in Uganda.
  • Movement X The live choir sing "For thine is the kingdom". Four songs are heard on the tape: a milking song from Kenya, a song of a river in Uganda, a cattle song from Northern Kenya and a burial dance from Western Kenya.
  • Movement XI thinks about the refugees in countries such as Sudan and Rwanda. We hear the sound of war drums in the distance. The live choir sing the Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God").
  • Movement XII This is a repeat of the Kyrie, but the live choir and the tape are mixed in different ways.
  • Movement XIII This is a return of the Sanctus and Gloria with the energetic dance of the Bwala dancers from Uganda.


The work has been performed in many places in Britain and all round the world. Fanshawe comes to many of these concerts personally.

In 1994 David Fanshawe composed an extra movement for a new recording of the work, the Dona Nobis Pacem - A Hymn for World Peace, which completed the Agnus Dei. Based on this new recording, the BBC commissioned the maker of the 1975 documentary, Herbert Chappell, to make a new programme, African Sanctus Revisited,

  • David Fanshawe's programme notes (printed in Summer Celebration, Milton Keynes City Church programme 12 July 2009).

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