Sylvester Makobi hails from Nairobi, Kenya. His first professional performance engagement was as a member and soloist of the Kenyan Boys Choir, he later co-founded and was Director of the men’s a cappella group Taifa Mziki. His performances with these and other ensembles have taken him to cities in East Africa and other countries including the UK, France, China and the US, one of the highlights being a performance in the first inauguration of former President Barack Obama. As a member of the Ravenna Festival Chorus in Nairobi, Makobi performed with Ricardo Muti; appeared as a soloist with Nairobi Voices of The Hospice; performed in the celebration of the conclusion of the Cyprus Presidency of the Council of the European Union; as well as sung in the ensemble of a Bill T. Jones show, courtesy of the African American Arts Institute. Makobi’s concert experiences include tenor soloist in Mozart’s "Mass in C Minor", "Requiem Mass" and "Coronation Mass", Haydn’s "Creation", and Handel’s "Messiah". His operatic roles include Don Basilio and Don Curzio in Mozart’s "Marriage of Figaro", Ferrando in Mozart’s "Cosí fan tutte", Second Priest in Mozart’s "The Magic Flute", Rev. Horace Adams in Britten’s :"Peter Grimes", Elder in "Ondieki the Fisherman" by Francis Chandler, and the tenor roles in "The Firebringers" by Chappell Kingsland (Premier). Makobi is currently working on the role of Joel in the premier of the Kenyan opera, “Nyanga” by Francis Chandler. While in the US, Makobi has performed as soloist, has done recitals and featured in concerts in Chicago, IL., Madison, IN., Indianapolis IN., and in Bloomington IN. He has been involved in the recording of five albums where he was featured soloist and played different Kenyan instruments including Ohangla drums, Chivoti, Nyatiti and Kĩgamba. He recently featured on Bloomingsong’s latest album “Building Blocks”. Makobi has a commitment to community engagement and as such has worked as a volunteer both in Kenya and the US. He was a volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club, Giving Back to Africa, KILEO Taste of East Africa, Ghetto Classics and Tunaweza Kimuziki and Reimagining Opera for Kids (ROK). Makobi was the 2019 recipient of the Carlton Hodge Price, which is awarded to an Indiana University doctoral student, for their commitment to excellence in African Studies, in outreach, and in other activities directed to the wider public. He is now a fourth year, Doctor of Music student under the tutelage of Professor Marietta Simpson.
Q: What do you love about being a part of the AAAI?
A: AAAI is family to me and I felt it even before I started going to school at IU. During a tour with Taifa Mziki in March 2014, we had the opportunity to have a jam session and a fellowship with IU Soul Revue, then under the directorship of Dr. Tyron Cooper at Grand Hall. As we were making music, the audience increased gradually. Years later, I came to know that most of the people who came in were AAAI staff and students from other ensembles, including the current events and communications director Hannah Crane who was then a student of Prof. Rosa with AADC. It was not only a warm welcome but the highlight of our tour. I did not have an idea that I would come to work with AAAI.
While working with AAAI, I feel blessed to witness fellow students and staff who join the AAAI family and continue growing into various careers. I can mention so many but for now I will give a two examples. Peyton Womock, and amazing saxophonist who joined Camp Soul, where he is now serving as Administrative Assistant, he has been a member of IU Soul Revue and just graduated. Dr Gloria Howell, the current director of NMBCC, who taught me so much as I took over from her as IU Soul Revue Road Manager. She was also a member of AACE. These and many other people that I have met through AAAI really inspire me.
Q: Do you have any favorite memories or stories?
A: My first Potpourri in 2015 has a special place in my heart. It was the first time seeing the three ensembles coming together to create such a spectacular performance at Buskirk Chumley Theatre. It was amazing how AAAI was able to manage the space with the many performers not forgetting the wonderful audience. I thanked God for the opportunity to experience such a high level of performance.
Q: What have you gained working at the AAAI?
A: I get to meet and know many people from fellow students and staff who have taught me so much in life, arts administration and African American, African Diaspora and African music and dance education and performance.
Q: Is there anything else you want to share?
A: I met my partner, Samantha, through the AAAI :)