Busy Canadian Tenors to sing for African town at Voices for Bulembu Benefit Concert
The Canadian Tenors’ West Coast ambassador, Fraser Walters, knows what it’s like to perform in glitzy halls around the globe. After serving as a boy soprano with Vancouver Opera, he took classical training at UBC. Nowadays, he sings with the polished pop-opera quartet, sharing the stage with everyone from Sting to Andrea Bocelli, playing for the likes of former president Bill Clinton and prime minister Tony Blair, and hitting such venues as the Tel Aviv Opera House and the Air Canada Centre.
But Walters found himself in an entirely different world on a trip to Bulembu, Swaziland, last August. Located in a country with the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world (38 percent), the impoverished town is the subject of the group’s Voices for Bulembu Benefit Concert this Saturday (September 26) at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.
“One of the big parts of our trip was to get to do a performance with all the local people in this broken-down building,” recalls the affable Walters, talking over the phone from an airport in Toronto, where he’s about to head to a show in New York. At the impromptu concert in Bulembu, he explains, he and fellow tenors Clifton Murray, Victor Micallef, and Remigio Pereira were joined by a choir of children, as elders looked on. “And then, at the end, all the men went out the back to their homesteads—homesteads where there’s no running water and dirt floors—to collect their traditional outfits, and they did a dance for us.”
The tenors had hooked up with the Bulembu Foundation, a group that aims to return the former mining town to being a self-sustaining community by 2020 by building schools, clinics, and small businesses. And according to Walters, there are signs of hope.
The most affecting things he saw included two small twins who had just been abandoned, and later, two teens who had made something of their lives. “The boys were 13 and 15 years old, and they were found years ago. They had the orphan care and education. They both played guitar—we were able to feature them in a song that we performed together. There was that juxtaposition of what happens when these kids are saved.”
The fundraiser comes when the tenors couldn’t be busier. Last winter’s self-titled debut has gone gold in Canada, and they’ve been working on two more albums—including their first American release. Their schedule has included an appearance with Sarah McLachlan at Ambleside Park; there’ll be a gig at the Canucks game Thursday (September 24) before the big show Saturday, then a night back at the Garage for the Dalai Lama and We Day on Tuesday (September 29). Then they’ll launch into a 56-city American tour.
The Canadian Tenors are hitting the big time, but it’s only after years of preparation and hard work. And when you talk to Walters about how his quartet has built to this point, you start to understand why—far from being high-maintenance divos—these guys are humble enough to feel comfortable in a remote African town.
“Our first tour was 12 weeks in Saskatchewan—and it didn’t include Saskatoon and Regina!” Walters says, before jumping on his plane. “We picked up fans by the 20s and 50s.”