Interview with Camilo Menjura, director of the LOLchoir

Jan 31, 2014 Comments Off on Interview with Camilo Menjura, director of the LOLchoir by

Camilo Menjura LOLchoir

Since his arrival in London in 2006, Camilo Menjura, the Colombian professional musician, singer and winner of ‘Musician of the year’ and ‘Community Worker of the Year’ at the Latin UK Awards in 2012 – has performed across the UK, Europe, Turkey and as far as Mali for the Festival in the Desert. Having led workshops in schools all over the UK and classes for both adults and children, 2014 looks set to become an even busier year with his Spanish language choir. The LOLchoir is open to anyone with a passion for singing with both native and non-native Spanish speakers alike participating last term.

The class composes a variety of nationalities, where lyrics, pronunciation and cultural context are all explored. Scientific research has also proven the physical and psychological benefits of singing; research from Yale, Harvard and the University of California has shown that exercising the vocal cords on a regular basis is good for your heart, can improve your life expectancy and boosts your immune system.  As London’s Latin music scene continues to grow, Camilo explains below his passion for spreading singing in Spanish, promoting Latin American music in all its diverse forms and expanding his unique community projects.

Why the name LOLchoir?

Most people associate ‘LOLChoir’ with laughter, which is exactly the idea I wanted to transmit, the sheer joy of singing. It’s easy to pronounce and also represents ‘Landscapes of Latin America’; my mission being to express the great variety that exists not just within the continent, but also within differing regions of the same country. Through song in both Spanish and Portuguese, the choir gives me the opportunity to present many different themes- happiness, love, food, climate, the land… Themes that allow you to learn something new about Latin American culture but also connect with the universal topics which affect us all.

How did the idea of a Latin American choir emerge?

It had always been my dream to run my own choir. When I arrived in the UK in 2006, I began leading musical workshops during school cultural weeks, which promoted Spanish and Latin American culture through music, dance and even cookery. Additionally, having headed the Colombian Christmas choir – organised by the Consulate- for the past two years, I was inspired to form a choir which would run after the festive period throughout the rest of the year. Now, the LOLchoir has been running since September 2013 as a project to build bridges between the community, so that Spanish speakers can mix with others and everyone can enjoy the variety of the songs regardless of their language.

What makes the choir different from others?

Having worked in Starbucks for two years and speaking no English when I first arrived, I understand the traps that many Latin Americans face in the capital. The cycle of working long hours, having fewer opportunities to practise your English skills and little interaction with native speakers can make your experience of this vibrant city so much less diverse. That’s the beauty of a choir such as this. Using song and language as a positive way to interact and create connections, and seeing the friendships that blossom … that’s my biggest motivating factor.

Have you seen any changes in interest towards Latin music in London during your time here?

Without a doubt. The immediate association is with Brazilian music, Salsa or Cumbia. Movimientos are music promoters who are sowing the seeds, little by little, to expand the scene and show the true richness of our musical heritage. There’s growing international exposure with world music festivals like WOMAD showcasing the music of artists such as Totó La Momposina and Choquibtown from Colombia, which allow us to really reflect the diversity that exists. In my case, I want to showcase the music of the Colombian highlands and the interior, which has a wealth of stringed instruments different to the coastal areas. There is such diversity within each region waiting to be discovered.

Camilo Menjura LOLchoir

Has London changed your approach to music in any way?

Absolutely. Whereas beforehand I was more structured and logical in my musical style, the diverse mix in London has been revolutionary for me. I’ve worked with the Colombian Kena flute player Mauricio Velasierra for example, who’s extremely talented at Jazz and freestyle. Middle Eastern music has also played a strong role. It’s given me a much more fluid, less regimented approach to my music. Playing with the singer Amira Kheir from Sudan allowed me to hear new rhythms and try fresh approaches to music. Similarly, Western African styles such as Senegalese music first struck me as repetitive and cyclical. However, these forms introduced me to a totally different style; one where you have to listen carefully to pick up subtle changes and the finer details in the arrangement.  

What are your aims for the year ahead?

After the first LOLchoir concert in December, I’m eager to try new variations with the choir as it expands. Working with harmonies, and joining forces with the London SHEchoir for our next performance in April is going to produce something special. Saturday April 5th will also be an exciting opportunity for me in the Southbank centre, where I’ll be leading a day long Exploring Latin American song workshop to mark the visit by the Simón Bolivar National Youth Choir from Venezuela. It’s a great opportunity to make Latin American music and the joy of singing accessible to anyone who wants to try.

Finally, what has been your most memorable musical experience?

There are so many to mention, but the Festival in the Desert in Mali was unforgettable. I managed to go in the last year before it was moved (unfortunately due to terrorist activity in the area) where I performed under a full moon in the Sahara desert. The Tribe of Doris Festival in England is also fantastic, with a family friendly, relaxed atmosphere where attendees participated in the music themselves on the closing evening. Seeing the crowd singing songs in an unfamiliar language, among laughter and enjoyment is immensely satisfying, it doesn’t get better than that.

LOLchoir runs from Wednesday 5th February 7.30-9.30 at Calthorpe Project, 258 – 274 Grays Inn Road, London, WC1X 8LH. For more information see: or – Velo que bonito, music session, Manchester, 2012.





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