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Oakland gospel choir celebrates inclusion, diversity at Berkeley concert

By BETTY YU

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    BERKELEY (KPIX) — The sounds of The South could be heard in the East Bay Sunday night.

For the first time since the pandemic, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir belted out songs at an in-person, sold-out concert.

They performed before a full house at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage, a nonprofit community arts organization.

Isa Chu has been singing with the choir for nearly 20 years.

“Gospel music fires me up. It definitely fires me up and I’ve been singing with this choir for a long time because it is my creative outlet,” said Chu who is also the marketing and programs manager at OIGC. “I’ve been singing since I was a kid but it’s also a spiritual outlet for me and also a social justice outlet.”

Sunday’s show was a history lesson through song, presenting a variety of gospel music from traditional to contemporary with an authenticity not often found outside of the South.

The expereince was meant to be inclusive.

“The mere fact that I’m Asian American, I’m singing black gospel music and I’m standing next to someone that doesn’t look like me — that doesn’t believe in what I believe in — we have different beliefs but we’re going to sing Black gospel music together,” Chu said.

Though the music is rooted in Black culture, Sunday’s audience reflected the diversity of the Bay Area.

“It was the host tonight that said we are appreciating — not appropriating — the music. So having everyone have awareness of that and respect of that really gives us all a hope for tomorrow,” said Najee Renee with Freight & Salvage.

“I sing in this choir and I work with this organization because this is the world I want to raise my family in. It’s the world I want to live in,” said OIGC executive director Maren Amdal. “I love being surrounded by people of all backgrounds, all ages. Our youngest singer is five and our oldest singer turns 100 in just a couple of weeks.”

The Black History Month concert was meant to inspire joy and unity.

“We know that the higher power — however you call this higher power — is about love. It’s not about all the dogma and the rules of this religion or that religion. It is about love,” Chu said.

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