A huge festival is going down at the Abbotsford Convent this weekend

A huge festival is going down at the Abbotsford Convent this weekend

Words by August Billy

We give you the full rundown of The Boite Singers’ Festival.

Victoria’s iconic multicultural music organisation The Boite has been providing a platform for artists from diverse cultural backgrounds for the last 42 years. The organisation grew out of a concert held in The Rocks, Sydney in January 1978. The following year, The Boite established headquarters in Melbourne, where its operations continue to this day.

Along with the intimate café concerts for which it is best-known, The Boite’s annual programming includes larger-scale theatre events, music festivals and the occasional choral spectacular. One of The Boite’s most enduring traditions is the Singers’ Festival, which is back again from Friday April 30 to Saturday May 1 at Abbotsford Convent.

Born of a recognition that singing is an apt lure for participation in the arts, The Boite’s inaugural Singers’ Festival took place in 1999 at the Daylesford Town Hall. It remained stationed in Daylesford until 2016 when weather events meant it had to be relocated to the Abbotsford Convent.

The 2021 event will bring together singers of all ages for a full-day of workshops and choir performances as well as an opening-night concert from South African a cappella group, Makepesi. The likes of Greek-Australian singer-songwriter Anthea Sidiropoulos and Sri Lankan-born troubadour Suzette Herft will present workshops, while the Bulgarian and Georgian male vocal ensemble, Gorani, and Dutch-singing community choir, Zing!, will also take part. As ever, the free Lunchtime Choirs Concert in the Convent’s Heritage Gardens is not to be missed.

Here are our top picks from the 2021 Singers’ Festival timetable.


The repertoire of Melbourne-based a cappella group Makepesi encompasses both contemporary and traditional South African songs. Led by veteran performer Valanga Khoza, the collective of five powerful vocalists will launch this year’s Singers’ Festival with a performance in the style of legendary South African male choral group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Khoza left South Africa in 1976 in order to escape the struggles of living through apartheid. Storytelling has always been a major component of Khoza’s live performances, as he relates anecdotes from his South African upbringing and travels across the world as a refugee.

Taking place at The Oratory on Friday April 30 from 7:30pm

Finding your Voice with Hatha Yoga

Melbourne-via-Delhi artist Avijit ‘Avi’ Misra is as versatile as they come. In addition to being a singer, songwriter, producer and bandleader, Misra is a trained hatha yoga teacher. Misra’s original music is built around baritone vocals, folk storytelling and experimental electronic production. For this Saturday morning Finding Your Voice workshop, Misra will oversee a positive yoga and chanting session to prepare the diaphragm for a big day of singing.

Going down in the Salon on Saturday May 1 from 7:45-8:30am


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by The Boite (@the_boite)


Born in South Africa’s Sotho-speaking city of Kroonstad, Sello Molefi has carved out an illustrious career CV, appearing in stage productions of The Lion King across South Africa, Australia and London’s West End as well as composing music for various film and theatre projects.

Molefi’s VOICE workshop will partition attendees into two choirs to enact a call-and-response dialogue before coming full circle to create one voice. Inspired by Molefi’s interest in diverse global vocal traditions, VOICE will be a fun, high-energy and rhythmic workshop.

The Oratory on Saturday May 1 from 9:30-11am and 2:30-4pm

Macedonian Women’s Choir

The Macedonian Women’s Choir of Melbourne has been sharing the rich musical and folkloric traditions of Macedonia with Australian audiences for close to 40 years. The choir’s current musical director, Margarita Vasileva – who’s also head of SBS’s Macedonia programming – leads the choir through traditional songs of love, war, patriotism, joy, sadness and village life. Together, the members of the Macedonian Women’s Choir create a rich and markedly human sound.

Going down in the Linen Room on Saturday May 1 from 9:30-11am 

Colombian Songs and Rhythms

The songwriting of Colombian-born, Melbourne-based artist Iaki Vallejo draws on a broad selection of influences, from the Afro-Colombian sounds that are close to her heart, to jazz, soul, salsa, Afrobeat, funk, neo-soul and reggae music. Vallejo’s Colombian Songs and Rhythms workshop will introduce singers to the world of songs in Spanish, giving particular focus to songs and rhythms from her native Colombia.

Vallejo’s love of music is closely tied to ideas of unity and growth and she insists that no prior singing experience is required to participate in the Colombian Songs and Rhythms workshop.

For those keen to take things to the next step, Vallejo has opened up registrations for her new Spanish language choir, Sonidos del Alma. In  a ‘fun, relaxed, and friendly environment’ where no experience is required, the choir will specialise in songs from Latin America such as the Mexican bolero ‘Bésame Mucho’, the Colombian cumbia ‘El Pescador’ and the Chilean classic ‘Todo Cambia’. Register your interest for this here.

Taking place in the Rosina Auditorium on Saturday May 1 from 9:30-11am and 2:30-4pm

Songs of the World

One of the many esteemed guests at this year’s Singers’ Festival is the Chilean singer, songwriter and music teacher, Ximena Abarca. Abarca rose to fame after winning the 2003 edition of the Chilean reality television series, Protagonistas de la Música. She’s since recorded two solo albums and an additional three albums with the bands Ruch and Huanchaco. Based in Australia since 2010, Abarca teaches guitar, piano and singing to primary school students while also hosting regular Spanish vocal workshops and leading The Boite’s young singers’ choir, Voices Unbound.

Abarca’s Songs of the World workshop will explore classic songs from the romance languages, Spanish, French and Portuguese, combining melody and harmony with a touch of history.

The Salon on Saturday May 1 from 11:30am-1pm and 4:30-6pm 

The Boite Singers’ Festival goes down from Friday April 30 to Saturday May 1 at the Abbotsford Convent. Grab tickets here