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UBUNTU Men's Chorus Presents Begin to Love

UBUNTU Men's Chorus

This week, Niki Dakota talks with Cathy Roma, director of the UBUNTU Men’s Chorus at the London Correctional Institution. UBUNTU’s first album, Begin to Love, was released last month.

Ubuntu is a Zulu word that, according to Roma, means “I am who I am in community—I exist in relationship.” The men in the choir, she says, “Want to be there for each other and learn about the world through each other.”

The album combines a cappella choral music with piano-accompanied gospel songs, including a few pieces composed by members of the chorus. The album’s first song, “Ten Billion Voices,” was composed by a chorus member who has worked with Roma since 1993. “This is our third prison that we’ve been in together,” she says.

In addition to UBUNTU, Roma directs MUSE women’s choir in Cincinnati and a women’s choir at the Dayton Correctional Institution.


She began working in prisons in 1993 as part of a degree program for prisoners offered by Wilmington College; she taught choir as a fine arts credit. When some members of her chorus moved to a lower-security facility, they asked her to go with them.

“I could’ve said no,” she says, “Except when I went, the piano was all set up, and there were sixteen guys just ready to sing.”

Proceeds from Begin to Love will go to five Ohio charities, chosen by Roma and the chorus members: the Artemis Domestic Violence Center in Dayton, a support center for victims of domestic abuse; Local Matters, a food education program for children and families in Columbus; WordPlay, a Cincinnati organization that teaches creative writing to junior high and high school students, the Youth Leadership Academy, a Dayton-based program that runs a community garden for teenagers, among other things; and The People’s Justice Project, a statewide reentry program.

Begin to Love will be available at Omega Records in Dayton, Sam and Eddie’s Open Books in Yellow Springs, and Shake It Records in Cincinnati. It will also be released soon on CDBaby. Cathy Roma says it’s important to distribute the album broadly, since UBUNTU’s members come from all over Ohio.

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Born a Hoosier, but only living there in spurts, Niki Dakota spent much of her young life moving around the United States with her archeologist mother. Throughout these years, there was always a ukulele somewhere close at hand. By the time the family settled in Cincinnati, Ohio, Ms. Dakota found herself in pursuit of professional music-making as she headed-up the Alterna-Folk band, Plow On Boy. In the course of her first live radio interview to promote the band, Niki’s keen excitedness manifest itself in extreme chattiness. At the conclusion of the segment, the DJ closed the mic and said, “You need to be in radio."  That was in 1990.