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The Magnificat was written in 1982 in response to a commission from Christ Church College, Oxford, whose choir first performed it under their conductor Francis Grier in July of that year. At that time the composer was influenced by his belated discovery of African music. During a period of research in Senegal and The Gambia he recorded a working-song in a small village called Badem Karantaba, about thirty miles south-east of Ziguinchor in the Casamance region of southern Senegal. Swayne used the opening call of this song to begin the Magnificat; it returns as a refrain towards the end.