"...a soul-stirring two-hour set "
Soweto Gospel pays tribute to Madiba
March 25 2014
By JESSE STARITA
For the Lincoln Journal Star
The beautiful harmonies born in a Johannesburg, South Africa, township 12 years ago delivered a soul-stirring two-hour set last night before 1,500 congregants at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.
In the hands of the peerless Soweto Gospel Choir, those beautiful harmonies uplifted everything from Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” and Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross” to lifting the audience from their seats and into the aisles during Miriam Makeba’s “Pata Pata.”
Still, musical influences aside, the 24-member troupe made it clear to whom this evening was owed. “Tonight is dedicated to Nelson Mandela,” singer Portia Skosana announced at the show’s outset.
From there: a vibrant orange backdrop lowered, the foreground a rainbow of magenta, teal, canary and emerald dressed singers and a lone drummer, tapping the opening notes. On “Emlanjeni/Yelele” the choir displayed a churning rhythmic force, while Johnny Clegg’s “Asimbonanga/Biko” had a reflective yearning.
But the choir did more, much more, than sing. Choir members became improvisational dancers, swinging elbows and kicking legs over their heads. They played bass, keyboards or guitar for a song or two. Like on Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” when a smooth bass line anchored the vocal aerials.
After a brief intermission, the second set began with more South African traditionals, including the danceable “Shosholoza.” Then came “Swing Low,” a closer-to-home traditional featuring a few female members fervently intoning a la Gladys Knight. By the sunset of set two, the Lied’s aisles and rows turned into a dance hall. And even those who weren’t swiveling hips clapped their palms to the cadence.
However, it was Madiba – the affectionate name used for Mandela by South Africans – who got the last word.
After all the evening’s color, a stark black and white photo of Mandela illuminated the choir as they sang their country’s national anthem.
"London’s fitting tribute to Mandela"
March 4 2014
Chris Chivers - Vicar of John Keble Church, London.
Every detail of Mandela memorial at Westminster Abbey was magnificently judged, says Chris Chivers.
London - It was not the first time that the South African flag had flown from the tower of Westminster Abbey. That happened in 1994 when a great service welcomed South Africa back to the Commonwealth, and it happens each year on Freedom Day when the High Commissioner comes to the abbey to read a lesson at Evensong.
It wasn’t the first time that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has preached at the abbey. At the service in 1994 he did so beginning his address with the single word “Wow!” – allowing the echo to take it to the rafters before he roared with laughter and added with glee “We’re back”.
But on Monday, at the Nelson Mandela memorial, it was certainly the first time that any citizen of Africa has received a thanksgiving service at the heart of the British establishment.
It was also the first visit of the Soweto Gospel Choir. In the words of one of the adult make singers in the abbey choir they “stole the show”.
I doubt that Bob Marley’s One Love has ever before been heard echoing through the abbey’s high gothic vaulting. But this was always of course going to be a day for uniqueness because it celebrated someone everyone regards as having been one of the world’s greatest citizens.
Every detail was magnificently judged. the Soweto Gospel Choir having set the scene and roused the emotions of the 2,000 strong congregation, the organist offered a hymn tube prelude by the South African composer John Joubert.
The hymns – all well known offered lines that resonated for everyone there whether we were “treading the verge of Jordan”, walking “in the light of life till travelling days are done” or rightly attributing the power that enabled Madiba to spearhead the transformation of South Africa to the Infinite one “who lives – and loves – and saves”.
The readings – a memorial of stones set up at the behest of Joshua when the Jordan had been crossed and the promised land reached, and that most crucial of divine promises, I came that they may have life, life in all its abundance – spoke deeply of the man who had brought the world to life with an ability to forgive and transcend, to unite and inspire that is rare indeed across history.
The abbey choir – the best of its type in the world – didn’t compete with the Soweto Gospel Choir who sang Johnny Clegg’s haunting Asimbonanga following a recorded extract from Madiba’s inauguration address.
They added the African American spiritual, Deep River, in an arrangement by the British composer Michael Tippett, and the ancient prayer Agnus Dei, Lamb of God give us peace, whose invocation soared to the heavens, as many responsible in Britain and South Africa for matters of state – the British Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe headed the political lists, with Prince Harry representing the queen – must have wished a Mandela was available now to address the pity an horrors of the Ukraine.
There were two beautiful and doubtless unexpected touches.
The first was Tutu invoking God in Afrikaans at the start of his address. As at the memorial service in Johannesburg following Madiba’s death, when he used it in his blessing, the language was spoken nowhere else – and one does wonder how the present South African government can be so unaware of Madiba’s care to use and honour it. It was fundamental to his desire for reconciliation.
The second deft touch in a service which saw the most finely judged addresses one could wish for from veteran anti-apartheid campaigner, Peter Hain, Motlanthe and the Arch, was Jonty Driver introducing and reading an extract from the so-called Robben Island Bible.
Prisoners had chosen their favourite passages and Madiba had presciently marked the following:
Cowards die many times before their deaths:
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me must strange that men should fear,
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will comes.
Driver read the passage movingly, indeed many tears were seen at this point.
Driver, a celebrated poet, novelist and educationalist, was of course president of the National Union of South African students in 1964, and was himself detained in solitary confinement in Sea Point police station as Mandela was sent to the island, which Driver could just see if he dragged himself up by the cell window bars.
The connections and associations at this moment, as throughout the service, were deeply affecting and inspiring.
For one of the most fearless persons ever to have graced the earth, Shakespeare’s words were exactly the thought with which to leave us as we face the life we must live before our own death with a courage that deputy president Motlanhe had suggested needed to live up to not fail Madiba’s dream.
But as speech gave way to the South African National anthem, its embodiment of reconciliation musically and textually left us in no doubt of Madiba’s most lasting legacy and pressing call.
"Exuding a joy that can't be faked"
Concert Review: Soweto Gospel Choir at Montreal Jazz Festival
Exuding a joy that can't be faked
The Soweto Gospel Choir is nothing less than an international treasure. Since making its performance debut in Cape Town in 2003, during the first of Nelson Mandela’s “46664” concerts to raise awareness about AIDS/HIV, the South African choir has quickly established itself as a major force on the world music scene.
It’s collaborated with such stars as Bono, John Legend, Celine Dion and Robert Plant, won two Best Traditional World Music Album Grammys (in 2007 and 2008) and filled concert halls across the globe. The choir is now celebrating its 10th anniversary by doing what it does best, sharing its one-of-a-kind blend of gospel, world music, reggae, traditional spirituals, folk and pop with eager listeners.
The choir certainly accomplished that feat at the 2013 Montreal International Jazz Festival, where it performed two shows on July 6 at the city’s lovely new symphony hall. You simply can’t fake the type of joy that the singers poured into the music during the matinee concert. It was in their eyes and lit up their smiles. It could be heard in their voices and seen in their dance moves. And it was certainly contagious, as the fans were swept away through a steady supply of uplifting anthems.
The 18 singers, who were accompanied at times by percussion and, occasionally, keyboards, focused the first half of the set on traditional gospel music sung in African churches. The second portion was handled in a more transcontinental approach, as the choir worked English pop songs and hymns into the mix.
The choir did a magnificent job with Peter Gabriel’s “Biko,” with a single drumbeat and a bass line of male voices providing a dramatic backdrop for some high-flying vocal work. It was a natural fit for the choir, thematically speaking, given that the song addresses South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko.
The singers also had great success with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” The choir was able to breathe new life into the overplayed tune, through an arrangement that matched two lead vocalists with a 16-voice harmony section.
Another standout moment came when the choir delivered a sweet, soulful version of Jimmy Cliff’s beautiful “Many Rivers to Cross,” which eventually slipped right into the spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” The highlight of the set, however, may well have been a dramatic take on Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” which prompted the audience to give the Soweto Gospel Choir a well-deserved standing ovation.
By Jim Harrington
"...easy to imagine that God himself was snapping his fingers"
The Soweto Gospel Choir at the Maison Symphonique de Montreal
It was a particularly animated Saturday night prayer meeting. And it was easy to imagine that God himself was snapping his fingers.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the 24-member Soweto Gospel Choir absolutely killed in a joyous, explosive performance at the Maison symphonique de Montreal.
Performing a cross-section of traditional African spirituals, American gospel numbers and contemporary popular music from both its homeland and the United States, the 24-member ensemble – with instrumental accompaniment limited to the occasional djembe or keyboard – delivered what has to be one of the most inspired shows of this year’s Montreal International Jazz Festival.
During the choir’s astonishing 85-minute performance, the level of energy never slid below the degree of choral inspiration or the intensity of the gospel fervour. These strong, harmonic voices, applied to a satisfyingly varied repertoire, are the stuff of chills.
And it all sounds comforting and familiar, rather than something you wait patiently to check off on your cultural experiences list. After all, those doo-wop harmonies that are part of any rock n’ roller’s DNA had to come from somewhere.
The songs in the choir’s South African mother tongues communicated their feelings in a way that made the words unnecessary to understand. And even when there was a linguistic barrier, it was hard to miss the playful sense of shtick as singers challenged and replaced each other at center stage in various combinations. The choreographed moments, with nimble dance steps being thrown into the mix, were also a great part of the fun.
The audience enthusiasm was kicked up just a tiny notch with the material that was more familiar – let’s say a soul version of Paul Simon’s Bridge Over Troubled Water or a dramatic interpretation of Jimmy Cliff’s Many Rivers to Cross or Sarah McLachlan’s Angel, for example. Or maybe the well-known English-language popular gospel material like This Little Light of Mine or Amen reached out to someone. Perhaps it was the show-stopping tribute to their own Mama Africa, Miriam Makeba, with a roof-raising Pata Pata..
As the singers danced their way off the stage during the closer, Oh Happy Day, the choir seemed to know it had triumphed. And its triumph was ours, as well.
Arts>Words And Music Words And Music
Montreal International Jazz Festival 2013: ; July 6, 2013July 7, 2013. 12:57 am • Section: Words And Music
"... intense expressiveness ... very moving"
Soweto Gospel Choir
Perth Concert Hall
Thursday, March 7
Listening to the Soweto Gospel Choir is the musical equivalent of an injection of vitamin B. For sheer exuberance and vitality, the Soweto choristers take a lot of beating. Unlike most choirs. the members of which are usually dressed in formal wear. the men and women in the Soweto ensemble resemble a rainbow, the women sporting bright, turban-tYpe headgear and vividly coloured gowns. The men wear very bright, outsize T-shirts and black trousers.
Also unlike most choirs. the Soweto singers gyrate. sway, bob and bow on the spot with great energy, including those performers who, in the gentle words of novelist Alexander McCall Smith in his No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency, are "traditionally built".
Moreover. the Soweto singers clap and stamp with uninhibited and seemingly limitless joie de vivre, giving not the slightest indication of jetlag despite having arrived in Perth only the night before from South Africa. This ebullience was infectious, with a concertgoer nearby so taken by such an energetic display that she, too, entered into the spirit of the performance with a series of impromptu arm movements.
In the splendid acoustics of the Perth Concert Hall it was surely not necessary to electronically amplify the singing to such an extent. The choristers generate more than sufficient decibels to reach the furthest corners of the venue - and, at times, boosting choral sound resulted in distortion.
There is a minimum of instrumental accompaniment: two traditional drums and an electric keyboard. Most of the singing was in the vernacular but there were some items presented in English. I particularly admired the intense expressiveness of Swing Low. Sweet Chariot. It was very moving, as were a number of powerfully atavistic songs which were enhanced by ululation. Also on the program were a number of freedom songs, presented with immense depth of feeling.
Soweto Gospel Choir will give performances in Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne
THE WEEKEND WEST
9-10 March 2013
“Dazzling and unified..."
“Dazzling and unified.....Soweto Gospel Choir was as much to look at as to listen to. The human spirit – this you couldn’t miss”
Los Angeles Times, 2012
"Breathtaking to the eye and ear..."
“Breathtaking to the eye and ear, Soweto had the audience having a good time: clapping Soweto rhythms and waving its arms in unison, reminiscent of rock concerts with American youth melding”
The Boston Musical Intelligencer, 2012
"...the songs powerful, the sound heavenly...
“Presenting grace of form and grace of God in one program is a tall order but the choir pulled it off to perfection. The costumes were brilliant, the songs powerful, the sound heavenly, and the dancing exuberant.
Classical Voice, North Carolina, 2012
Soweto Gospel voices sweet, soulful
Ensemble serves up delicious harmonies, infectious energies
There have been a lot of air molecules moved around in the Winspear, but it's truly something special when a great vocal group comes with its own brand of musical air conditioning.
So it was when the 20-plus voices of South Africa's Soweto Gospel Choir made their third Edmonton visit Monday, one of the last stops on a 40plusdate North American tour.
Who else could balance a program theme like African Grace with such a strong will to party down? And the crowd of some 1,200 was ready to be converted.
Just to make sure they had everyone's attention, the choir took to the stage singing in the dark, and the opening number gradually took shape as several different parts eventually came together as one.
Then the set really took off, delving into Zulu praise songs, occasional pop numbers like Bob Marley's One Love, African-American gospel tunes, even wedding songs.
You don't often find such a range from one vocal group but the Grammy-winning SGC is a study in contrasts given their varied material, the balance of gritty, soulful arrangements and more modest expressions of beauty, the sacred and secular, the a cappella and bandbacked material.
Under their spell, Bridge Over Troubled Water takes off from its stately anthemic role in American pop balladry to become more of a street celebration, and a tidy tribute to the American songwriter (Paul Simon) who did much to put Soweto musicians on the map. You might find more stately sounds in the traditional Zulu hymns instead, complete with a display of call-response patterns that allowed your ears to compare the high and low swells of the singers.
Of the 26 members on stage, five filled out guitars and keyboards, two more played djembe drums and a few doubled as dancers. And it is a very ensemble affair. After a brief introduction at the start, few of the solo singers were ever introduced for their features, though they did find time for a bit of good-natured ribbing here and there.
Following changes to another set of colourful costumes they were briefly back in the dark again to start the second set, with 16 singers and the band pulling out a delicious slice of mbaqanga township jive, highlighted by the delightful hipswinging moves of the dancers up front.
The next medley started with a more traditional Zulu number, offering some magnificent pools of harmony competing at a frenzied pace. Moments later they drifted into sweet swells of a softer, lusher variety with a rendition of Many Rivers To Cross, finally reinventing another American spiritual, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, in a style that gave vent to their own folk grooves.
After a male-female duo provided the most nuanced English language ballad of the night, there was still room for high-energy Zulu jive, buoyed by spiralling high-pitched guitars.
Then came one last invitation for the audience to stand and dance for a pan-African classic from the songbook of the late, great Miriam Makeba, Pata Pata. But it couldn't end there.
"You want more?" the MC inquired, and when the audience bellowed back in the affirmative the SGC closed with a riotous, goosebump-inducing take of Oh Happy Day.
Amen to that.
BY ROGER LEVESQUE,
APRIL 10, 2012
Soweto Gospel Choir Inspires Mirth
Oberlin students and community members filled every pew in Finney Chapel, eagerly anticipating a sure-to-be-spirited performance from the Soweto Gospel Choir as the first event in this semester’s Convocation series.
Hailing from South Africa, the group has traveled the world since its formation in 2002, accumulating fans and earning critical accolades including several Grammy awards and nominations. On Tuesday night, the Soweto Gospel Choir won over the hearts and dancing shoes of Oberlin as well.
The music began with the singers offstage, their voices floating out to the audience as if from a distance. As they drew slowly closer to the darkened stage the audience’s anticipation mounted. Finally revealed in a colorful flash, the choir burst onstage to the applause of the crowd.
In the nearly two hours that followed, the group treated concert goers to a lively mix of songs, including traditional South African hymns of praise, African and American folk tunes and covers of contemporary pop songs. Some of the highlights included “One Love” and “Shosholoza,” but all of the songs elicited a delighted response from the crowd.
The 20-plus members of the choir wove each song into a tapestry as colorful as their silky costumes and as beautiful as their wide smiles. Each voice had a unique tone: some were mellifluous and pure, while others had a more raspy, soulful quality.
For most songs, one or two vocalists would take the lead, letting their individual talents shine while the other singers blended into a velvety and jubilant background. But vocal talents were not the only things on display. Two drummers played djembe during most of the tunes, beating out an infectious rhythm. On the more pop-style numbers, the singers were also accompanied by a keyboardist, drummer, guitarist and bassist.
In addition to employing more traditional instruments, the choir transformed Finney’s stage into a drum, as the singers revealed themselves to be also talented foot-stomping dancers. Their high-kicking stomps, tapping feet and enthusiastic clapping created an atmosphere of earnest and unabashed joy through movement and music.
Although there were some deeply touching, more subdued moments, for example the performance of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the tone of the evening was overall quite lighthearted. One part of the performance turned into a campy sing-off between the men and women of the choir, full of playful taunting. The energetic dancing of the performers, the cheerful sounds of their voices and the bright colors of their costumes all contributed to a joyful atmosphere.
Even though it was hard not to move along to the beat, it took a while for the audience to actively participate in the musical experience. When the choir broke into “This Little Light of Mine,” however, the whole chapel clapped in time as the warm tones of the baritone soloist vibrated the floorboards.
Not overly choreographed, the dancing choir’s was sincere and impressive. The performers, even inspired some audience members to get on their feet and dance in the shadows of the chapel. One of the drummers showed off with some break dancing and an amplified variation of the worm, which received shouts of delight that he acknowledged with an understated nod.
Slowing the tempo and swaying gently, the choir did a beautiful rendition of “Angel” with a guitarist taking the lead. The faces of the singers expressed sincere emotion and their spine-shivering voices conveyed both sadness and hope. At the conclusion of the song, the audience gave a standing ovation, and the concert could have ended there. However, the group returned to sing three more songs, and end on a more celebratory note.
During their encore, the singers urged the audience to their feet to dance and clap along to the music, and the crowd obliged. As the most enthusiastic among the listeners surrendered to the beat, dancing in the aisles, the joy in the room reached a fever pitch. The Soweto Gospel Choir positively radiated happiness, and the jubilant mood they created was the kind that you wish you could bottle up and save for later, the kind of happiness that sustains and nourishes.
The Oberlin Review
Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
by JULIA E. HUBAY
FEB. 23, 2012
Soweto Gospel Choir Brings Sunshine to the Appalachian Winter
Who knew a sleety, gray January day could hold so much light? Appalachian State University’s Performing Arts Series continued with the renowned Soweto Gospel Choir presenting a vibrant program called “African Grace:” a colorful explosion of sound in the dead of winter.
This Grammy-award-winning ensemble, founded less than ten years ago, has performed for such luminaries as Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. They have traveled the world and have just launched into the early stages of a North American tour that will take them to 45 states as well as Canada.
The Soweto Gospel Choir did more than perform during their visit to Boone, NC. Earlier in the day, ASU Gospel Choir and several local church choirs participated in a workshop with Soweto members. Appalachian voices were able to participate in learning, using the traditional teaching process integral to the art form of this type of gospel music, a South African greeting song: “Hlohonolofatsa.” Vusimuzi Shabalala, the musical director, taught ostinati to each section by rote, and the entire piece was built piece by piece, up to the point that the irrepressible Shimmy Jiyane could add choreography. The sight of four choirs from two halves of the world shedding sweaters, clapping, singing, and dancing together is not one easily forgotten.
The main event, however, was Soweto’s presentation of “African Grace.” The songs feature a variety of Zulu and English, sacred and secular, traditional South African and Simon and Garfunkel. Presenting grace of form and grace of God in one program is a tall order, but the choir pulled it off to perfection. Members reflect and present their own cultural heritage, but also possess the ability to incorporate that of others. While most of the selections were a multicultural mix of blues, gospel, and traditional African influences, some songs had the distinct tone and style of an A.M.E. revival deep in the American South — albeit with South African diction. “Jesu Ngowethu” and “Swing Low” sounded as different as their origins would imply, while “This Little Light of Mine/M’Lilo Vutha” brought the disparate worlds together into a beautiful celebration of international faith and harmony.
Between numbers, the members spoke with clarity and polish. The costumes were brilliant, the songs powerful, the sound heavenly, and the dancing exuberant. These guys have moves that would make Dick Van Dyke turn positively green. Special recognition was also earned by the supporting members of the crew. Tasteful lighting and masterful sound engineering emphasized the strengths of the ensemble. While this reviewer is a minimalist when it comes to amplification, the mix was superb and solidly enhanced the performance.
While the accompanied “Arms of an Angel” was clearly the audience favorite, it is impossible not to note the comparative strength of a cappella numbers. Soweto’s voices shine best when accompanied only by djembe. This choir’s most impressive work is the medleys of traditional South African songs with American gospel favorites, such as “Mathanjeni/If You Ever Needed the Lord.” It is both the blend of voices and the blend of cultures that gives the Soweto Gospel Choir its characteristically vibrant, joyous sound.
By the end of the program, all of Farthing Auditorium rose up and turned “Pata Pata” into an exuberant mass dance party — quite literally. The enthusiastic audience was not content with only one encore and demanded to sing and dance along to yet another: “Oh, Happy Day.” Soweto Gospel Choir could not have chosen a better ending for their ecstatic and powerful performance.
The tour continued with a performance in Asheville, Sunday, January 29 at 4:00 PM at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium.
By Chelsea Stith
CLASSICAL VOICE OF NORTH CAROLINA
January 28, 2012 - Boone, NC:
Soweto Gospel Choir's South African sounds leave listeners amazed, uplifted
The house lights went down for Soweto Gospel Choir's show Thursday evening at Ruby Diamond Concert Hall. And then they went right back up. With no other fanfare, the South African choir's voices began reverberating through the crowd of about 1,200 people as its members marched through the aisles, part of Florida State University's Seven Days of Opening Nights festival.
The choir had gotten a chance to perform for a younger audience earlier that day. Students and teachers danced and cheered at the concert hall Thursday morning as the musical group delivered a rousing performance of African dance and African and American gospel music.
Local choral students were treated to the concert as part of Seven Days of Opening Nights' community outreach to Leon County Schools. The students had filled almost half the concert hall's mezzanine seating.
"It was fantastic," said Tim Peck, choir director at Fairview Middle School. Peck attended the concert with approximately three dozen of his sixth through eighth grade students.
"The fact that we could see this for free was awesome," he said. "It's really engaging in a way that a normal classroom experience can't be."
Seven Days Director Steve MacQueen spoke about the students to attendees as he introduced the choir Thursday night.
"Those kids were all on their feet, jumping up and down with their hands in the air screaming and shrieking at the end of the show," he said. "I'm pretty sure that's how you will be in about 90 minutes."
It took them less than an hour. By the time the show's 8:55 p.m. intermission rolled around, attendees were ebullient and giggling.
With its entrance and a set full of joyous traditional African praise songs, the choir's bombastic version of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and Harry Dixon Loes' "This Little Light of Mine" mixed in, it didn't take long for the audience to warm to the choir, clapping along and cheering its members' mid-song dancing.
"They were amazing," said Jessica Howe, a chaperone who brought her sixth-grade son to the choir's show for chorus students. "It opens your mind to the fact that there's other music out there. We live in this community and we're not exposed to all this. I love that my son is being exposed to all this."
By Paul de Revere
Democrat staff writer
Feb. 10, 2012
Soweto Choir Rocks Symphony Hall
“Are you having a good time?” asked the Soweto Gospel Choir as they neared the conclusion of their fourth visit to Boston over the years. Again and again: “Are you having a good time?” And again and again the virtually full house roared back with unqualified approval. Garbed in eye-popping colors and designs, the 20 or so exceptional singers, dancers, and instrumentalists, all breathtaking to eye and ear, took the stage at Symphony Hall energizing an audience of all ages with traditional, modern, and gospel styles largely flavored by the well-known choral sounds of South Africa.
But it was a contemporary song, Arms of an Angel that meant much, much more than “having a good time.” When the song was over, applause erupted everywhere and more people stood up than remained seated. Fabulously pure singing in solo, duet, and other combinations, with an equally fabulous guitar whose commentary seemed to summon up animal calls from all around — this surely was the winning entry. It was so deeply moving and so genuinely expressive of a Soweto culture, Soweto being an urban area of the city of Johannesburg in Gauteng, South Africa.
Like so many of the numbers on the program, the essence of Meadowlands was entrancement, holding our attention and producing a sense of wonder in us all. Soweto’s introduction to their program did not fail to point to our blessings and thanks, a profound thankfulness and spiritual conciliation. With their upbeat, joyous, all-out harmony there was exuberant drumming, an awesome athletic dancing, and an irresistible, infectious swaying that found endless manifestations. There was also a competitive element in the show; in one song, we saw male and female singers trying to outdo each other, in the traditional song, Thula Mama.
Soweto had the audience having a “good time” clapping Soweto rhythms and waving its arms in unison, reminiscent of rock concerts with American youth melding. Symphony Hall rocked! Happiness flooded the hall. In the lobby, while Soweto pleased its voracious audience with yet another — and another – number (Ipi Tombi and Oh happy day), I saw a Boston police officer smiling with a reserved but visible expression of enchantment, a veteran usher in tux putting on some Soweto moves before other ushers, and a young usher happily clapping away to the sounds.
Celebrity Series President and Executive Director Gary Dunning welcomed many familiar as well as new faces in his opening welcome. “Celebrating the human voice… bringing the best artists… to inspire and enrich our community… bringing a richer and more diverse artistic life” were his words.
Maybe more will cross over borders.
Now is the time to point to The Celebrity Series of Boston, which for years has continued to present an extraordinary number and range of events, from the recent Boston debut of 23-year old heralded French pianist Lise de la Salle (see review here) to upcoming Circa’s CIRCA, a troupe from Brisbane, Australia, that explores “the edgy territory where contemporary circus, dance and the expressive possibilities of the human body meet.”
by David Patterson
Boston Musical Intelligencer
FEBRUARY 12, 2012
"The Choir was brilliant"
Bono, Archbishop Tutu’s 80th Birthday celebrations, 2011
"vivacious mix of peerless voices and hi-energy dance is fun, glamorous, dignified, and deeply enriching"
It's a simple, profound mission statement: "sharing the joy of faith through music." As I struggled to hear their opening stage announcements from the sterile upper reaches of The Royal Concert Hall it seemed like the Soweto Gospel Choir risked embarking on mission impossible in Nottingham.
Oh, reviewer of little faith.
Two hours later those amazing performers were shimmying away into the wings having transformed the starchy venue into a theatre of praise and celebration.
No need for phony rock gig trappings, this was pure people-power performance. Their vivacious mix of peerless voices and hi-energy dance is fun, glamorous, dignified, and deeply enriching. And every line is delivered with searing conviction.
Even faced with the mesmerizing spectacle of colour and movement it was still the highlight of the evening to just close your eyes and get lost in the spiraling harmonies of Ngoma the traditional Zulu song of praise.
With all the house lights up and the entire audience on their feet singing and clapping, the choir even managed to breathe new life into the encore of Oh Happy Day.
And when was the last time you left a gig only to be met by the breathless stars of the show collecting for charity?
They don't need the ever-growing list of pop stars they have performed with to validate them. They stand on their own stunning merits, achievements and abilities.
And with Jesus in their soul they have all the recommendation they need. They have raised over 1 million euros for charity since 2003, currently supporting Nkosi's Haven an orphanage for mothers and children with HIV/aids.
They're not about the glory of themselves but the glory of God. For the choir, it is His purpose for them to use their gifts and talents to spread the word and do His work.
Monday, October 03, 2011
"enormous cheers from an enthusiastic audience"
Soweto Gospel Choir
Perth Concert Hall
As a friend said to me after Friday night's amazing celebration of grace in its many forms by South Africa's famed Soweto Gospel Choir: "You can't fake those smiles."
Nor can you fake the sheer joy in just being alive which seemed to govern every move by these colourfully clad singers, dancers and instrumentalists as they sang and swayed their way through African Grace, a concert featuring traditional and more contemporary songs and hymns in Zulu, Sotho, Ndebele, Xhosa and English, including Jesu Ngowethu, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Kae Le Kae, This Little Light of Mine, and Pata Pata.
The twin birds of soul and R&B soared over the traditional African rhythms and Western hymn-style harmonies as soloists such as tenor Shimmy Jiyane, soprano Jehoschefatt Fata, alto Sibongile Makgathe and bass Vusumuzi Madondo poured their hearts out, eliciting enormous cheers from an enthusiastic audience.
As did the dancing which graced the solos and the choruses.
The coordinated high-kicks, stomps, dips and spins displayed the same combination of tradition and innovation, of planning and improvisation, as the vibrant musical arrangements.
Mention, too, should be made of the wonderful band - comprising percussion, guitars and keyboards - whose contribution was especially valuable during the encores.
At that point, the audience was invited to clap, dance and sing along - which it did with an abandon rarely seen in the Concert Hall.
WILLIAM YEOMAN, The West Australian
May 17, 2011, 10:46 am
"The energy of the Soweto Gospel Choir is truly amazing, their exuberance infectious."
African Grace is a celebration of the supreme joy of music, life, and love, and the beauty of human voices, movement and collaboration. The energy of the Soweto Gospel Choir is truly amazing, their exuberance infectious. For these incredibly talented South Africans, the word "grace" refers to the blessings bestowed by God on his people, and an aesthetic beauty of form, and so perfectly embodies the spirit of the choir.
Distinctly different from the choral singing that many of us are used to (especially in religious settings), this choir loves to move, and dancing seems as much a part of their singing as breathing. Every song incorporates African dancing - chaotic, frenetic movements, moving with and making the beats. The dancers' grins show both their enjoyment of their art and the sense of fun that flows throughout the choir. Among their astounding list of talents, the choir has the gift of communication, of performing to, to just for their audience. Every note, every gesture and movement is an act of sharing joy, laughter and wonderment.
Superb voices are to be expected from a choir of such renown, and we are not disappointed. Every member of the choir has one or many solo moments in which to display their vocals, supported by the rest. As much as we love the solo voices, we long for more moments of full-blown oneness, all voices raised together to an apex. We receive such a moment at the end of the show, when a choir leader urges the whole audience to stand and sing and dance along. Finally the choir really lets loose and the energy of the building skyrockets.
I am loath to single out individuals for mention, because I cannot do it for the nearly 40 members of the choir, and to omit any one of them would not feel right. There were indeed some stand out voices and performers, but much of the choir's fantastic style is based on the movement of every member in and out of the choral lines, back and forth for dancing moments, while many members switched from singing to dancing to percussion or keyboards. The whirlpool of talent leaves you gobsmacked.
The choir's individualism is the core for its success. Every member moves in their own way, without adherence to conformity of gesture and movement, even though the movements are initially the same. This means that everywhere you look, someone is interpreting the lyrics with a different nuance, moving with greater grace, or a different level of energy, expressing themselves while constructing a magnificent whole.
Bright, beautiful costumes create a riot of colours against the black stage backdrop, and there is always something to watch. Even so, I find myself sitting back with my eyes closed, trying to absorb as much as my ears can manage. Some songs are accompanied by a small band, however the volume of this detracted from the voices - voices which need no accompaniment. The true highlights of the show are the a capella pieces, which lie at the heart of gospel singing. The balance of the voices creates sounds so rich and full you could dive into them and swim for miles.
The audience is notably of an older generation and my partner and I find ourselves surrounded by hundreds of aging, middle-class couples. Not being of religious persuasion ourselves detracts nothing from our enjoyment of the choir's Christian songs - and not just because we only speak one of the five languages they sing in. The power of their music is in their worship of the blessings in their lives, of the beauty of the world, and of joy in living. The music's spirit flies far beyond the varying specifics of the choir's and their audiences' religious persuasions, touching all listeners' hearts with its freedom and joy.
And like spirit of their music, the loving hearts of the members also go far beyond themselves. From the proceeds and donations the choir receives it supports two aide facilities which care for the many orphaned children in the region known as Soweto, the South Western Townships of sprawling Black suburbs outside Johannesburg. They are supported by Mission Australia in this tour, so we are often reminded that there is more to this wonderful phenomenon than entertainment. Yet for their audience, in the moments when they raise their voices and move together, nothing else exists but joy.
Written by Joanna Bowen
Friday, 03 June 2011
"this whirlwind tour of the musical world really delights"
THE SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR WITH THE BALA BROTHERS:
CADOGAN HALL, LONDON
AS THE Soweto Gospel Choir sway into the auditorium in outfits so dazzling they would make Joseph's Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat look a bit beige, little do we know we're in for a delicious feast of music from all over the world, not just their native South Africa.
It ranges from the tight harmonies of what they describe as African gospel renditions, through American-style gospel, with harmonies so tight if they were jeans you wouldn't stand a chance, to the most beautiful version of Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water since Aretha Franklin included it in her gospel repertoire. The female leads' voices, by the way, trump Aretha's every time.
Any stray atheists concerned at the idea of a gospel choir need not have worried. The G-word wasn't mentioned once in a set that veered from inspirational songs such as This Little Light Of Mine to South African icon Miriam Makeba's Pata Pata.
Joined by new South African superstars The Bala Brothers, as sharp as The Temptations in their black skinny suits, the musical smorgasbord was stretched even further with South African R'n'B, a version of Josh Groban's You Raise Me Up dedicated to Nelson Mandela and even a Three Tenors-style rendition of Nessun Dorma, which showcased their training at the Drakensberg Boys' Choir School to great effect.
It's on the authentic South African songs, complete with fancy footwork, that this whirlwind tour of the musical world really delights and it's a sound we're actually very familiar with, plundered as it has been by everyone from Paul Simon to Elton John for The Lion King (a couple of those songs turn up too).
The traditional African call and response, where a solo singer and the choir interact, works like magic on everything they attempt (even a tiny snippet of Bob Marley's One Love) but it's the overall atmosphere that casts a spell, with the ultraprofessional performers conveying a real sense of spontaneity.
With some crazy high-stepping bongo players who played their arms out of their sockets and a tracklisting that was rattled through at a rate of knots, the well-heeled crowd were easily whipped to a standing ovation. In less well-behaved venues goodness knows what might have broken out.
By Simon Gage | 6 August 2010
"quite possibly the most uplifting show in town"
Soweto Gospel Choir & the Bala Brothers
Uplifting collaboration @ Assembly Hall, Edinburgh
Soweto Gospel Choir and the Bala Brothers
Assembly @ Assembly Hall, Edinburgh
South Africa's multi-Grammy Award winning Soweto Gospel Choir have once again returned to grace Edinburgh with their incredible gospel repertoire, and this year they're brought some friends.
Fresh from performing at the World Cup Draw, the 30-plus members of the ensemble are more than ready to wow audiences with a fusion of traditional and contemporary music, all performed in their own inimitable style.
Only with such an accomplished group could modern anthems gel so beautifully with the traditional African gospel rhythms and reinterpretations of songs such as 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' are truly captivating.
The choir pause halfway through their set to welcome the Bala Brothers to the stage. The introduction of the soulful trio adds – not that it is necessary – new motivation for previous audiences to return again, to revel in the joy these men and women take in performing.
Already megastars in South Africa, the Bala Brothers soar through a short expose of their work, touching on operatic classics before concluding the show with a homage to the rainbow nation, and a fitting tribute to Nelson Mandela.
The cascade of incredible colour and talent on display make this quite possibly the most uplifting show in town.
Joshua King | 11 August 2010
"a must-see, whatever age or musical taste"
EDINBURGH FESTIVALS – SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR
South Africa's world famous gospel choir descend upon Scotland to perform a combination of traditional African, gospel and reggae songs with all the gusto and magnificence that have made them so famous. Formed from singers from the churches of South Africa's largest township, their joyful music has led them to some of the world's greatest stages, and Edinburgh was lucky enough to be one of them this year.
Performing in exuberant multi-coloured costumes the 26-strong choir danced and twisted along with to the music, enjoying it just as much as the audience. It's hard to describe the reigning quality of their singing, as it ranged from the beautiful restraint of the softest hums to the overpoweringly passionate highest reaches of the octave.
The close group dynamic kept them continually energised, their charisma and good humour rubbing off on the audience, whilst they allowed for each member's unique and incredible voice to shine individually. I found their traditional songs the most beautiful, particularly when they were accompanied by the dance displays of this multi-talented group. Though be prepared for the most spine-tingling rendition of Amazing Grace that you're ever likely to hear.
In all, this choir take choral singing to new levels and are a must-see, whatever age or musical taste.
Written by Helen Maclean | 24 August 2010
"Soweto Gospel Choir delivers a dazzling show"
Soweto Gospel Choir delivers a dazzling show at Winspear in Dallas
12:00 AM CDT on Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Soweto Gospel Choir could easily extend its name to include "dance troupe" and "percussion group." Rhythms and movement routines were as crucial as vocals as the multitalented entertainers put on a dazzling show Sunday at Winspear Opera House to close the 2009-10 TITAS music series.
The 22 dancing singers, backed by a pair of singing-and-dancing drummers and a small band, relied heavily on a repertoire of South African spirituals, sprinkled with American gospel tunes and the occasional pop hit.
The vocals were earthy but sophisticated. Rather than the soul shouting of Western gospel, Soweto Gospel Choir uses a subtler approach, weaving nuanced harmonies into the melodies. Vocal virtuosity was less the goal than creating an evocative sound.
Swaying side to side in colorful, flowing gowns, the Grammy Award-winning choir opened with a suite of traditional songs, highlighted by separate a cappella showcases for the men and women. During "Mangisondele Nkosi Yam," the guys stamped out the beat with their feet.
When the group came back together, the tempo picked up and some of the men performed a bravura dance step that they repeatedly returned to during the two-hour set. It centered on nearly kicking themselves in the face.
Toward intermission, they began mixing in more familiar songs. "Avulekile Amasango" segued into Bob Marley's "One Love," and the choir sang a lilting version of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and the spiritual "This Little Light of Mine."
After the break, the comic theatrics amplified. In a routine called "In the Canteen," three of the men sat at a table and used forks to turn a meal into a rhythm exercise. But the second half also featured gorgeous balladry, including Andrae Crouch's "Oh It Is Jesus" and Gustav Holst's "World in Union."
By MANUEL MENDOZA / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
"To say Soweto Gospel Choir was as smart as it was moving doesn't say enough"
Soweto Gospel Choir performs at Annenberg Center
They've sung with rock giants, won Grammys for their ebullient recordings, and been Oscar nominated for best song (Wall-E).
That acclaim could give even the most spiritually minded artists big heads.
Yet at Saturday's sold-out show of the Soweto Gospel Choir of South Africa at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, the only thing more dynamic than its rich choral interplay was the outfit's humility. It was a reserved and cool passion that guided the 27-member choir-and-instrumentalist through a mix of indigenous vocal traditions, their nation's divinity songs, and their take on Western devotional classics.
Added to an ability to uplift an audience was their sense of invention. A group that can make an adventure of shopworn songs like Bob Marley's "One Love" - paired with the African traditional "Avulekile Amasango" in a medley with a Creole feel - wins every time.
As vocalists and dancers, the costumed ensemble exuded energy throughout the program.
Their percussive routine "In the Canteen" - members clinked glasses, cups and plates with a team of male vocalists - was a delight.
No sooner had a SGC member high-kicked, spun, and belly-flopped, than they would hit the high notes of "Masigiye'bo" with clarion might.
While the women of SGC took on the a cappella of "Ngahlulele" with a sonorous sweetness reminiscent of Phil Spector's girl groups, the men hit bass notes on "Mangisondele Nkosi Yam" - accompanied only by their foot-stomping rhythm - with the rumble of Paul Robeson inspiration. Though the vocalists sounded like an orchestra without accompaniment, a tight band pushed SGC into a flavorful African high-life sound on "Mbube."
For all its mighty execution of African spirituals, it was the effervescent fashion in which SGC tackled American gospel songs ("Oh It Is Jesus" and "Oh Happy Day") and spiritually-minded pop songs such as "Bridge Over Troubled Water" that was truly inspirational. Cleverly, SGC did the Paul Simon-penned "Bridge" in the manner of Aretha Franklin's 1971 cover version, its background vocals lifting the phrase "still waters run deep" to a heavenly high. To say Soweto Gospel Choir was as smart as it was moving doesn't say enough.
By A.D. Amorosi
For The Inquirer
Review: Soweto Gospel Choir, The Sage Gateshead
Tuesday's performance in Hall Two was an unusually intimate one for the Soweto Gospel Choir, on their current tour of the UK before they venture to the Netherlands, South Africa and Tokyo.
Originally hailing from churches in South Africa's largest township, the choir usually play main halls with a full band and 26 singers – but on Tuesday they were singing a cappella (unaccompanied) and in the round to a full house of just 400.
A chatty audience was silenced as one male singer took to the stage with two djembe drummers, followed moments later by the entire choir in colourful traditional dress.
A glorious feast of harmony and exuberance instantly brought Hall Two to life.
The concert moved through a mostly traditional African repertoire with an energy and enthusiasm that made it painful to be constrained to a chair.
A few international numbers brought the house down, including a cheek-tingling rendition of Amazing Grace.
The a cappella set showed off the individually astounding voices, while the quality and precision of the choir's dynamic ensemble arrangements were overwhelming.
Abandoning my seat, I danced in the aisle for the second half where traditional Zulu and Xhosa numbers built up to a finale of Oh Happy Day with the audience singing and dancing in celebration.
It was a fitting reaction to the inspirational performance we had seen.
Sep 10 2009 by Jenny Dewar, The Journal
"there is no equal to their passion and power....rating: 5/5"
Soweto Gospel Choir
From South Africa, the Soweto Gospel Choir is well-established on the international circuit and for good reason. Their music celebrates African Gospel music in a truly inspirational way, magically combining the earthy sounds of their percussion and the wondrous harmony of their a cappella voices. As spiritually bereft as I am, I was left awestruck by the choir's majestic and moving performance, such is its universal appeal. I have never experienced any other concert that can hold you at the verge of tears only to uplift you in witnessing the infectious euphoria on stage, in the space of one hour. You have to see this choir live to properly appreciate their appeal; there is no equal to their passion and power.
Assembly @ Assembly Hall, 6 - 31 Aug, times vary, prices vary, fpp 162 tw
" the show that should not be missed"
Soweto Gospel Choir
Assembly @ Assembly Halls 11-31 August 14.50
It is the sixth year for this African choir at the Fringe and it is becoming the show that should not be missed. Consisting of a mix of traditional Zulu and contemporary African gospel music, the hour -long show is flawless and perfect in pitch and pace.
You don't need to be a churchgoer to enjoy these gospel tunes as it is much more about the music than the message. The singers are adorned in beautiful multi-coloured robes which match the vibrant energy from each and every singer involved. There was not one lazy note and not even a hint of tiredness throughout.
The show is made up of singing, drumming and African dancing solos and even some comedy thrown in the middle. The highlight of the show was a touching rendition of Edwin Hawkins arranged 18th century hymn 'O Happy Day.' The drumming, clapping, dancing and the astonishing soloists backed by the rest of the choir sent chills all over my body. My advice: go see this now before it becomes a sold out show every year. Even the most reluctant of audiences will be brought to their feet shouting for an encore.
WRITTEN BY ANNIE CASSIDY | 11 AUGUST 2009
"a rich-voiced, brightly dressed embodiment of the ties between African and African-American music"
New York Times July 20 2009
Nelson Mandela Endows His Birthday Celebration With a Purpose
By JON PARELES
"Happy 91st, Mr. Mandela," Aretha Franklin announced at Radio City Music Hall on Saturday night, celebrating Nelson Mandela's birthday. She was among the dozens of musicians at Mandela Day, a benefit concert for 46664, Mr. Mandela's organization for AIDS and H.I.V. prevention. It is named for his prisoner number during his 27 years in jail for fighting apartheid.
Since 2003, concerts have been presented by 46664 in South Africa, Spain, Norway and England, before New York City this year. This was the first one Mr. Mandela could not attend, because he no longer travels outside South Africa. Now Mr. Mandela's admirers hope to see his birthday, July 18, become an internationally recognized Mandela Day: "Not a holiday," Mr. Mandela admonished on video, but "a day dedicated to service."
His call for volunteerism has a theme song, "With My Own Two Hands," which was written by Ben Harper and was performed on Saturday by a South African singer, Chris Chameleon, and a Senegalese one, Baaba Maal.
Pressing the case, and calling on the audience to devote time to unselfish deeds, were Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, among other actors.
Stevie Wonder concluded the show, flanked by all the other performers, exulting in his own "Happy Birthday" — a song that once supported the creation of the Martin Luther King's Birthday holiday, now repurposed.
It was a briskly paced concert of songs with messages — protests, exhortations, laments, rallying cries — and a few pop love songs on the side. Top billing went to American musicians, who also included Alicia Keys, Josh Groban, Will.i.am, Gloria Gaynor, Queen Latifah, the improbable duo of Cyndi Lauper and Lil' Kim, and Jesse McCartney, a 22-year-old would-be Justin Timberlake, who proposed "Body Language" as a path to multicultural entente. Europeans were also on hand, including the chanteuse who's now the first lady of France, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy — breathily singing "Blowin' in the Wind" with the English rocker Dave Stewart — and the Italian rocker Zucchero.
Musicians from Africa, including Mr. Mandela's fellow South Africans Vusi Mahlasela and Thandiswa Mazwai, were equally prominent, and vivid. Mr. Mahlasela, who had protested apartheid, sang his "Weeping," about lives destroyed by it, with tender crooning, rushing declamations and dramatic crescendos. Ms. Mazwai, who sang with the South African group Bongo Maffin, unleashed a bright, penetrating voice with growls, wails and ululations.
Suzanna Owiyo, from Kenya, had a song with a salsa beat; Loyiso, a younger South African singer, had clearly been listening to American R&B singers like Usher. Collaborations were frequent and jubilant, like the duet of Alicia Keys and Angelique Kidjo (who is from Benin, but now lives in New York) extolling " Afrika" to a township groove.
The Soweto Gospel Choir was onstage throughout the concert as a rich-voiced, brightly dressed embodiment of the ties between African and African-American music. It lent harmonies to both dance tunes and inspirational songs, which were often one and the same.
There were songs from the apartheid era like the steadfast "Asimbonanga," performed by Jesse Clegg with the South African group Freshlyground; it was written by Jesse's father, Johnny Clegg. "Gimme Hope, Jo'anna" was performed by the gathered African singers; it was a bouncy hit in Britain by Eddy Grant, while it was banned in South Africa for its lyrics bluntly protesting apartheid.
Rappers took up other problems. Will.i.am warned of global warming in "S.O.S." Wyclef Jean sang about genocide in Rwanda, then went on to praise "Madiba" — an honorary title for Mr. Mandela — joined by a female South African singer named Zulu. Mr. Jean strutted down into the audience, bounded across the stage and ended the song with a backflip.
There were also songs of gratitude, including the hymnlike "You Raise Me Up," performed by Mr. Groban and Ms. Franklin; he clung earnestly to the melody while her voice swooped and fluttered above him. Ms. Franklin followed through with another churchy ballad: "Make Them Hear You," from the Broadway show "Ragtime." But then she proclaimed, "Hallelujah!," revved up a handclapping gospel groove from the band and danced offstage. This wasn't a concert that stayed somber for too long — not when it could be a birthday party.
Mandela Day Concert
Bottom Line: A superb lineup of African and American stars gathered for a joyous musical celebration of Nelson Mandela's 91st birthday.
The headliners may have included such American marquee names as Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Aretha Franklin and Josh Groban, but it was African music that appropriately was first and foremost at this concert in honor of Nelson Mandela's 91st birthday. Although the guest of honor was unable to be there, a gallery of his country's top music stars feted him with a joyous musical celebration that marked the first-ever "Mandela Day."
"Mandela Day will not be a holiday, but a day devoted to service," Mandela informed the audience via a videotaped message.
The number 46664 was prominently displayed throughout the proceedings -- it's the number that adorned Mandela's prison uniform during his 27 years of captivity on Robben Island.
The well-paced three-hour evening featured an all-star line-up of international stars, augmented by a superb house band and the thrilling Soweto Gospel Choir. It also included two queens (Queen Latifah and the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin) and one First Lady (Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, making her U.S. performing debut).
Introduced by Whoopi Goldberg, the show featured the usual introductions by Hollywood stars, including Forest Whitaker, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and Morgan Freeman (the latter of whom is portraying Mandela in an upcoming Clint Eastwood film.) President Obama provided a taped greeting.
Among the African performers prominently featured were Baaba Maal, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Freshlyground, Sipho Mabuse, Vusi Mahlasela, Suzanna Owiyo and many others.
Many of the evening's high points were duets. The improbable pairing of Cyndi Lauper and Lil' Kim resulted in a deeply-felt rendition of Lauper's "Time After Time"; Bruni-Sarkozy and Dave Stewart sang delicate acoustic interpretations of one of her songs and Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind"; Chris Chameleon and Maal collaborated on a stirring version of "With My Own Two Hands"; Groban sang with both Franklin and Mahlasela to great effect; and Alicia Keys and Angelique Kidjo garnered lusty cheers with their sexy hip-swiveling during "Afrika."
Solo standouts included Latifah's soaring "I Know Where I've Been"; Franklin's powerful "Make Them Hear You"; Will.i.am's bouncy "It's a New Day"; and Wonder's impassioned "To Keep Our Love Alive."
Wyclef Jean provided his distinctive brand of showmanship on two numbers (including a new song written for the occasion), wandering into the crowd at one point and finishing his set with an athletic back flip.
The evening ended on a perfect note, with the entire lineup gathered onstage to sing Wonder's "Happy Birthday," originally about Martin Luther King, Jr. but adapted for the event.
Venue: Radio City Music Hall, New York (Saturday, July 18)
Holywood Reporter July 20, 2009 02:27 ET
Mandela Day -- Concert Review
By Frank Scheck,
“... a truly otherworldly sound that literally takes the breath away ...dazzling”
Thu 16 Aug 2007
ASSEMBLY @ ASSEMBLY HALL (VENUE 35)
THE magic begins in the dark, as a solo voice seems to call from overhead, and others answer in a soft but swelling chorus from either side.
As the lights come up, the 26 members of the Soweto Gospel Choir - winners of a 2006 Grammy Award for their last album, Blessed - parade onstage, resplendently clad in vividly-hued costumes and filling the air with the glorious vocal tapestry that's made them such a surefire Edinburgh favourite.
The roots of South African gospel were planted by 19th-century missionaries, but these European influences have long been cross-fertilised with the country's own ancient and diverse musical traditions.
Formed in 2002, as a cultural embodiment of post-apartheid South Africa, the SGC has cast its net still wider, incorporating not only US gospel numbers but rock and pop material.
Firmly at the heart of their performances, however, remain the indigenous songs of their homeland, variously sung in Zulu, Sotho and Xhosa, and usually deploying some variety of call-and-response format, between one or more lead singers and the massed voices behind them.
Glaring though the contrast might be between the choir's physically exuberant, wholeheartedly joyful praise-giving and the Free Presbyterian austerity that engendered Scotland's tradition of Gaelic psalm-singing, there's surely a link in the shared practice of "free heterophony": each singer embellishing the same melody-line with their own, variations.
The result, in both cases, is a marvellous surging sea of ecstatically chiming timbres and shimmering micro-harmonies - a truly otherworldly sound that literally takes the breath away.
The succession of lead vocal performances, both male and female, is never less than dazzling, bestriding the compass from operatic grandeur to searingly passionate soul; smoky, voluptuous sensuality to raucous feel-good funk.
Most of the African material is accompanied, if at all, solely by a pair of djembes, underscoring the muscular rhythmic pulse that drives both the music and the periodic rubber-heeled, double-jointed dance sequences.
The one fly in the ointment is the tooth-achingly saccharine, Vegas-style treatment of a few pop numbers, complete with full band, but it's the giddy delights of the rest that linger in the memory.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer April 3 2007
By BILL WHITE
SPECIAL TO THE P-I
In 2004, South Africa celebrated 10 years of democracy. "Blessed," the second production of the Soweto Gospel Choir, keeps that celebration alive.
SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR
WHERE: Paramount Theatre
Its 25 members, including five sopranos, five altos, seven tenors and eight basses, 14 of whom doubled as dancers and musicians, lit up the Paramount Theatre stage Sunday with a program of music and dance that was both uplifting and educational.
Led by musical director/choir leader Lucas Deon Bok, who also sang tenor and played bass guitar, the choir sang in Zulu, Sotho and English. Whether it was a song of remembrance for their traditions, praise for the present, or hope for the future, language was never a barrier. The spirit was expressed thunderously through movement and voice.
Drawing from diverse cultures and faiths, the program ranged from the traditional "Thapelo," on which seven male singers opened up the possibilities of harmony within the bass and tenor ranges, to "Weeping," a song from the apartheid era so beautifully sung by Shimmy Jiyane that the painful lyric was transformed into one of love and transcendence.
A surprise on the program was Bob Dylan's "I'll Remember You." Although the song was not one written during Dylan's born-again period, it was given an arrangement that paid tribute to the gospel music of North America.
The clothing was as varied as the song selection, with various colors and designs combining to create a grand rainbow scheme. The dancers were riveting as they moved from traditional movements to modes of personal expression that bore some resemblance to the "krumping" styles practiced among today's African Americans.
Narrators did an excellent job of keeping the audience engaged by explaining just enough so they wouldn't get lost, without turning the show into an illustrated lecture of South African praise music. The crowd was held in sway, not only through an intellectual appreciation of the program, but by the sheen and spectacle of a masterful performance
Adrian Chamberlain, Times Colonist
Published: Friday, March 30, 2007
Where: University of Victoria, Farquhar Centre Auditorium
When: Thursday night
Rating: 4 1/2 (out of five)
What concertgoers will remember Friday morning are sensory imprints left by the Soweto Gospel Choir — flickers of brilliant orange and green tunics, the clack of tongues, the fleeting flash of feet flung high.
And, above all, there is the echo of voices: A gorgeous human bloom that somehow suggests hope and richness in the face of oppression.
The Soweto Gospel Choir, formed just five years ago, is a Johannesburg-based ensemble blessed with glittering successes: Backing rock acts like Queen and Bono, winning a Grammy, singing for Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bill Clinton, performing on the storied stage of Carnegie Hall.
While terribly impressive, with this choir it mostly comes down to a single simple thing: The vocal harmonies. They are a splendid combination of scissor-sharp precision and velvety, open-throated power. Think of an immense human pipe organ. When the 25-member choir opens up full voice, the effect triggers grandiose images — gothic cathedrals, awe-inspiring canyons, vast cities at twilight. Very exciting, indeed.
Their monumental chords are synchopated, giving the impression of dexterous immensity, akin to a tank that handles like a Porsche.
Thursday night, the repertoire favoured traditional African songs of peace, happiness and praise. Many songs are structured around a call and response format, with lead singers — women in zebra printed skirts, men beaming with pride — stepping up to the front.
There were songs familiar to western audiences as well, such as the choir's version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight (originally a 1939 African pop hit called Mbube, or "lion"). In the Soweto Gospel Choir's version, the pulsing harmonies overshadow the lead melody — it was a richer, earthier interpretation than, for instance, the Tokens' 1961 hit.
The choir also offered its take on Peter Gabriel's Biko, making it a solemn hymn (it's about anti-apartheid campaigner Steven Biko).
The choir sings in different languages — Zulu, Sotho, French and English — and spans reggae, pop and South African gospel. Instrumentation is virtually non-existent, although a pair of hand-drums propel the ensemble throughout.
The dancing, as is typical of South African groups, was splendid. The men executed high kicks above their heads as though their lives depended on this; the women specialized in subtle hip swivels making it appear they were floating.
For fans of R&B and American gospel, it was fascinating to hear a clutch of young singers who might rival Aretha Franklin or Etta James. There were impressive soloists who eschewed the gimmickry of Christina Aguilera imitators for an earthy authenticity. Vocal ornamentation was deft and sure. Timbres range from smooth silk to rough velvet — one diminutive female singer revealed a thrilling, bird-like sound.
So many people talk of the healing power of music, the phrase has become worn-out. Not so when applied to the Soweto Gospel Choir, who come from a country torn by terrible violence and cruel apartheid policies.
That this music can blossom from such soil seems absolutely fantastic; a true testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Following a joyful version of Oh Happy Day, the choir received a standing ovation, with the concert finishing at 10:40 p.m.
Due to deadline considerations, this review was filed before the concert ended.
Adelaide Advertiser Thursday 22/3/2007
Soweto Gospel Choir
Vibrant, radiant, majestic
This is inspired and inspiring music, boldly performed, and truly reflects the glory of the Lord in whom they trust. Vibrant costumes and radiant smiles come free of charge with this terrific ensemble and it's their delight even in their songs of pain and struggle, that makes their concerts so memorable.
Those who know the music - and they were legion - cheered time after time as a familiar piece began. Even Amazing Grace (inatour de force arrangement) was not spared. Dramatic contrasts abound, with a noisy revel leading to a gentle lullaby then on to a majestic hymn, but never grating. It's in the second half, with corsets loosened and guards disarmed, that things really take flight. Yet more colourful garb added an extra sense of occasion to the tremendous Tshepa Thapelo which literally had 'em dancing in the aisles
There was a performance of Khumbaya like you've never heard it before and the ravishingly beautiful, terribly moving Swing Down Sweet Chariot. Two thousand people clapping along to an uptempo version of The Holy City and the ushers bopping along at the doors, just about sums it up.
EP Herald – 19 September 2007
After seeing the Soweto Gospel Choir on SABC in 2005 I vowed that should I ever have the chance of seeing them live, I would. My dream finally came through on Saturday. I had high expectations – after all this was not just any other group. It was a Grammy Award-winning outfit.
The first segment of the show was filled with songs that expressed love for God and love for fellow human beings. From traditional African gospel to international and contemporary spirituals, in six languages including English, Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho – each song had its own unique feature. Although the audience knew most of the songs it was as if they were being heard for the first time, especially the rendition of Amazing Grace.
The show took the audience through an emotional roller coaster. In Ahuna Ye Tswanang Jesu which means "There is Nobody like Jesus", people danced and sang thanks to its hip hop and kwaito influences.
The ballad I'll Remember You in contrast almost had people in tears.
"These songs are songs that we sing in the church and in the streets. These songs are about the human strength" said narrator Siphokazi Luzipo.
The Choir was accompanied by dancers, percussionist and a four piece band.
The second segment comprised songs that expressed other spiritual awareness. "These are the songs that speak to our souls, not necessarily gospel songs" says Luzipo.
Avulekile Amasango, a Zulu traditional gospel song meaning "the doors of heaven are wide open" and One Love an interpretation of the Bob Marley classic also had everyone on their feet.
In addition, the audience was also treated to a short musical performance with forks, glasses, plates and table as instruments.
The last segment was traditional songs of praise and worship that uplifted the soul.
Numbers included Mighty River, Amazing Grace and Tshepa Thapelo, a Sotho traditional song meaning "trust in prayer".
The show was creative, inspirational and innovative. At the end of the performance the choir received a standing ovation with the audience begging for an encore, to which the choir obliged to everyone's delight.
With beautiful voices and a great performance, the Soweto Gospel Choir brought the house down and charmed PE audience no end.
Citizen - Johannesburg, South Africa
Wednesday September 26 2007
Taking your senses by storm
Soweto Gospel Choir takes its audiences on a spiritual journey, writes Annette Bayne
As their voices are raised and goose bumps start chasing up your arms, it is not difficult to see why the Soweto Gospel Choir won the Grammy for their CD Blessed in the category Best Traditional World Music.
Their new CD African Spirit, released in 2006, is their third CD released in South Africa, Australia, the US and Europe.
It is a journey that embraces the soul on a number of levels, both spiritual and emotional, with a mixture of their traditional gospel numbers and some distinctive renditions of contemporary classics like U2's In The Name Of Love and Bob Dylan's I'll Remember You.
African Spirit is an uplifting and joyful album, that will no doubt follow in the big steps made by Blessing.
This weekend, Joburg audiences were treated to African Spirit in concert at the Civic Theatre, and the music that takes your senses by storm on the CD had audiences jigging in their seats and begging for more.
They performed the songs with the same joy and spirit that won the group their much-deserved Grammy.
In an explosion of sound and voices, the songs were either sung cappella or with the back-up band of a guitar, bass, keyboard and drums, played by the group's members. One song only needed the acoustic properties of knives, forks, glasses and a lunch table.
Whether it was the strong coffee tones of the Bass soloists or the rich honeyed voices of the Alto soloists, they received a warm reception from the audience as they reached into those hidden places with their voices.
Although it is their voices that fill a venue, the Soweto Gospel Choir performance is in no way a static show. It was a highly dynamic with hand-clapping, foot stamping and some serious dance moves. And I think given any more encouragement, the audience, including me, would have been up and dancing.
The choir were joined by Vusi Mahlasela performing two of his songs River Jordan and Mighty River, an added bonus to an already spectacular performance.
The music, performance and showmanship was as vibrant as their brightly-coloured costumes, traditionally styled, but with a delightful modern feel.
No matter how far the choir have come in their success story their roots are strong, and they share with those less fortunate from the communities where they came from.
Through collections at the end of each show, the choir raises money for their charitable foundation and Vukani and for Nkosi's Haven.
"The exuberant energy, the glorious interpretations of familiar songs, and the spectacular voices all contribute to the magic of the night"
"They're simply the best"
Diane De Beer
The Star Tonight
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HEAR THIS CHOIR
Venue: The Nelson Mandel Theatre at Johannesburg Civic Theatre
"Blessed, the second show in this choir's repertoire, was specifically created to celebrate and mark 10 years of democracy in South Africa. The production is about remembering the past and looking ahead to the future.
And if you don't understand most of the lyrics because of the different languages, it makes no difference. It's the music, the songs and the performers that do the talking. The energy and enthusiasm of the choir in full force is something extraordinary and there's no better way to celebrate everything we have achieved in this fledgling country of ours.
Reflecting back on a little more than a decade in time, it was astonishing to witness the mixed audience respond as one nation with such abandon to the final encore, Oh Happy Day. And it was glorious to bask in everything we have achieved in so little time.
Even though the choir was created for international audiences and tours outside of the country more often than not, performing at home takes on a different meaning. This is all about showing off and sharing their wonderful talent with their own people. And how can one possibly resist?
In a spectacular show of song and dance with individual performances in both media, the programme is masterfully varied as it moves between different rhythms and moods in the gospel genre. It is a night to cherish with a show that is brilliantly put together and executed and yet has retained a spontaneity because of the individual personalities that shine through in this amazingly cohesive group. The colourful costumes, the dancing that is fully integrated with the singing, the exuberant energy , the glorious interpretations of familiar songs, and the spectacular voices all contribute to the magic of the night. It is a choir that is proudly South African as they embrace their own. This is our people performing our music, and they're simply the best".
"The international sensation, SGC, fresh from their world tour, dazzled the audience during their performance at the Joburg Civic Theatre"
Greenville News, March 22 2006
By Ann Hicks
The sensational 23-member Soweto Gospel Choir entertained for two hours at the Peace Concert Hall on Tuesday night, and when they finished, the
audience didn't want them to leave.
The South African choir steam-rolled music out the church door and onto the
stage singing in Zulu, Sotho, Xhosa, Afrikaans and English to celebrate
life, the love of God, and their country's decade-old democracy.
We were told that in 2004 South Africans marked 10 years of freedom from
apartheid. Speaking for the group, one of the singers said, "We are still
celebrating as we remember the past and look toward our future."
As for Soweto, there's no doubt the a cappella choir has a future. They are
absolutely one of the best there is.Just ask Mamie C. Norris who celebrated her 100th birthday by attending the
Since their 2002 formation, Soweto has secured a solid foothold in the
secular world that is glad to embrace gospel when delivered with such
beautiful voices, spirit, knowledge and power.
The pure joy and enthusiasm with which these wonderful singers performed the
more than two dozen songs in their repertoire had the Greenville audience
rocking, clapping and shouting throughout the performance.
It was a heartfelt response.
It didn't matter if your were a believer or not. You became one for the time
while you listened to the heart-rending "Weeping," the rocking "Thapelo"
sung in Sotho or the famed Zulu song "Mbube" ("The Lion Sleeps Tonight").
And I doubt that anyone has ever heard a finer rendition of "Amazing Grace"
than the one the Soweto gave last night. The audience rose at its
And all rose again to hear the Soweto sing "Nikosi Sikilele" the South
African anthem and remained standing to give an extended ovation for the
Byron College Station Eagle, Texas
11 March 2006
By JIM BUTLER
Eagle Staff WriterThe Soweto Gospel Choir sang the most beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace I've ever heard - no tricky rhythms, no gymnastic notes, just pure voices in perfect harmony.
The visitors from townships outside Johannesburg, South Africa, presented a montage of melodies that included traditional African hymns sung in Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho and a couple of American spirituals performed in English.
The soloists had marvelous voices, and the choir members used their hands and arms freely to express the energy of their offerings.
Quite a few numbers were accompanied by dancers whose movements were unlike anything you might see in an American concert. The guys specialized in high kicks above their heads.
While most of the songs were unfamiliar, one in particular was strikingly familiar - after the opening notes played on a flute. It turned out that Mbube was the model for The Tokens' 1961 hit Wimoweh, or The Lion Sleeps Tonight.
Lucas Bok conducted the choir with style and enthusiasm and also played bass in the band. Some selections were performed a capella, while others were accompanied only by two drummers.
One of the more interesting interludes came when Bok demonstrated how the members warmed up their voices before a show. One feature - an Aggie whoop - was added just for the concert in Texas A&M University's Rudder Auditorium.
The near-capacity audience rewarded the choir with an extended standing ovation and in turn was repaid with an encore of Oh, Happy Day.
It was clear that the Soweto Gospel Choir would be welcome to return anytime it wanted.
A. Scott Galloway - Music Editor
Soweto Gospel Choir – Bovard Auditorium (USC) – March 3, 2006
The Lord moved in affirmative ways through USC's arts auditorium last Friday night as the 26-member Soweto Gospel Choir showered a near-capacity audience with sacred songs. Dressed in radiantly colorful attire from head to foot, the ensemble offered a generous and varied program of music celebrating spiritual faith and human resilience.
The most impressive thing about the SGC is its selfless unity. There is no star singer, yet there are several soloists. When it is a man or woman or group of people's time to lead, they humbly handle their business then step back into the group. Then, at the end of each piece, that leader is escorted to the front by another group member for a round of applause. And while there is an infectiously animated choir director, he is also a member of the 4-piece band, filling in wherever he is needed. The choir sang some pieces a cappella, others to a duo of hand drummers and, toward the end, with an electric band of keyboard, guitar, bass and trap drums. This made for two captivating, well-paced sets separated by a proper intermission.
Also impressive are the six languages the group uses, reflecting the spectrum of cultures within the group. They opened with the powerful "Thina Simnqobile (We Have Overcome the Devil"), which was sung in Zulu and performed with a male member coming forward in a vigorous dance that illustrated the casting out of evil spirits. Later, "Kammatla (Song of Praise)," was sung in Sotho while "Noyana (Will You Go)" (asking if you will be ready for God come Judgment Day) was in Xhosa. A traditional Bahamian piece, "I Bid You Goodnight," was also included followed still later at show's end by the American gospel standards "Amazing Grace" and "Swing Down Sweet Chariot." To close the show, the group sang "Nkosi Sikilele" (the South African National Anthem), honoring and celebrating ten years of democracy in their now Apartheid-free country.
What distinguished the group most from Black American gospel ensembles is their more tempered performance approach. All of the material was meticulously arranged with very little space for ad libs and the often histrionic riffing that either makes or breaks showcases within American gospel. This is not to suggest that the Soweto Gospel Choir's music was without joy. It's just that the lion's share of that exhilaration was manifested more in dance (solo and group) than in individual vocalizing. And, most dynamically, within the rich harmony that flowed when everybody was singing as one.
South African choir wows Lied Center
By Dean Bevan - Special to the Journal-World
Friday, February 17, 2006
South Africa's Soweto Gospel Choir drew a large audience Wednesday evening To the Lied Center, with members singing and dancing their way through more than two dozen songs. Occasionally in English, but mostly in Zulu, Sotho and Xhosa, the lyrics needed no translation to convey the joy and the energy of this group.
Director/choirmaster David Mulovhedzi sang with his choir, only occasionally
stepping out front to direct. The choir's ability to sing complex and
fast-paced a cappella works without his baton is a testament to the work he
Has done in shaping this fine group. He was aided by assistant choirmaster Lucas Bok, who also played bass guitar, served as a lead singer and (like
Mulovhedzi) composed and arranged some of the music on the program.
The characteristic musical format of the evening consisted of one or more
(sometimes four) lead singers in each number, with the rest of the choir
providing a background. Often the leads and choir exchanged phrases in a
call-and-response pattern; at other times the choir maintained a soft
Harmony behind vigorous solos from the leads. The vocal quality of the choir and its lead singers was consistently extremely bright, the most distinctive and characteristic sound of this group. Drums provided much of the evening's
accompaniment, with keyboard, guitar and bass stepping in from time to time.
Although all members of the ensemble were dancers in their own right, eight
of this 26-member group were designated in the program as "dancers," and their agility and energy astonished the audience again and again. The African high-kick and stamp was a specialty, but they seemed also to have mastered every other conceivable step, from a Michael Jackson moonwalk to a '20s jitterbug. Choreographer Shimmy Jiyane's hand was visible both in these Dance routines (and in his own brilliant footwork), and in the never-ceasing, always-synchronized rhythmic movement of the whole choir.
The group performed several songs that were familiar to the audience. Some
of these were African, such as "Khumbaya" and "Mbube" (the latter better known as "Wimoweh" or "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"). Others ranged from Bob Marley's composition of "One Love" to American spirituals like "Swing Down" to a moving rendition of "Amazing Grace."
The visual element was not neglected, especially in the brightly colored
costumes. For the first group of songs, from their recent "Blessed" CD, both
men and women wore vivid tunics; after intermission the women returned in
neon-bright skirts and turbans, the men in equally colorful vests. Dramatic
lighting also kept the stage awash in color.
As the last bars of "The Holy City" ended the concert, the audience rose as
one in a true standing ovation, which the choir accepted graciously and repaid with two rocking encores, including a prolonged, band-backed "Oh Happy Day" that kept the audience on its feet and clapping along as choir members danced down the aisles and back, shaking hands and smiling.
The band finally played the choir off the stage, still dancing, or the audience would have stayed all night.
- Dean Bevan
we became willing members of the congregation. Hallelujah!
Soweto gospel choir
Reviewer Jessica Nicholas
August 22, 2005
THE audience's first glimpse of the Soweto Gospel Choir comes almost as a shock — a shock of vibrant colour and movement, as the stage (which remains cloaked in darkness while the choir takes its place) suddenly comes to life with the first few bars of song.
Twenty-five performers stand dressed in dazzling, multi-hued costumes inspired by various South African tribes. As they sing, their bodies begin to move, swaying in unison to emphasise the rhythms inherent in their voices and accompanied by expressive gestures that underline the story and sentiment of each song.
Following the call-and-response pattern of traditional African music, singers take turns to step forward and lead the choir, revealing voices that are as individual and distinctive as their costumes — rich and full-bodied; sweetly melancholic; youthfully exuberant. Most of the repertoire consists of traditional and contemporary South African songs and spirituals, although there are a handful of international gospel and pop tunes such as Oh Happy Day, Bob Marley's One Love and Peter Gabriel's Biko.
The choir's current tour follows the release of their second CD, Blessed, which celebrates the 10th anniversary of democracy in South Africa.
At Friday night's Melbourne concert (they also performed Saturday), narrator Sipokazi Luzipo introduced several songs by making reference to the apartheid era, noting that she and her colleagues indeed felt blessed to be able to perform their music on a world stage.
The choir has also grown enormously in terms of experience and professionalism since their first visit to Australia in 2003. This time, there wasn't a hint of nerves among the young performers, who revelled in this celebration of their cultural and spiritual identity.
Some of the singers doubled as musicians, drummers and dancers, but all the performers contributed to the music's visual and percussive impact. Using a combination of foot stamping, finger snapping, syncopated claps and tongue clicks, they buoyed the music on a sea of shifting rhythms, punctuated by whistles, whoops and hollers.
Choir director Lucas Deon Bok led the ensemble passages with deft precision, but didn't attempt to corral the singers' natural ebullience. On the contrary, Bok's boundless energy encouraged the performers to let their joy spill across the stage and into the audience so that we became willing members of the congregation. Hallelujah!
"Meticulous and unstoppable …spirited and spectacular"
New York Times
Most gospel choirs concentrate on a single message of faith and praise. The Soweto Gospel Choir, which performed on Friday night at Zankel Hall, had an additional one: pride in South Africa.
The 26 member group sang in Zulu, Sotho and English - three of South Africa's 11 official languages. On a program that mixed Christian and traditional songs and international pop. There was plenty of multi-tasking, too. When they weren't singing, choir members doubled as backup band, as drummers or as high-kicking dancers.
Resplendent in a rainbow of robes and pattern textiles, with group moves for every song, the, the choir was constantly in motion and rich in harmony.
Formed in 2002, the group draws members from churches around Soweto, the black township outside Johannesburg, and it has a cornucopia of remarkable voices: sharp, sweet, kindly, raspy and incantatory leads above a magnificently velvety blend. Since the 19th century missionary schools in South Africa have provided musical training (and other education), and local styles have fused with western hymn –singing while staying unmistakable South African.
Like the African American gospel, South African choral music hinges on the interplay of raw-voiced soloist and the choir's luxuriant responsibilities. There's something naturally uplifting about hearing a daring, improvisatory belter suddenly enfolded by a community of singers. The choirs more traditional South African songs didn't harmonize behind the soloist. The group sang overlapping, syncopated chords that give the soloist a percussive push or radiated prismatically around the melody. Add drums, clapping and, sometimes, whistles or ululations, and the music was both meticulous and unstoppable.
The Soweto Gospel Choir sets out to cover South Africa and the world. Its set spanned accompanied traditional songs unaccompanied traditional songs and three-cord township pop called mbaqanga. It included "Mbube," the South African song that became "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," and a pair of songs dedicated to political prisoners under apartheid – Johnny Clegg's tribute to Nelson Mandela, "Asimbonanga," and Peter Gabriels "Binko" – as well as South Africa's national anthem. The set also included a bit of the current South African hip-hop called kwaito, between the hallelujahs in "Ahuna Ya Tswanag Le Jesu" ("There's No One Like Jesus").
Well aware of it's foreign audience, the choir gave a well-rehearsed explanations of Zulu or Sotgo lyrics and sang devout Western songs including "Amazing Grace," Many Rivers to Cross" and "Oh Happy Day." It didn't need to be so cautious. The familiar songs were neatly sung, but the South African songs were both spirited and spectacular.
"hearing the full choir hamonize sounded less like a couple dozen people singing together and more like a pipe organ roaring to life"
Atlanta Journal (03/02/05)
Friday, 13th August 2004
ASSEMBLY ST GEORGE'S WEST (Venue 157)
Last year, the choir from the huge South African township made a big name for themselves at the Fringe with the show demonstrating the joyful side of their home. The singing was lovely, though at times they seemed a little taken aback by the Edinburgh audiences' polite attention during the songs, rather than the more ebullient participation they might be used to.
Now they're back, with even brighter costumes, and either they've got used to the quieter reception here or we've loosened up because this year's concert is more relaxed, less reverential show.
They make a large noise, filling the hall with just 20 voices, handclaps and two drummers. With little introduction, they present a variety of styles, switching between languages and moving from traditional African melodies to some which sound more R&B, as well as more conventional gospel arrangements of well known songs in English.
The voices never ever falter, blending perfectly, swelling up like irrepressible emotion. Most of the choir have solos which demonstrate great variety in tone and style, while some are illustrated with dance as the younger men compete in the "I-can-kick-higher-than-you-can" move.
These are mostly devotional songs, even including a version of the perennial church favorite kumbayah. But there's nothing too straight laced about the booty-shaking dance to a wicked tribal drum beat.
Of the familiar songs, a wistful version of Peter Gabriel's Biko is a reminder that less than two decades ago, such a choir could never have performed so freely at home or traveled for this kind of engagement, while their pride shines as they sing the rousing national anthem Nkosi Sikele I'Afrika.
The Soweto Gospel Choir is truly inspirational, but that's not the reason they deserve five starts. Those are simply for a flawless performance.
"If only my shares rose like the goosebumps on my arms when I heard the Soweto Gospel Choir – I'd be rich faster than you can say sing"
The Birmingham News, UK (14/10/04)
Message to anyone who left The Marlowe unmoved
on Monday night. See a doctor. You need help!"
Kentish Express Hythe & Romney Marsh, UK (14/10/04)
The Herald, Scotland
Ministers of the cloth will be forgiven for breaking the Eleventh Commandment – thou shall not covet thy neighbour's congregation – as they see the crowds snaking round from St George's and heading for Queensferry Street. But they'd be better sharing in the Soweto Gospel Choir's spiritual warmth than wringing their hands because an hour in this vibrant musical kaleidoscope's company is a fillip to the soul whatever your beliefs.
To the keening sound of one voice's call to prayer and accompanying djembe drummer's pulse, the choir emerges and proceeds to sing, dance and drum its message of optimism. This from a country which, to say the least, hasn't had and continues not to have its troubles to seek can be tremendously humbling. The unquestionable joy and conviction of each chorister, though, whether in taking turns at solo, duo and quartet songs, displaying energetic physical rituals or forming the swaying, richly chordal choral backdrop, concentrates the mind on the onstage activity.
Traditional Zulu, Xhosa, and Sotho gospel songs and charming vignettes such as a marriage proposal sung to big-eyed coquettishness mingle with modern African hip hop arrangements and American imports, including a perhaps inevitable Amazing Grace, Jimmy Cliff's Many Rivers to Cross, and Otis Redding's Amen in a virtually non-stop pageant. The use of a backing track breaks the live-in-the-room voice and percussion spell slightly, but this is only a brief blip in a concert that dares you not to return the participant's smiles
Colour and dynamism are the calling cards or the Soweto Gospel Choir, who have swiftly made a splash on this first visit to Europe. A cappella groups Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Black Umfolosi have already cracked open the western market for indigenous South African song but nothing can really prepare you for the riot of exuberance and depth of emotion emanating from this 24-piece ensemble. St George's can barely contain such presence – even their multi-coloured traditional costumes shout out their heritage.
This is a seamless show brimming with spot-on multi-lingual performances which, for all the technical precision, are universally expressive and unfettered, charged by the choir's constant movement. Individual members show off athletic dance moves and solo vocal skills, showcasing a vibrant range of voices from the strident and commanding to the child-like an pleading. The momentum never sags – even the more mellifluous material undulates gracefully… Their exotic South African spirituals are interspersed with other popular songs, including Jimmy Cliff's Many Rivers to Cross, but throughout their performance another Cliff track sprang to mind as an appropriate theme tune: Wonderful World, Beautiful People.
" You don't have to be a believer to be inspired by the Soweto Gospel Choir: an appreciation of superb singing is all that is required. The 24-strong line-up, decked out in vividly coloured traditional attire, perform a headily uplifting mix of traditional African gospel with popular borrowings such as Amazing Grace and Jimmy Cliff's Many Rivers to Cross. The songs are accompanied by djembe rhythms and, for added visual impact, a range of simple but energetic dance moves. Most numbers feature one or two lead vocalists in performances of joyously soaring fervour, backed by up by a swelling tide of choral harmonies. And with the venue already full to bursting just a few days into their run, the good news about this show is clearly spreading fast"
The List, Scotland – 21 August 2003
" Monday evenings rarely see such hyped-up sell out shows during the Festival. Perhaps even rarer is being subject to aggressive looks from people who don'thave tickets while you clasp your own to your bosom and gently finger '999' on your mobile – just in case.
So what's the fuss? Soweto Gospel Choir are a dynamic 24-strong South African choir that don't restrict themselves to Americanised gospel hymns. As explained at the beginning of the show, 11 separate regions of Africa are represented, all with their own indigenous dialects. It results in a diverse, but accessible, show that's been painstakingly put together. The gospel is politically aware, but it isn't limited by it. …(This is a show) that can do no wrong. Even the proceeds from the CD sales, and all the donations to Soweto Gospel Choir, go to HIV positive mothers and their children in South Africa. Yay!"
"The Soweto Gospel Choir is wonderful !!! You have never seen or heard such infectious joy - guaranteed!!"
Brian May of QUEEN
"What a joyful experience it was working with such a wonderful gifted choir"
Roger Taylor of QUEEN
Courier Mail, Brisbane (10/3/03)
"They swayed and swooped. They sang at full throttle. They gyrated and leaped through two hours of exuberant music-making. This amazing ensemble of 33 singers-dancers-musicians whipped up a storm of vocal sound, and a storm of audience excitement. They perform with all their heart, soul and body, and with an easy abandonment welling from the music and dance …. The Soweto performers brought a depth of emotion as they sang. An instinctive, harmonic blend infused traditional gospel songs from the Christian tradition with a compelling force… the stage erupted in a fiery frenzy that echoed down centuries of a vital culture.
Herald Sun, Melbourne (25/2/03)
The Soweto Gospel Choir is an ensemble of 32 voices handpicked from the churches of Johannesburg's Soweto district. It is a group of men and women who enjoy the sheer jubilation that singing brings them…The sound the choir creates is raw, earthy and unrestrained, and it is the primal and tribal drive that we respond to as an audience. The music is also very persuasive because it …contains the very essence of what could be described as the rhythm of life…nothing on this earth could reproduce the peace of music sung from the heart.
The Australian - 24 February 2003
While the European tradition of gospel music is about austerity and a personal response to the divine — think of a Bach mass or passion — African gospel music is vibrant, outgoing and a celebration of community. The music is designed to make you get up, dance and wave your arms about — which is exactly what the choir are doing on stage, with obvious joy and enthusiasm…In all the singing there is unanimity in attack and phrasing that many professional opera choruses would do well to observe.
A single voice in song carries its own emotional force. But how much more powerful is that voice multiplied at least 30 times, pitched in range from baritone to alto against a background of infectious drumming or rippling guitar sounds? Add to the blend some colourful costuming, the sway of bodies and prancing feet and you have the Soweto Gospel Choir... The program offers plenty of church-style gospel singing, augmented by selections from more pop-orientated music… It's a blend of songs calculated to go straight to the heart, sung with that joyous sense of celebration and exuberance that only black South African choirs seem capable of achieving.
West Australian, Perth — 24 March 2003
Sunday Star Times, New Zealand — 16 March 2003
"You can't live without rhythm. Whether it's the beat of your heart, the flap of a bird's wings or the cycle of the seasons, there's a beat to it. But what I learnt from the Soweto Gospel Choir is that the road to heaven is throbbing with rhythm too….When they sang harmony the chords were as pure and true as the word of God, decorated with thrilling ululations, whistles, drum beats and clapping hands. When the soloists took flight the pitch of the note seemed comparatively unimportant, it was the meaning that mattered and they punched that out with passionate sincerity.
Christchurch Press, New Zealand - 17 March 2003
It is rare to go to a concert knowing nothing about the artists or their music and come away feeling overwhelmed by the performance….The 32-strong choir brought grassroots South African song and dance to a rapturous Town Hall audience… Their voices are strong, clear and harmonious, while their dancing is spontaneous and vibrant. .…Last night's audience came away inspired
New Zealand Herald — 13 March 2003
The 32-strong choir …graced the stage in robes as bright and bold as their voices. As they switched between five languages, a deep pride in their songs and faith shone from their faces, their voices flickering and rising like a flame. The songs and rhythms conjured pictures of wide African planes and leaping antelope. This is music of generosity, joy and richness… the sound came without effort, the pitch was divine. The two-hour concert finished with … the crowd clapping and stomping, some even dancing in the aisles."