What they’re saying about Soweto Gospel Choir


"Bursting with colour"
The Courier Mail Brisbane, Australia (07/08/2005)
> READ FULL REVIEW

“Meticulous and unstoppable …spirited and spectacular”
New York Times (07/02/05)
> READ FULL REVIEW

“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)

“The Soweto Gospel Choir is truly inspirational, but that’s not the reason they deserve five stars. Those are simply for a flawless performance”
The Scotsman (13/08/04)
> READ FULL REVIEW

“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)

“A concert that dares you not to return the participants’ smiles”
The Herald, Scotland (11/08/03) > READ FULL REVIEW

“Nothing can really prepare you for the riot of exuberance and depth of emotion”
The Scotsman (06/08/03)

“You don’t have to be a believer to be inspired”
Sunday Herald, Scotland (10/08/03)

“the stage erupted in a fiery frenzy that echoed down centuries of vital culture”
Courier Mail, Brisbane (10/3/03)

“Sheer jubilation…earthy and unrestrained…the rhythm of life”
Herald Sun, Melbourne (25/2/03)

"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
 

“ Nothing can really prepare you for the riot of exuberance and depth of emotion”
 The Scotsman (06/08/03) > READ FULL REVIEW

“You don’t have to be a believer to be inspired”
Sunday Herald, Scotland (10/08/03)
> READ FULL REVIEW

“A concert that dares you not to return the participants’ smiles”
The Herald, Scotland (11/08/03)
> READ FULL REVIEW

“Moving and Inspirational”
Evening News, Edinburgh (14/08/03)
> READ FULL REVIEW

“Amassed voices are victorious”
The List, Scotland (21/08/03)
 > READ FULL REVIEW

“Top five Picks”
The Independent (04/08/03)

“Critics Choice”
The Times (13/08/03 and 19/08/03)


"Critics Choice” Edinburgh Evening News (19/08/03)

“The Top 20”
The List (21/08/03)


“Official Top Ten”
Metro Fringe Box Office

 

 

 

Edinburgh Festival 2003

“Nothing can really prepare you for the riot of exuberance and depth of emotion”

 The Scotsman – 6 August 2003

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” Sunday Herald, Scotland – 10 August 2003

“ 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”


“A concert that dares you not to return the participants’ smiles”
The Herald, Scotland – 11 August 2003

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”


“Moving and Inspirational”

Evening News, Edinburgh – 14 August 2003

“ By the rivers of Babylon, they wept and sang. Music has always provided solace to those in pain or under oppression, one outlet where the voice at least could be free. Maybe this explains why the Soweto Gospel Choir, coming from a land divided for many years, are able to make such beautiful music. Or maybe it’s the joyful liberation from apartheid that makes their show so uplifting. When they sing Nkosi Sikelel’ I Africa, the South African national anthem, it’s both moving and inspirational. But that’s not to say these singers are simply lucky enough to have natural talent, for the choir are exceedingly well-drilled, their trained voices neatly complementing each others.

There’s simply no flaw here: just singer after singer taking centre stage to showcase a different tone or range, each excellent, backed by the smooth singing of the choir and basic drums. The voices range from intense to cheerful, mournful to deep, poppy to guttural. The songs have clearly been chosen to appeal to a foreign audience, with a mixture of unfamiliar African spirituals and some well-known hymns and pop hits. These include The Lion Sleeps Tonight (which thankfully banishes all memory of the hideous 80s Tight Fit cover), Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Homeless and Jimmy Cliff’s Many Rivers to Cross, each given a gospel arrangement.

The staging is inventive, from glorious colourful outfits which light up the stage to the dancing demonstrations where some of the choir’s male members seem to vie to see who can kick highest over their heads. There’s also a little comedy, in an amusing demonstration of their warm-up routine which has the diminutive conductor exaggerating his movements wildly.

The singers wring meaning from every syllable, throwing themselves into the song. It goes without saying that anyone who’s a fan of gospel music should see this show. But anyone who just loves any kind of music should definitely see it too. It will renew your faith in the power of songs to stir your heart.

“ Amassed voices are victorious”
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!”


Australia and New Zealand Tour 2003

"the stage erupted in a fiery frenzy that echoed down centuries of vital culture" Courier Mail Brisbane (10/3/03) > READ FULL REVIEW

"Sheer jubilation…earthy and unrestrained…the rhythm of life"
Herald Sun, Melbourne (25/2/03)
> READ FULL REVIEW

"Spontaneous appeal ... filled with vitality and life"
The Age, Melbourne (25/2/03)
> READ FULL REVIEW

"Joy and enthusiasm"
The Australian (24/2/03)
> READ FULL REVIEW

"as pure and true as the word of God"
Sunday Star Times, New Zealand (16/3/03)

"Strong, clear and harmonious"
Christchurch Press, New Zealand (17/3/03)
> READ FULL REVIEW

"This is music of generosity, joy and richness"
New Zealand Herald (13/3/03)
> READ FULL REVIEW

"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 (24/3/03)
> READ FULL REVIEW

 

Australia and New Zealand Tour 2003

"the stage erupted in a fiery frenzy that echoed down centuries of vital culture"
Courier Mail, Brisbane — 10 March 2003

"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.

 

 

"Sheer jubilation… earthy and unrestrained… the rhythm of life"
Herald Sun, Melbourne - 25 February 2003

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.



 

"Spontaneous appeal ... filled with vitality and life"
The Age
, Melbourne - 25 February 2003

Much of the repertoire - a mixture of traditional and contemporary South African gospel, along with a few popular American gospel and soul numbers - was charged with a celebratory energy that was enhanced by the singers' glowing costumes and expressive hand and body movements. There were dancers …gleefully high-kicking as the choir encouraged them with whistles and "hollers". A joyful fervour with a battery of irresistible rhythms... a delightfully spontaneous appeal. … filled with vitality and life. The Soweto Gospel Choir celebrates the spirit of South Africa with joy, humour and sincerity.

 

 

"Joy and enthusiasm"
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.

 

 

"as pure and true as the word of God"
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.

 

 

"Strong, clear and harmonious"
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

 

 

"This is music of generosity, joy and richness"
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."

 

 

"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

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.

 

 

NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW – SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR

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.

 

THE SCOTSMAN
Friday, 13th August 2004

Muisc
Soweto Gospel Choir

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.
-Andrea Mullaney

 

The Herald
Tuesday August 17, 2004

“FORWARD WITH A FEELGOOD FACTOR”
Soweto Gospel Choir
Assembly@ St George’s West

If you ever wanted to see a singing kaleidoscope, this is your chance. In their bright, multi-coloured smocks and swaying interchange movements, fronted by high stepping solo dancers, a singing kaleidoscope is what the Soweto Gospel Choir resemble – especially looking down on them from St George’s upstairs pews. They are much more than such a novelty, though.
This triumphant show re-emphasises their message of harmony, both social and choral, and shines like a beacon of optimism. Drawn from it’s member’s diverse tribal traditions and traveling forward through international folk songs and pop songs such as Bob Marley’s One Love, this music with it’s feel good factor writ large. One Love sounds like pretty much everything they do, as if it was written especially for them, and Peter Gabriel’s Bilko, given an added “we will not forget” dignity in it’s quite insistence, it’s a real lump to throat moment that the original never quite managed.
As they celebrate 10 years of democracy and freedom in South Africa, however the choir and their propulsive percussionists are looking forward. Apart form anything else, they are now a worldwide touring attraction, and few will carry out the role with such infectious exuberance and exultation.

The List
Soweto Gospel Choir
“Massed voices bring ray of sunshine”


In a world where we appear to be spinning towards a self constructed doom and destruction, there is enough positive energy an optimism in an hour of the company of Soweto Gospel Choir to karmically realign the whole of Edinburgh on a more positive path at least till the end of August.
Twenty two voices in perfect harmony blend, twist swoop and surge through a varied selection of songs and languages, with feet hands tongues and drums keeping the beat. There’s plenty of crowd pleasing and it’s kind of amazing to think this group haven’t been together very long as this level of showmanship rarely comes with years of experience.

The Courier Mail Brisbane, Australia
FRI 05 AUG 2005
Bursting with colour
Reviewed by Gillian Wills

THE Soweto Gospel Choir is a shout of joy, a towering onslaught of exuberance, firmly led by dynamic choir director Lucas Deon Bok. The singers have a razor-sharp attack, phenomenal unity and a blazing, voluptuous sound. Rhythmically exciting, the songs are spiced with djembe drumming, percussive slaps, stamping, trills and throat clicks and for maximum visual impact, the singers perform dramatic and synchronised dance moves that intensify their force and momentum.
In vibrant costumes that integrate aspects of Xhosa and Ndebele design and Zulu beadwork, the stage was a splash of colour, taut and alert with the performers' infectious camaraderie.
With oodles of zest and an uplifting spirit, the choir had not a shred of difficulty involving its audience.
The pace was unstoppable, a seamless flow of traditional gospel and contemporary standards including an a capella version of the Neville Brothers' haunting I Bid You Goodnight and Weeping, a moving anthem from apartheid years. Bob Marley's classic One Love was peppered with chopped syncopated productions achieving an almost strummed effect.
Individual members take turns to lead as the ensemble surges and retreats in forceful response to the soloist's call. A rigorous djembe introduces the second half and Bok demonstrates the choir's multi-lingual skills as he romps them through warm-up segments in Zulu and Italian. There are several superb solos as well, including an irresistible Modimo by soprano Lehakwe Tlali and a warmly shaped Woza Meli Warni. The quality of the singing just gets better and better with an exploration of lighter hues, emphatic phrasing and increased range of colour as a sequence of charming singers ``salute the audience'' supported by exhilarating harmonised blends.
It was impossible not to be swept along by this joyful, energised and upbeat choir with its huge, irresistible personality.