Soweto Gospel Choir
by Liesel Rennie
This jubilant Gospel choir, formed less than 5 years ago in the Rainbow Nation, is a cultural embodiment of post-apartheid South Africa. The magnificent 52 strong, choir, styled with a contemporary feel is the culmination of voices from various churches and community centres in and around Soweto. In their five year existence the Soweto Gospel Choir has found a surprisingly large international audience that is exponentially swelling and winning hearts and souls through their deeply connected faith and their excellent professional presentation.
It is small wonder that they are charting a meteoric rise to international fame. Their performances embody earthy rhythms, rich harmonies and acapella numbers. Add to this, energetic dancing and vibrant, colourful costumes and the mix is awe-inspiring, leaving all who hear them stunned with emotion. This young dynamic choir performs both traditional and contemporary music, adding its own unique feel and interpretation to both and not to mention in six of South Africas eleven official languages. And yet the Soweto Gospel Choir has cast its net still wider, incorporating not only US gospel numbers but rock and pop material.
Among many other awards and international stardom, their hard work, professionalism and uniquely entertaining soulful music won them perhaps their greatest accolade, their 2006 Grammy Award for their album Blessed, in the category Best Traditional World Music. And in 2008 the group has picked up another Grammy Award for Best Traditional World Music Album.
But no amount of glittering international recognition and praise has diverted Soweto Gospel Choir from the mission it holds close at heart. In 2003 the choir founded its own aids orphans foundation, Nkosis Haven Vukani. With the plight of South Africas sick and impoverished top of mind, their foundation supports families and organisations that receive little or no government support. These destitute families and children rely on Soweto Gospel Choir to sing all over the world for very much more than their supper. To date, the choir has collected over R3million for their foundation.
Sabona Magazine was lucky enough to chat with the Soweto Choirs founding musical directorco-founder David Mulovhedzi:
SM: What is the importance of the namesake Soweto to the Soweto Gospel Choir?
DM: Soweto is the birthplace of the majority of our members and for those who dont live there, it is synonymous with our history, so to represent the talent of this area and to be able to showcase our gospel music throughout the world, is very special to the choir. International audiences are fascinated
with Soweto and what it stands for so they are extremely receptive to people who come from a place which has survived so much.
SM: What response do you receive when you are touring to nations that are not as deeply entrenched in the gospel culture?
DM: It is the joy of singing, the energy, and the beautiful harmonies and voices that appeal to our audiences, no matter what country were in. Everyone can interpret the music as they wish to but we know that however you do, you will come out of our concerts feeling uplifted, and that is what we aim for. Some people laugh and some people cry during our concerts both reactions show that our music is touching peoples souls.
SM: What can audiences expect from your new show African Spirit - Touring Australia 2008?
DM: African spirit is a wonderful show. People can expect almost 2 hours of energy, beautiful voices, exciting dancing and even a bit of comedy. Weve included African gospel and traditional music as well as some well loved international gospel. This show takes things slightly further than our previous shows as we explore various avenues of spiritual awareness through our songs.
The show is called African Spirit as the repertoire includes a variety of spiritual areas in our lives. People will be surprised with the variety of music in this show and some of our unique renditions of traditional as well as modern songs.
We take the audience on a spiritual musical journey, sung with Soweto Gospel Choirs unique African spirit. Soweto Gospel Choir does have its own unique way of performing. Quite a few songs might be recognisable, such as Amazing Grace, but the choir interprets these songs in our special, African way. Our harmonies are very different to what you would hear with other gospel choirs, we have a different movement accompanying each song and we hardly stop moving for the entire show.
It is the pure energy and joy in what theyre doing, that makes this choir so special. Audiences cannot come out of our shows without feeling totally uplifted.
SM: What did you enjoy most about touring Australia?
DM: One of our most precious memories has always been our performance at the Sydney opera house. What a dream come true!
I know that Australia is the choirs favourite country when it comes to touring. They are always made to feel so at home and they find Australians not only appreciate their concerts, but appreciate them as a people. Australians are warm, friendly and enjoy the cultures of other countries. And they speak English!!
SM: What words of advice could you give to other Southern African performers who are hoping to launch an international touring career?
DM: Id tell them to follow their dreams, with the hope that these dreams can be achieved. We have achieved our dream through hard work, professionalism and the will to persevere, even when we didnt know what the future held. Success does not just happen, you have to believe in what you do and believe in your talent. You have to be prepared for both the good times and the bad times, and not give up. Hopefully then, you will be rewarded and blessed as Soweto Gospel Choir has been.