29 September 2004
Grimsby Evening Telegraph
But, with this choir’s emergence in the last two years, the South African township is instead becoming synonymous with the uplifting musical culture of the country.
To celebrate 10 years since it became a democracy, the 26-strong group, which has already rubbed shoulders with Bono, Queen, the Eurythmics, Anastacia and Peter Gabriel, has been sent with the blessing of former president Nelson Mandela to spread the word on a 30-date tour of the UK.
Last night it moved into Grimsby, a lone voice and the djembe, the African drum, ushering in the singers for two hours of joy and colour.
The singers are the best talent taken from the many churches in and around Soweto and in just 24 months have toured Australia, Asia, New Zeakland and Singapore, and last year were awarded the American Gospel Music Award for best choir.
But just as important to the show was the choreography, the knees-bent swaying of tribal dancing, pointing, finger-clicking, high-kicking and arm-waving, a constant movement in tandem with the vivid colours of the traditional dress in three costume changes.
Most of the set was accompanied by the conga and smaller djembe, but at times they cranked it up with the conventional drum kit, guitars and keyboards.
The solos were shared by several wonderful singers using different languages, including Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho and English, and the styles meandered from praise into soul, groove, disco, rock ‘n’ roll and even elements of hip-hop.
But the choir was at its most powerful when all the voices performed their traditional songs a capella, projecting that special harmonic gospel texture, which is, well, heavenly.
There were moving offerings of Amazing Grace, Jerusalem and the South African national anthem itself, Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika.
Jimmy Cliff’s Many Rivers To Cross, Otis Redding’s arrangement of Amen, Going Down Jordan, African Dream, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Homeless, mixed in with songs from the townships and a hymn to freedom fighters Steven Biko and Mandela, were all magical.
The singers finally left with their version of O Happy Day, probably the gospel daddy of them all, but I would have settled for Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika again as a parting gift.
Soweto, no longer purely a byword for oppression and anger, now a monument to hope through inspirational, life-affirming, beautiful music.