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Soweto Gospel Fans

Soweto Gospel Choir keeps spirits high

South African powerhouse continues to wow audiences worldwide

By Francois Marchand
Vancouver Sun
April 4, 2012

VANCOUVER — South Africa’s Soweto Gospel Choir’s list of achievements is so long we would almost need a full edition of this newspaper to explain it in detail.

In a nutshell, the famed choir emerged in 2002 and quickly became a favourite of Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, U.S. president Bill Clinton, Prince Charles and Oprah.

The choir has won two Grammy Awards, an Emmy and was nominated for an Oscar.

The 26-member group has shared the stage and received accolades from the likes of U2’s Bono, Josh Groban, John Legend and Robert Plant.

Yet, for soloist Mandla Madwu, 33, the true reward of being part of the choir is much more modest than rubbing elbows with politicians and celebrities.

“The best part is when you see smiling faces in your audience or when you meet people after the show and you see they are more uplifted and relieved,” Madwu said over the phone during a tour stop in South Dakota. “Sometimes people come to our shows and they’re stressed out and they need healing in their spirits or physical bodies. For me, that does it.”

Still, for Madwu, few moments will come close to topping concerts performed for Mandela’s 46664 AIDS Awareness concerts in Cape Town.

“Those were the most heartfelt because we were performing for our people on a bigger stage,” he said.

The choir remains active on a charitable level, continuing its crusade to fight AIDS via its Nkosi’s Haven/Vukani foundations, which help mothers and children infected with HIV in South Africa.

“We try to help where we can,” Madwu said, adding HIV/AIDS relief organizations in South Africa are all NGOs and receive no funding from the government, which makes their work difficult.

Madwu has seen the consequences of the disease first-hand and some of his friends carry the disease.

To know that his singing can help gives his work with the choir a sense of purpose.

“The community supports us,” he said, “and we also need to give back to the community. It’s not a take-and-take but a give-and-take.”

The choir’s music certainly has a positive spirit, a transcendent element that elevates and inspires, with giant, spine-tingling swells of soul and gospel mixed with African rhythms and roots.

The choir’s last album Grace, released in 2010, also featured a powerhouse rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, which has quickly become a concert favourite.

Another favourite cover often performed live is Sarah McLachlan’s Angel.

Fittingly, the choir will be playing host to a workshop with the students at the Sarah McLachlan School of Music in Mount Pleasant the day of their Vancouver concert Saturday, from 4 – 5 p.m.

Asked what to expect from a Soweto Gospel Choir concert, which also features a tight four-piece band, Madwu answered with a single word: “Fireworks.”

He laughed.

Madwu also confirmed the troupe will be returning to the studio this year for a new album, and that plans for a live recording and DVD are also in the works.

Madwu admitted he never imagined the choir would become such a popular attraction worldwide and receive so much attention over the past 10 years.

“The concept started small,” Madwu said.

“But now — whew! — there are few places we haven’t covered with the choir.”

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About The Author

From the Great White North of Canada, Elaine is the owner and maintainer of SGF. Besides being a big-time Soweto Gospel Choir fan, she is passionate about world travel, technology, all sports and above all the great mangosteen fruit. Oh, and she can't sing to save her love! :)

1 Comment

  1. Margaret Samuel Gyang June 1, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    I love your singing, my heart desire is to see you sing live. God bless you all.

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