By Craig Vaughan
17 January 2003
Many places in the South African township of Soweto still don’t have running water.
So when Soweto Gospel Choir master David Mulovhedzi stepped on to a Sydney ferry this week, you could readily understand why he was a tad uneasy.
“This is my first time in a ferry,” he said.
“I’m a bit nervous. We don’t even have a river in Soweto, and definitely no boats.” Mr Mulovhedzi is in Sydney to lead the first tour of the 32-member Soweto Gospel Choir.
Drawn from churches and communities in and around Soweto, the choir is a mixture of ages, cultures and backgrounds.
They sing in 18 different languages including Zulu, English, Swahili, and Afrikaans, and perform traditional African gospel mixed with songs by Otis Redding and Jimmy Cliff.
“We have a strong tradition of singing in South Africa; it is our way,” Mr Mulovhedzi said.
“This is the choir’s first time out of South Africa, this morning our first time on a plane.
“We will sing in Australia to spread our religion, our culture and to make people happy.” Commuters on the Mosman ferry seemed happy to be given an impromptu concert.
Grandmothers and tourists clapped and danced along with five members of the choir.
“It was just lovely,” said Shirley Ind from Engadine.
“We were having an old girls’ day out and happened to get on the wrong ferry.
“But I’m glad we did, this music is amazing.
“Those people don’t know what they’re missing,” Mrs Ind said pointing at a passing luxury cruiser.
Soweto, short for South Western Townships, was originally a camp built by the apartheid South African Government to house African mine workers outside Johannesburg.
Under the apartheid regime Soweto became poor, overcrowded and a centre for political violence and protest.
Like former South African president Nelson Mandela, Mr Mulovhedzi was born in Soweto.
“Soweto is different these days, it is a cool place to live,” the 52-year-old father of five said.
“There’s a new positive feeling in the streets and choirs like this one are growing and bringing people together.” On stage the choir will be accompanied by a four-piece band, traditional dancers and drummers from the Holy Jerusalem Choir.
The Soweto Gospel Choir will start their tour in Victoria and the ACT next month.
Their first show in Sydney is at the Opera House on February 27.
They will also perform in Castle Hill, Penrith and Revesby.
They will also travel to cities along the coast including Wollongong, Coffs Harbour, Gosford, and Newcastle.