17 September 2004
Daily Post (Liverpool)
Africa is said by scientists to be the cradle of life — a statement that is evoked by South Africa’s Soweto Gospel Choir, whose voices echo the rhythms of life itself.
Their unique lyrical quality grows from the blending of voices and traditions from many of South Africa’s tribes and regions.
The choir has only been in existence for two years but their enchanting sound has seen them sell out across the world and share the stage with the likes of U2’s Bono, The Eurythmics, Anastasia, Peter Gabriel and Queen. And this year they will follow up their critically acclaimed headline show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with a concert at the North Wales Theatre, Llandudno.
Choir master and musical director, David Mulovhedzi says: “We sing a lot of traditional South African songs with the drums, the feet stomping, the hand clapping, the body movements — when we celebrate God, we do a lot of dancing.”
As a gospel choir, their songs praise God and David mentions his faith time and again.
“God is the God of miracles,” he says in a near impenetrable accent. “He does everything when you pray to him. Whatever you want, God will give it to you. It is God’s work that people should be free and enjoy life.
“At the moment, life in South Africa is good, everyone is so happy and free and we sing all the beautiful gospel songs in celebration.”
Celebration is something that comes out in the choir’s music despite the poverty and Aids epidemic that besiege the towns that its members come from.
David has a somewhat missionary zeal to share the choir’s happiness and involve their audiences in a celebration of life.
“People should be happy when they listen to our music. We want to spread a little happiness. Our main aim is that people should be happy!” he says determinedly.
The choir is not David’s first, as he began as choir master to gospel groups in Soweto in 1986 and the Holy Jerusalem Evangelical Church Choir he led entertained the president of China, the prince of Saudi Arabia and former RSA president Nelson Mandela.
When he was asked to put together a choir to tour the world in 2002, David used his knowledge of South Africa’s church singers to handpick the best the nation has to offer, to showcase the country”s wealth of talent.
“We feel like ambassadors for our country when we sing in Australia, Asia, Germany or the UK and wherever we go in these different venues, they are all packed, because we make the audience feel free to enjoy each and every part of the music.”
The choir stands out because despite singing many gospel classics that audiences will recognise, they give them a South African flavour and add their own songs which have grown out of tribal celebrations.
“There is a lot of influence from the different tribal cultures in the choir. South Africa has about 11 official languages, so when we sing we use some of those languages like Zulu and Xhosa — and English, of course.
“Many of the songs we sing are wedding songs, as a wedding is something blessed by God, hence we have those type of songs where we celebrate for the bride and bridegroom.
“Some of the songs are the gospel songs, the very joyful type of gospel, and there are those laid back type of songs where we sing and you can just sit down, listen and enjoy the music.”
Although the choir is put together in a very traditional way, with a balance of soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices, the requirements of some of the African songs mean a large bass section is necessary.
“The bass itself brings a stability to the choir, and when we sing acapella, we need a lot of bass to support them,” says David.
Although the choir has been put together with soloists from various churches and is known as a gospel choir, one reviewer, Pat Geary, says: “Their name might on first blush suggest a worthy, Songs Of Praise-style slog through God”s greatest hits — that couldn”t be further from the reality.
“Imagine if Diana Ross, The Temptations and Martha And The Vandellas had all been born in South Africa and had only their local churches for musical expression. The result — The Soweto Gospel Choir.