4 February 2005
NPR: All Things Considered
MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I’m Melissa Block.
And joining us here in our studios are members of the Soweto Gospel Choir. Named for the township in South Africa, where the choir is based, the 26-member group is on tour in the US, spreading their big, jubilant sound from coast to coast. And 10 of the choir members have come in today to talk and perform some songs.
Thanks for being here.
SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR: …(Unintelligible).
BLOCK: I’d like to ask you first to introduce yourselves, starting on the left.
Mr. SIPHO NGCAMU: Sipho.
Ms. THANDO NGQUNGE: Hello. My name is Thando Ngqunge. I’m from Soweto.
Ms. JEHO FATA: Hi. My name is Jeho Fata. I’m from Eastern Cape Alice.
Ms. SIPOKAZI LUZIPO: Hi. My name is Sipokazi Luzipo.
Ms. SIBONGILE MAKGATHE: Hi. My name is Sibongile Makgathe. I’m from Soweto, Jobek.
Mr. DAVID MULOVHEDZI: Hi. My name is David Mulovhedzi. I’m from Soweto.
Mr. SHIMMY JIYANE: Hi. My name is Shimmy Jiyane from Soweto, Jobek.
Mr. LINDO MAKHATHINI: Hi. My name is Lindo Makhathini.
Mr. COSNA TIHADALEY(ph): I’m Cosna Tihadaley.
Mr. GREG NDOU: I’m Greg Ndou from Soweto.
BLOCK: It’s great to meet all of you. And I want to start by asking the choirmaster here, David Mulovhedzi, you sing some spirituals in English, but a lot of what you sing is traditional African gospel music. And I wonder if we can start right in with a song. Why don’t you tell us what you’re about to sing?
Mr. MULOVHEDZI: We’ll first sing our …Click song, which is a Xhosa song (foreign language spoken).
BLOCK: And what does that mean?
Mr. MULOVHEDZI: That’s the spiritual music. It’s all about the good news of God, yeah.
(Soundbite of Soweto Gospel Choir performing song)
BLOCK: That’s a wonderful sound. This is a song in Xhosa.
Mr. MULOVHEDZI: Xhosa, yes.
BLOCK: Along with David, I want to bring in a couple of the choir members here, Sipokazi Luzipo and Shimmy Jiyane. You sing in a number of African languages, as well as in English. Do you think the character of the songs changes depending on the language that you’re using, Sipokazi?
Ms. S. LUZIPO: Well, we’ve got 11 official languages, and we sing in about eight of those. And I think definitely character changes. I think Xhosa is one of the cultures where one really expresses and use the clicks. And you find other languages where you don’t have the Q’s and the X’s. So I think it’s one of those languages where it’s quite harsh than the rest of the other languages.
BLOCK: Shimmy, what do you think?
Mr. JIYANE: It change greatly. When you sing in Sotho, you will hear–Sotho’s very soft. And you sing in Zulu, Zulu is very–you sing very hard. And English is softer than any other sound.
BLOCK: When you think about the blend of traditional African gospel and the Western Christian music that you also sing, where do those two strains intersect?
Mr. JIYANE: Actually, the old one, that’s the one that touches me more. That’s where we learned how to come up with songs, and of course we take songs from the old tunes and we combine them with the modern. And when you mix the two, that’s where you get the Soweto Gospel Choir, yes.
BLOCK: Well, let’s get to another song. What are you going to be singing, and which language will we be hearing here, David?
Mr. MULOVHEDZI: We’ll now be singing “Vuma,” which means believe in the Lord, and you’ll be saved. That’s Zulu.
(Soundbite of Soweto Gospel Choir performing “Vuma”)
BLOCK: We should talk about this. This is a full-body experience. As I watch this, you’re leaning forward from your hips. Your hands are waving in unison in front of your face. And I’m trying to figure out how you communicate within the choir. This is something that you all have to feel together. Sipokazi?
Ms. LUZIPO: I guess because we’re such a young group, probably we’ve got energy just oozing in our bodies. We can never sing a fast song and just stand. It’s us moving with the rhythm. It’s in us. The rhythm is in our bodies. The minute the drum goes, our bodies go with it. So that’s just who we are as young South Africans.
Mr. MULOVHEDZI: Yeah, it’s true. You know, even, you know, because now we’re sort of using our body language. For every seat in the audience, you can see that these people are pointing in heaven. That means they’re saying, `God, you are so great up there.’ Hence, we do all those type of movements. It’s showing God how strong he is and how we respect him, yeah.
BLOCK: I wonder if you’d do another song for us. What would you like to sing now?
Mr. MULOVHEDZI: The following song is known as (foreign language spoken), “There’s Nobody Like Jesus in the World.’
BLOCK: And what language is this?
Mr. MULOVHEDZI: That’s Sotho.
Mr. MULOVHEDZI: Yeah.
(Soundbite of Soweto Gospel Choir performing song)
BLOCK: Let’s explain who was doing what here. That was Shimmy on the whistling.
Mr. JIYANE: Yes.
BLOCK: Can you do that for us?
(Soundbite of whistling)
BLOCK: Have you always been able to do that?
Mr. JIYANE: Yeah. Since from childhood actually. Everyone knows how to do that, yeah.
BLOCK: Everybody does?
Mr. JIYANE: Yeah. Yeah. She can do it.
BLOCK: And who was ululating? That was amazing.
Ms. FATA: Me.
BLOCK: And your name again?
Ms. FATA: Jeho. Jeho Fata.
BLOCK: How tricky a thing is that to do?
Ms. FATA: You just place the tongue between the jaws, and you just lift it up and down.
BLOCK: It’s easier to do than describe?
Ms. FATA: Yes. It’s easy.
BLOCK: Can you do it again?
(Soundbite of ululating)
BLOCK: Amazing. And would you take us out with a song?
Mr. MULOVHEDZI: Our next song is known as Holy City / Bayete.
SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR: (Singing) Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your voice and sing hosanna in the highest, hosanna to the king. Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift your voice and sing. Yeah, sing hosanna now. Hosanna in the highest. Hosanna to the king. Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem. Lift your voice and sing. Sing hosanna, hosanna in the highest. Hosanna to the king. Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem. Lift your voice and sing. Sing hosanna, hosanna in the highest, hosanna to the king. Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem. Lift your voice and sing. Sing hosanna, hosanna in the highest. Hosanna to the king. Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem. Lift your voice and sing. Sing hosanna, hosanna in the highest, hosanna to the king. (Foreign language sung)
BLOCK: Thanks to all of you for coming in and for singing for us today.
SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR: You’re welcome. Thank you.
Ms. S. LUZIPO: Thank you. Thank you.
BLOCK: Sipokazi Luzipo, Shimmy Jiyane, David Mulovhedzi and the rest of the Soweto Gospel Choir. Their CD is called “Voices From Heaven.” Their US tour continues through the end of March. You can hear more music and see photos at our Web site, npr.org.