Sipokazi Luzipo, narrator and choral singer, introduced her Soweto Gospel Choir Sunday night at the Maine Center for the Arts in soft, Anglophonic English. “We celebrate God, we celebrate with song, we celebrate you, too,” she confided, and captivated the audience immediately.
Her deferent yet decisive mannerisms were the perfect compliments to her words. They immediately inspired confidence. “We speak the best language of all: music,” she informed her rapt audience, and then they were off.
The 26-member choir combines live musicians and dancers, African Gospel and modern Western spirituals sung in six different languages. Their mission is to spread the joy they have found in their faith while giving to their community and others around the world.
As members of the audience experiencd the choir in full force, the language of each song disappeared and all they heard was the music. The choir performed traditional Swahili and Zulu spirituals and then transitioned seamlessly into unique renditions of contemporary classics, like Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross,” which caused a man in the audience to cry out in excitement and clap his hands.
One could get lost in the bright colors, exotic costumes, beautiful sounds and diverse voices, but somehow the performers kept the audience centered. They possess an unusually attractive calm. They seemed totally at peace in their commitment to their material and to their celebration of life. Their powerful, dynamic serenity was infectious. While they sang their hearts out, they never wavered. They maintained confidence, happiness and light in their eyes. In a group of such strong soloists, their ability to work together so effortlessly was astounding.
Despite the choir’s overwhelming talent, one performer, Lehakwe Tlali, stood out. A little girl, she was the smallest in stature of the group, but her presence was unmistakable. Her voice was strikingly powerful while also possessing an ethereal vulnerability that completely drew in the audience. Her eyes displayed a knowing innocence, as if she had experienced too much for her age but gracefully retained her youthful vibrancy.
Since the choir’s inception in 2002, they have raised thousands of dollars for orphans affected by AIDS and have currently raised more than $14,000 for the Tsunami disaster relief efforts. The choir has been recognized all over the world for its achievements. They won “Best Gospel Choir, 2003” at the American Gospel Music Awards as well as the 2003 Helpmann Award – a prominent performing arts award in Australia – for “Best Contemporary Music Concert.”
One of the most refreshing aspects of the choir is that they never forgot to include their audience. “We appreciate you,” said Lucas Bok, a conductor and vocalist, as the performance drew to a close.
If you listen to the voices of the Soweto Gospel Choir you will learn that African drumbeats have a message. Two traditional drummers demonstrated this phenomenon. “Listen, it is telling you, ‘do good,'” laughed one of them lightheartedly.