March 10, 2005
East Valley Tribune
As the Soweto Gospel Choir performs traditional South African music, its members sing in harmony, shout loudly, clap, dance and ululate — making loud, howling noises with their tongues and the roofs of their mouths.
The choir’s 26 performers have reason to sing with exuberance and joy, says 24-year-old singer and dancer Thembisa Khuzwayo.
“Our country has emerged from a very turbulent time in its history,” she says, referring to South Africa’s system of apartheid. “We feel very blessed about it, and we’ve got reason to celebrate.”
The Soweto Gospel Choir singers, dancers and instrumentalists plan to give an energizing and uplifting performance Thursday at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, Khuzwayo says.
The Scottsdale venue is 28th on a 35-stop North American tour that began Jan. 28, the first ever for the choir, says tour manager Margot Teele.
Some proceeds from the tour will benefit Nkosi’s Haven, a Soweto-based project providing medicines and material goods to mothers, children and orphans with AIDS.
“We do a collection after each concert, where we’re allowed to, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to Nkosi’s Haven,” Teele says. The for-profit choir pays its performers through its concerts and CD sales, Teele says. “Most of the choir actually support their families (on their wages).”
The Soweto Gospel Choir was founded in 2002 and has gained notoriety across South Africa and internationally, recently performing in Scotland, Germany and Australia, says spokeswoman Monifa Brown.
In November 2003, the choir sang and danced for former South African President Nelson Mandela at the 46664 AIDS Benefit Concert. Soweto performers shared the stage with U2’s Bono, Peter Gabriel and the Eurythmics at the event.
The choir performs a wide selection of music, including worship songs, traditional African gospel music, songs about apartheid and South African national heroes, and contemporary music. The choir sings in six of 11 languages spoken in South Africa; English, Afrikaans and Zulu are among them.
Soweto Gospel Choir’s music expresses the faith of South African Christians — a very different expression than is found in more conservative churches in the United Kingdom and other Western countries.
“In the U.K., people commented that in Presbyterian and Anglican churches, when it’s time to worship, you’re not quite allowed to be free, expressive and loud,” Khuzwayo says. The choir’s performance will include a cappella singing, dance numbers with exotic instruments and drums, bright costumes and lots of movement. “The excitement of what we do comes from our culture,” Khuzwayo says. “In Africa, people sing when a child is born. They sing when someone dies. They sing all the time.”