By Diana Streak
16 August 2005
It didn’t take long for the Soweto Gospel Choir to get a group of shy young people from Canberra’s African refugee community singing and dancing with gusto during a workshop at Dickson College yesterday.
After a self-conscious start, their hands started to move involuntarily and they were soon clapping along with broad smiles. Organised by JPET Multicultural Youth Services, the workshop was part of the community development of young refugees, mostly from Sudan and Ethiopia.
The 27-strong Soweto Gospel Choir is touring Australia with its spirited performances that blend traditional African and gospel music. During the past month, the choir has performed to a packed St Paul’s Cathedral in London, at Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 50th wedding anniversary and to sold-out concerts in Johannesburg.
Musical director Lucas Bok said the members tried to run workshops wherever they toured but yesterday’s session was particularly special.
“It was a highlight of our tour because we were fortunate to give back to other Africans … for us it is wonderful to share [music] with our kind of people, to see their faces light up.”
A highlight for the refugees was the high- powered Zulu and Shangaan dancing. Salma Ahmed, 19, of Sudan said, “The best part was the dancing, oh my God, it was amazing.” Mary Deng, 18, also liked the dancing but was most impressed with the two-part harmonies.
JPET project officer Catrion Heath said, “It is wonderful to see young refugees coming together and letting their hair down.” The workshop ended fittingly with a moving version of the South African national anthem Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika – Lord Bless Africa.