18 August 2005
The West Australian
Mirriam Matshepo Kutuane is typical of the young singers who make up the Soweto Gospel Choir.
Back home in the Soweto suburb of Protea South, the 26-year-old leads the 90-voice choir in her local church – that is when she is not touring the world as part of South Africa’s hottest choir since Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Kutuane is also a member of the renowned Holy Jerusalem Choir in Soweto, whose musical director David Mulovhedzi is one of the founders of the Soweto Gospel Choir.
It was choirs such as Holy Jerusalem and others in the Soweto area that provided the impetus for the formation of the internationally renowned choir now touring Australia. Most of the members of the choir came to Australia on its first visit in 2003 and have remained throughout its busy touring schedule around the world since then. For many the choir is not only an artistic outlet but the means of earning a living in a country where many people live below the poverty line.
Since its first visit to Australia, the choir has released a second album entitled Blessed, whose numbers form the basis of much of their performance, many of them written by its own members.
But it is really the rich musical heritage of South Africa that has propelled this energised ensemble to the top of the rankings in large-scale harmony choirs. Its program always offers plenty of church-style gospel singing, understandable since most of the members are committed Christians singing for the glory of God.
“Our concerts are like a prayer meeting,” says Kutuane. “It is God who has given us the power to sing as we do. It’s in our hearts and by singing that’s how we thank God.”
The choir also offers plenty of pop-oriented music, such as Bob Marley’s One Love and tunes by the Neville Brothers. Dressed in the~ir colourful robes, with soloists stepping forward to sing and dance in that graceful way that belongs to their African heritage, these performers have created a style that continually draws big crowds wherever they go.
Since their formation in 2002 the choir has toured Britain, America, Europe and Asia. Already this year it has performed a 39-city tour of the US and topped the US Billboard World Music charts.
According to musical director Lucas Bok, audiences should leave a Soweto Gospel Choir performance with an enhanced understanding of South African music and culture.
“A true reflection of South Africa, that’s what we really want them to go away with,” he told a recent ABC program. “To understand the kind of people we have and to also know that music gives life. Music is something that you can always relate to, you can always go back to.
“It’s a universal language. I want them to go away inspired when they leave our show.”