17 February 2006
South Bend Tribune
The Zulu word “vukani” means “do something.”
After he saw how the AIDS epidemic orphaned many young South African children, David Mulovhedzi decided to do something: He joined the Soweto Gospel Choir, which performs at 8 p.m. Saturday in the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts.
Joining a choir might seem like an odd way to help orphaned children whose parents died of AIDS and who may be stricken with the disease themselves.
Mulovhedzi, however, says joining the choir was a logical decision. As someone who grew up in the church and heard family members singing the gospel songs of his native South Africa, Mulovhedzi knows the power of those songs.
In 1986, as resistance to apartheid increased, Mulovhedzi formed the Holy Jerusalem Choir. Mulovhedzi believes South African gospel music played a role in overthrowing apartheid because the music brought people together.
“Most of the songs come from the Bible, and it teaches that people should live in peace,” he says. “It heals broken hearts and brings people together and is a prayer to God for freedom.”
Those prayers were answered more than a decade ago when black South Africans exercised the right to vote for the first time.
Gospel music continued to play an important role in Mulovhedzi’s life, and by 2002 he had the chance to take South African gospel music around the world.
That’s when a group of Australians founded the Soweto Gospel Choir and hired Mulovhedzi to be its musical director.
Although singing brings the choir most of its acclaim, Mulovhedzi says the group’s mission encompasses doing something to help those less fortunate.
In 2003, the choir formed Vukani, a foundation designed to help children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic.
“When we go on tour, we would always think of the people in our country who are suffering with HIV and AIDS, so we started our charity so that we get donations to help them,” Mulovhedzi says.
The 26-member Soweto Gospel Choir receives donations as it travels around the world, and the group uses those donations to buy food, clothing, blankets, medicine and other essential items. Those items are then given to a variety of groups that help AIDS orphans.
Mulovhedzi says the group’s desire to do something for the less fortunate explains why the foundation is named Vukani.
“People who can’t help themselves need to be helped,” he says.
The Soweto Gospel Choir also wants to help the world understand and appreciate the South African gospel music tradition.
The group’s latest CD, “Blessed,” is a mix of traditional South African hymns sung in several of the languages spoken in the country. There also are several songs that will be instantly familiar to American gospel and pop music fans, including a stirring, up-tempo rendition of the 1969 gospel song “Oh Happy Day” and an a cappella version of Peter Gabriel’s “Biko.”
“People will see the real South Africa onstage,” Mulovhedzi says. “We will be singing gospel music and praising God in our way.”
That means people will hear the tight harmonies that South African groups and performers such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo have made famous.
The Soweto Gospel Choir features a four-piece band, but there are times when the group performs numbers a cappella or accompanied by traditional African drums.
The group also will be dressed in traditional African clothing. The bright colors of the costumes, along with the intensity of the show, is something audiences find instantly engaging, Mulovhedzi says.