16 March 2006
As much an ideology as an ensemble, the Soweto Gospel Choir, which performs Sunday at the Imperial Theatre, is based on the belief that music can communicate, motivate and educate.
Sipokazi Luzipo, an alto in the ensemble and the narrator during performances, said the three-year-old group has succeeded in finding an international audience because of the unique tone and timbre of South African gospel music.
“What makes it great is that this is not gospel that is being created,” she said. “It’s gospel that has always been there. It’s a raw sound, a sound very close to us, a sound heard by our mothers and grandmothers.”
The music, which uses traditional African call-and-response structure and rhythms and Western vocal arrangements, was born in the missionary churches of South Africa. Over time, a style developed that embraced both the hymns the missionaries had brought with them and the traditional music of Africa. Ms. Luzipo said that spirit of incorporation continues with the Soweto Gospel Choir.
“This is not just about gospel,” she said. “It’s not even about South African music. It’s about incorporating all music. It’s the kind of music that caters to, and moves, all people. It’s the music that makes people smile and cry.”
Upbeat and a bit improvisational, Soweto Gospel Choir lives by the simplest of credos, Ms. Luzipo said. She said each performance, be it at Carnegie Hall or the smallest auditorium, must be approached as though it’s the last.
“It’s about honoring the moment,” she explained. “Our history has been tough, particularly as young South Africans. It makes living in the moment very important. It’s important to us as a choir. You never know what tomorrow holds.”