By Helaine R. Williams
3 February 2007
The Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Hearing South Africa’s chart-topping Soweto Gospel Choir, it’s nearly impossible to single out any favorites among its songs … or stars among its lead singers. Each member is equally important in forming a sound so colorfully and harmoniously woven that the choir could take even the simplest nursery-rhyme song and turn it into a masterpiece of jubilant sound.
The choir delighted its audience during the first of a two-night engagement Thursday in the Donald W. Reynolds Performance Hall of the University of Central Arkansas at Conway. Its appearance marked the beginning of the choir’s third U.S. tour and occurred on an evening that began with a respite from the wintry mix forecasted, but ended on a very snowy note.
The evening’s performance had sold out; however, a number of seats were empty, presumably because of previous and forecasted inclement weather.
Scheduled for 7:30 p.m., the concert was delayed until 7:53 for unspecified reasons. But the choir quickly made up for its tardiness with a launch into its “Hlohonolofatsa,” a bright and happy number sung in Zulu.
Made of diverse cultures and faiths, the choir lit up the stage in two sets of colorful traditional outfits – the men in dashikis and black trousers; the women in zebra-print wrap skirts with long, asymmetric and cutaway tunic tips and bead work Movement is so much a part of the Soweto Gospel Choir’s performance, it can be difficult to take it all in.
While the main body of the choir emphasized its songs with synchronized clapping, hand routines and swaying, featured dancers performed more intricate routines that resembled stepshow performances put on by black college fraternities and sororities, and evoked images of break dancing and modernday “praise dances” in black churches.
A memorable and extensive program of songs – narrated by several choir members and sung in Zulu, Sotho and English – included the reverent and happy “Joko Yahao”; “Asimbonanga/Biko,” a midtempo number whose highlight was its slow, smooth ending; “Avulekle Amasango/One Love,” which incorporated the familiar Jamaican tune; the old Zulu song “Mbube” (which Americans know as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”); “Siteng Sediba,” a song from their recently released CD African Spirit; the traditional American number “Swing Down”; the slow and majestic “Khumbaya,” and “Ahuna Ya Tswanang Le Jesu/Kammatla,” during which two men donned Kangol-Bermuda-casual-style hats (think early L.L. Cool J) and performed a rap interlude. Most songs had multiple lead singers, which enriched the choir’s sound even further.
The two-segment performance was further livened by a post-intermission dance segment and, at the end of the program, a couple of encore treats – “I Remember You” from its new CD, and the Edwin Hawkins Singers classic “Oh Happy Day.”