21 Feb 2007
“We are thrilled at this honour. It’s every musician’s dream and for us the dream has come true,” said the Soweto Gospel Choir’s Executive Producer Beverly Bryer on accepting the group’s award for Best Traditional World Music at the Grammys last Sunday.
Those associated with the group see their win as a significant and historical achievement for South African music.
“How proud we all feel in bringing the Grammy home to share with the nation,” Bryer said at the Los Angeles event where she appeared along with the choir’s Musical Director Lucas Bok, Choir Master David Mulovhedzi and Robin Hogarth, who produced their winning album ‘Blessed’.
“This is a tremendous honour for the choir and all who worked so hard on the album, and for South Africa,” said Hogarth.
“The importance of this cannot be underestimated.”
As South Africa’s largest urban black community, with an estimated population of between one and three million people, Soweto has been at the centre of the country’s political and social transformation.
In 1955, the Freedom Charter — a declaration of equal rights for all South Africans — was drawn up in Soweto. That document provided the foundation of the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela’s struggles to eliminate apartheid.
In 1976, student riots engulfed Soweto, enflamed by the violent reprisals from police, and ignited the resistance movement that ultimately brought an end to apartheid in 1991, establishing the right to vote for all South Africans in 1993.
“Through the years of turmoil, and the long walk to freedom taken by Nelson Mandela and the people of the country, the music and art of South Africa played a vital role in expressing the hope and aspirations of the people,” Hogarth said.
“Soweto Gospel Choir members are representative of South Africans everywhere, and this award highlights what can be achieved.”
The Soweto Gospel Choir was formed four years ago, made up of the best choral talent from local churches. They have spent the majority of that time travelling around the world performing — representing South Africa’s musical heritage, and acting as ambassador for Mandela’s Aids foundation 46664.
Through its tours in Europe, Australia and the United States, the Soweto Gospel Choir also raised more than $500 000 for its own charitable foundation, Nkosi’s Haven Vukani, which helps Aids orphans who receive little or no government aid to provide the basic necessities of life — food, shelter and school clothing.
The choir were guest artists in “Unite for the Stars” in 2006, where, in addition to performing, they backed-up Diana Ross and Christina Aguielera. That event raised money for Unite Against Hunger and Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Fund.
When congratulating the Soweto Gospel Choir for winning its prestigious Grammy Award, South African President Thabo Mbeki commended the group for its charitable work, an expression of “Ubuntu” (humanity), and said: “Through their unique African Gospel music, the choir continues to bring joy to audiences around the world.”
Hogarth, in turn, explained that he was inspired to use music to uplift people and improve social conditions.
“The spiritual energy in African music is so rich and diverse. There is something very special about its moods and rhythms. I believe this music can inspire the spirit of brotherhood that can unite all people.”
But the choir aren’t about to rest on their laurels.
“The choir will continue to spread the much-needed messages of love, joy and hope to audiences throughout the world — regardless of their colour, language or faith,” Executive Producer Bryer told the South Africa Press Agency.
Despite their relative anonymity in South Africa, the choir’s first two CDs, ‘Voices From Heaven’ and ‘Blessed’ reached #1 on Billboard’s World Music chart in the U.S. And in 2003, they also won “Best Gospel Choir” at the American Gospel Music Awards.
The group is currently touring the United States.