By Edith Billups
February 22, 2007
When he’s not traveling the world to raise money for an orphanage for children with AIDS in Soweto, 31-year-old Lungisani Mhlongo, a member of the Soweto Gospel Choir, volunteers at a shelter in South Africa that helps children who have been abused.
“From our choir’s tour, we help Nkosi’s Haven AIDS orphanages, establishments which receive no private or government funding,” said Mhlongo, a tenor.
The charismatic South African resident said that helping children with AIDS is particularly close to his heart because he had a 35-year old cousin who died of AIDS, leaving two small children, ages nine and one.
“It was devastating when my cousin died. My family adopted his two children,” Mhlongo said. Now he travels with the choir about nine months a year. Last week he performed with the choir at George Mason University’s Center of the Arts, as part of a three-month USA tour.
During a two hour concert, highlighted by a cappella singing and breathtaking boot dancing, the choir performed traditional hymns, Western pop, and South African harmonies that brought a sold-out audience continuously to its feet.
Dressed in brightly colored traditional robes and headdresses, the choir’s repertoire ranged from the haunting “Asimbonanga/Biko,” sung in Zulu in honor of activist Stephen Biko, to the traditional American gospel “Amazing Grace,” sung by four leads, whose clear and powerful voices seemed to ring off the walls of the Arts Center.
In between, the audience got a lesson in how the choir warms up by watching the choir sing in English, Italian and Zulu. The audience was thrilled by singer Rebecca Nyamane and Jabulile Dladla’s infectious rendering of Bobb Marley’s “One Love.”
During a traditional dance segment, percussionists Sipho Ngcamu and Original Msimango provided explosive drumming as four dancers performed eye-popping high leg kicks in traditional dress, during which one female danced kicked so high that a cowrie-shelled anklet broke off and went flying through the air.
During the performance, the 26 members of the choir took turns explaining the meaning of each song, noting that South African recently celebrated 10 years of freedom from Apartheid. The songs reflected their pain from the past, but, also their joy and optimism for the future.