Soweto Gospel Choir
Tuesday, February 20, 2007; Page C05
Fresh from winning a Grammy last week for their album “Blessed,” the Soweto Gospel Choir put on a show at George Mason University on Sunday that would make a believer out of anyone. Hailing from the township that was at the heart of South Africa’s long struggle against apartheid, this choir has the spirit of gospel deep in its blood — and it shows.
Singing to celebrate South Africa’s first decade of democracy, the group gave a performance almost as physical as it was musical. Dressed in a sunburst of colors, they danced, clapped, drummed and even whistled through a fast-paced program, building song after song to heart-stopping pitches of intensity. And even if you didn’t speak the Zulu and Sotho of most of the music, the message was clear: These were songs of profound faith, of hope persisting through the darkest night.
Under the energetic direction of choirmaster Lucas Bok, the group sang to the rafters, with most of the 25 singers taking turns soloing and dancing.
There weren’t any star turns — this is an ensemble in every way — although some of the rubber-limbed dancers did threaten to steal the show. But the focus stayed firmly on the music, particularly during the mesmerizing call-and-response of “Asimbonanga,” the Zulu rap rhythms of “Ahuna Ya Tswanang Le Jesu,” and the shifting syncopations of “Avulekile Amasango.”
There were a few moments that marred the general glory; the pop throwaway “Weeping,” with its cheesy electric piano accompaniment, was an embarrassment, as was the goopy, let’s-all-hold-hands anthem “World in Union.”
But those lapses were forgotten in the final moments of the concert,
when the choir unleashed a full-throttle rendition of “Oh Happy Day” so soaring and ecstatic it nearly brought down the house.
— Stephen Brookes