Choir’s simple harmonies inspire
By Randi Eichenbaum
Although the Soweto Gospel Choir performs in six of 11 official South African dialects – tongues that are unfamiliar to most – its messages of community and faith are understandable to all.
The recent Grammy Award-winning ensemble that has performed for such bigwigs as former President Clinton will share its inspirational messages with Tucsonans during a concert Tuesday at Centennial Hall.
Clinton’s response to Soweto’s performance in Little Rock, Ark., in 2005 was the best the group could hope for, says Sippokazi Luzipo, both the narrator of the show and one of the choir’s main vocalists.
“There were smiles all over his face,” says Luzipo from her hotel room in Eugene, Ore., during a stop on the choir’s tour. “It was an honor, and it was very humbling.”
Luzipo herself has been humbled since being in the choir from its beginnings in 2002. In contrast to her fellow choir members – many with extensive musical backgrounds – the 23-year-old had limited experience.
“It’s been the biggest explosion for me,” says Luzipo, whose only formal training was in high school and church.
Now, the Johannesburg, South Africa, native travels around the world nine months of the year.
“You could never compare an American audience to a German audience. A German audience is much more reserved than an American audience,” Luzipo says. “An American audience will cheer and scream, but the outcome is always the same. People are either up on their feet or crying.”
The sound of Soweto, however, is different than what Americans know as gospel music, using much simpler harmonies, divided into four parts. However, not all of what Soweto performs is foreign to American ears. Songs such as “Amazing Grace” and “Oh, Happy Day” are thrown into the mix.
“You won’t feel left out,” Luzipo says.
The 26-member choir has backed up familiar names such as Diana Ross and Christina Aguilera, and its latest CD, “African Spirit,” features a collaboration with U2 frontman Bono.
Its participation with such celebrities has given the choir worldwide exposure and helped audiences become more familiar with the music. But what some fans might be unaware of are the triumphs and successes that the choir’s homeland is experiencing.
“After all we’ve been through as a nation,” Luzipo says, “we now look to the future with optimism and hope.”
And, as the narrator of the show, she is able to enlighten audiences about her country.
“It’s not ‘It’s not over until the fat lady sings,’ ” she says. ” ‘It’s not over until the fat lady speaks.’ “