March 21, 2007
My first encounter with South Africa’s biggest Township, Soweto, happened indirectly four years ago on a painfully long flight from London, England to Toronto after an even more painfully long layover in Heathrow on my way home from South Africa.
My friend, a white ex-South African National Police officer who now calls Toronto his home, told me his version of the disparities and hardships that happened in Soweto. Now the Township has found another indirect way back into my world again, but this time it’s much closer to home.
The continually touring Soweto Gospel Choir has been bringing a part of their homeland into the homes and hearts of people across the globe since Soweto native David Mulozetzi formed the now 26-member group back in 2002.
While the choir’s entire membership does not hail from Soweto, everyone in the all-black ensemble knows what it’s like to experience the struggles of oppression in a country that is plagued with HIV/AIDS, as well as how to deal with the after effects of the former national government’s policy of apartheid.
“Many musicians are starving in South Africa. There aren’t a lot of jobs for musicians,” says one of the choir’s guitarists Joshua Mcineka over the phone from a hotel room in Hanover, New Hampshire. “Things are getting much better for musicians in South Africa since we’re now able to tour, unlike the conditions of our previous government. Now we have greater opportunity.”
The global exposure the choir has managed to achieve over the years has certainly paid off. Fresh off of a Grammy win in the Best Traditional World Music category for their album Blessed, the traditional African vibes of their music and its message is helping to bring the situations within the Rainbow Nation—post-apartheid South Africa, that is—to the attention of the Western world.
But in order to help alleviate the oppression felt in the country, the choir is forced to go abroad in order to raise money for charities relating to causes like HIV/AIDS.
“We’ve only performed two or three shows in South Africa,” says Mcineka. “[South Africans] don’t really see the choir, even though they know it exists.”