22 March 2007
South China Morning Post
One of the most remarkable world music success stories of recent years is the Soweto Gospel Choir, and they come to Hong Kong in a state of understandable euphoria.
Last month, their album Blessed won a Grammy award. “It’s just fantastic,” says executive producer and show director Beverly Bryer. “The profile in South Africa was raised enormously. We’ve done so many wonderful things, but this was like validating it. It was pretty big before, but it has just opened doors to so much more.”
It’s only four years since the 26-strong ensemble was established, after Bryer received a call from a concert promoter friend asking if she and musical director David Mulovhedzi could form a choir in just three months to tour Australia.
“Within about a week we were auditioning and had our choir, in about a month we were in the studio recording the first CD, and three months later we were on tour in Australia.”
The shows in Australia and New Zealand sold out, and after that, Bryer says, “It snowballed.”
The choir was one of the top-selling acts of the Edinburgh arts festival, and it became clear that forming a second group was necessary to meet international touring commitments.
The choir performs with a four-piece band and percussion section, and sings in six of South Africa’s 11 official languages.
“People want to hear songs they know, and things like Oh Happy Day and Amazing Grace are classics. They give these an African interpretation. There’ll be different harmonies, and they may be blended with African lyrics,” says Bryer. “Blessed, which is the one that’s going to Hong Kong, talks about our 10 years of democracy, which was [celebrated] in 2004. That sets up a platform to showcase songs of that era, some of which are in English.”
The show is very accessible, she says, and includes dance and comedy. “We’ve chosen amazing voices, we’ve chosen young people and they’re energy personified. They don’t stop moving. You can go there feeling depressed and you come out smiling.”