The warm weather last weekend was a blessing. Not only are Edmontonians finally getting a glimpse of spring, but the 26 members of South Africa’s Soweto Gospel Choir will have a better time with the mild temperatures, rather than the bitter winter conditions they’ve experienced since beginning their North American tour on Feb. 1.
“We had a very painful week last week. Snow all over the place,” says Thembisa Khuzwayo, one of the choir’s primary singers, of being in Chicago a couple of weeks ago.
Although the Soweto (pronounced So-way-toe) Gospel Choir has performed in Toronto and Vancouver, this will be the first tour across Canada. The choir comes to the Winspear Centre tonight.
Founded in 2002, singers were gathered from churches across South Africa. But most came from Soweto, an area of townships (South Western Townships) outside Johannesburg created to house black Africans evicted from the city during the early 1900s. The same year the choir was assembled, Soweto was finally incorporated into the city of Johannesburg, and is a centre for culture and nightlife.
“We didn’t know at the time what they were planning on doing with it or how far they were going to take it. But for us artists, it was just another gig,” says Khuzwayo, who is also a dancer.
“After the tour in Australia and New Zealand, we stayed home for four months, then resumed touring in Edinburgh, Scotland. Since then, it’s been busy. Hectic.”
The release of African Spirit, the choir’s third album, coincided with the North American tour kickoff and is the followup to last year’s Grammy Award-winning album Blessed.
“With Blessed, the focus was mainly on paying tribute to the 10 years of democracy in South Africa and paying tribute to the heroes who laid down their lives for everyone to be where we are in South Africa, to achieve our freedom. “So Blessed was more focused on that spirituality, that kind of feeling.
Whereas with African Spirit, it’s drawn from all kinds of music we have come across as a choir and we’ve also incorporated works of artists that we have had a chance of working with.
“There is a rendition of Bono’s One that we performed in Capetown.”
The track is Bono performing with the choir as a part of the 46664 concert series supporting the AIDS awareness campaign spearheaded by Nelson Mandela. He is also a longtime Soweto resident, as is Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The choir combines traditional African music and gospel hymns with popular music.
In 2003, the choir founded Nkosi’s Haven, a charity to give back to the community and specifically, to help the community’s children orphaned or afflicted by AIDS.
Khuzwayo. explains, “What we do is, with the donations we collect on most of our performances, we take it back home and we get for them whatever it is they need – school supplies, uniforms, diapers, fridges, stoves.
“We don’t give cash, but we do it in the form of something that will help them. We’ve had a great chance ourselves. We are doing a job that we love, we’re getting paid for it and we’re getting this wonderful blessing of touring the world to places we never even thought we’d be able to go to. That’s our only opportunity to give back to our communities and lend a hand where it is needed.”