April 3 2007
By BILL WHITE
In 2004, South Africa celebrated 10 years of democracy. “Blessed,” the second production of the Soweto Gospel Choir, keeps that celebration alive.
Its 25 members, including five sopranos, five altos, seven tenors and eight basses, 14 of whom doubled as dancers and musicians, lit up the Paramount Theatre stage Sunday with a program of music and dance that was both uplifting and educational.
Led by musical director/choir leader Lucas Deon Bok, who also sang tenor and played bass guitar, the choir sang in Zulu, Sotho and English. Whether it was a song of remembrance for their traditions, praise for the present, or hope for the future, language was never a barrier. The spirit was expressed thunderously through movement and voice.
Drawing from diverse cultures and faiths, the program ranged from the traditional “Thapelo,” on which seven male singers opened up the possibilities of harmony within the bass and tenor ranges, to “Weeping,” a song from the apartheid era so beautifully sung by Shimmy Jiyane that the painful lyric was transformed into one of love and transcendence.
A surprise on the program was Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Remember You.” Although the song was not one written during Dylan’s born-again period, it was given an arrangement that paid tribute to the gospel music of North America.
The clothing was as varied as the song selection, with various colors and designs combining to create a grand rainbow scheme. The dancers were riveting as they moved from traditional movements to modes of personal expression that bore some resemblance to the “krumping” styles practiced among today’s African Americans.
Narrators did an excellent job of keeping the audience engaged by explaining just enough so they wouldn’t get lost, without turning the show into an illustrated lecture of South African praise music. The crowd was held in sway, not only through an intellectual appreciation of the program, but by the sheen and spectacle of a masterful performance