Marin Independent Journal
By: Jane Lott
One of the benefits of globalization is the spread of musical traditions audiences wouldn’t otherwise hear – African gospel, for example. On April 6, Bay Area residents can participate in this tradition as the award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir of South Africa visits Marin Center for an 8 p.m. show.
In the four-plus years since its founding, the Soweto Gospel Choir has collected worldwide accolades for outstanding performances and recordings.
This year, the group sang its way to a 2007 Grammy for best traditional world music album for its second CD, called “Blessed.”
The 26-member chorus, originated by an Australian producer to celebrate the unique, inspirational and powerful tradition of African gospel music, has performed with Diana Ross and Christina Aguilera, sung for former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former South African President Nelson Mandela and other international dignitaries (Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is the
choir’s patron) and given concerts in countries throughout the world. Marin, however, will be the group’s sole Bay Area performance this year.
The tour is all about the good news of God, says choirmaster David Mulovhedzi.
But more than that, it’s about spreading the good music, a rich mixture of Western and African. Monifa Brown of Shanachie Entertainment, which launched the chorus in the U.S., explains that “When Africans came into contact with European missionaries and churches, they quickly absorbed their religious music and blended it with local traditional music to come up with unique styles and repertoires of spiritual songs.”
Thus, although it is a gospel group, the Soweto chorus also sings tribal and traditional African songs as well as contemporary music. For example, the choir’s debut album, “Voices From Heaven,” which hit No. 1 on the Billboard World Music charts, included Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” and its recently released third album, “African Spirit,” includes a version of U2’s “One,” featuring Bono.
But music is not the only attraction offered by this group. The exotic costumes, the choreography, percussion accompaniment and the singers’ exuberance have brought them rave reviews.
As expected from a musical tradition founded on drumming, rhythm plays a lead role in the gospel choir’s music, and – reflecting the multicultural background of the country from which they come – so does language. According to assistant choirmaster Lucas Bok, the group takes pride in singing in eight languages, including English, Zulu and Afrikaans.
Bok also calls the group “ambassadors for South Africa.” As such, the group members have been lauded by South African President Thabo Mbeki for demonstrating the richness of the country’s culture and “Africa’s contribution to humanity.”
In addition to its cultural mandate, the Soweto Gospel Choir has a social mission: to contribute to AIDS awareness. The current tour, while promoting the new album, also serves the choir’s AIDS crusade to assist children and their mothers through its charity Nkosi’s Haven Vukani, as well as Ngosi’s Haven, operated by the Nkosi Johnson AIDS Foundation. Donations are solicited by taking up a collection at the end of each performance.
But behind it all is the music.
As director David Mulovhedzi says, “South African traditional music, being so unique, is one of the best forms of entertainment that the world has seen and enjoyed.”