By Gillian McAinsh
September 12, 2007
Former Port Elizabeth singers Sipokazi Luzipo and Thando Jiyane will be in their old home city this weekend as part of the Grammy-award winning Soweto Gospel Choir performances.
The choir, formed five years ago to spread the joy of this form of music, will be performing at the Opera House on Saturday, September 15.
Although articulate former Summerwood Primary School pupil Sipokazi – an alto – gives most of the interviews for the choir, soprano Thando Jiyane, also grew up in Ibhayi.
“I met her at the auditions for the choir, and the producers were crazy about her voice,” said Sipokazi.
Old friends will remember her as Thando Ngqunge, but after joining the choir she fell in love with choreographer Shimmy Jiyane, whom she married two years ago.
The choir hit national headlines when they won the Best Traditional World Music Album at the 49th annual Grammy awards in February this year for its CD Blessed.
Most of the choristers grew up singing in church, as did Sipokazi and Thando. Sipokazi‘s mother, Nomtu Luzipo, said her four daughters all inherited a musical gene from their maternal grandmother.
“Sipokazi started in pre-school, when I remember her singing Lord Forgive Me in isiXhosa. She was only four and my mother said that she must sing that song at her funeral,” said Nomtu.
Sadly, her grandmother died four years later but little Sipokazi, at only eight, did indeed stand up and sing the moving gospel song at her memorial service.
At Summerstrand Primary School she shone in eisteddfods before the family moved to Johannesburg where she went on to win still more vocal awards, and a slot in Popstars.
Now the 23-year-old tours the world as part of the 26-strong choir which has just returned from the Edinburgh Tattoo in Scotland. Next month it travels to Singapore and then it goes on tour to Holland in November and December.
“We‘ve been to places that we never imagined,” said Sipokazi. “Performing in the Carnegie Hall in New York, was beyond this world and performing in the Sydney Opera House was breathtaking.”
From an early age Sipokazi knew she wanted to sing as beautifully as her mother, Nomtu, who sadly has lost her singing voice.
“Every time I get on stage it reminds me of how her voice used to be. She cries when I sing,” said Sipokazi. Nomtu said she still loved music and had hopes for her fourth daughter, Zintle, to make a career in this arena.
“She would love to be a singer!” she said of the 15-year-old “baby” in the family, who is in Grade 9 at Alexander Road High School.
Although her roots are in Port Elizabeth, to which her family has returned, Sipokazi sees herself as a Sowetan now.
“Soweto is its own town somehow, and that‘s where you go if you want to have a good time. It‘s young, it‘s vibey, it‘s funky, that‘s where history took place, and you know just entering Soweto you become inspired.”
However, visits to the family are important and she is thrilled her family from KwaMagxaki will be in the audience on Saturday.
Under the direction of David Mulovhedzi and Beverly Bryer, the choir sings gospel tunes interspersed with secular numbers.
“I‘m a born-again Christian and it‘s easy for me to identify with the songs. When I sing, they come from the heart,” said Sipokazi.
“But we reach all cultures and faiths and use a diversity of languages. You don‘t have to be a believer to be moved. If you come, either you leave in tears or with a smile on your face.
“It‘s a show that people in Port Elizabeth should definitely not miss if they are lovers of music,” she said of the colourful spectacle which includes dance and is accompanied by a four-piece band.
“Because we‘re such a young group, we‘ve got energy just oozing from our bodies, and we can never sing a song and just stand. The rhythm is in our bodies. The minute the drum goes, our bodies go with it. That‘s just who we are as young South Africans.”
The Soweto Gospel Choir will perform at 3pm and 8pm on Saturday, September 15, at the Opera House. Book at Computicket.