by Millicent Kgowedi
12 February 2008
City of Johannesburg
There is another award on the trophy shelf for the Soweto Gospel Choir, which has received its second Grammy for the album, African Spirit.
A proud Soweto Gospel Choir has received its second Grammy Award in Los Angeles, winning the Best Traditional World Music category for the album, African Spirit.
An ecstatic Lucas Bok, the album’s musical director, and Shimmy Jiyane, the choir’s choreographer, tenor and dancer, were at the ceremony in the American city on Sunday, 10 February to receive the award.
The choir’s previous album, Blessed, won the Grammy in the same category in 2007.
Debra de Souza, the choir’s publicist, said that people here at home were very excited about the group’s achievements. “The public has been very supportive and people have been calling major radio stations asking where they can post their messages to applaud the choir for its achievement. It just shows that people are supportive of the country’s talents.”
The choir members were “overwhelmed with excitement”. They were unable to attend the ceremony because they were busy with their world tour performances in the United Kingdom. “We only had two representatives going to collect the award,” De Souza said.
Beverly Bryer, the executive producer and a director of the choir, and David Mulovhedzi, the founding musical director and co-founder of the group, issued a statement, saying: “Soweto Gospel Choir is absolutely thrilled to have won a Grammy for the second time. It was so special to win last year, but twice in a row is more than we ever could have hoped for.
“We are particularly excited as it shows that the level of our music has stayed consistently high, and this has been recognised by our peers. We hope we can continue to make South Africa proud.”
Drawn from various churches and communities living in South Africa’s most famous township, the group mixes earthy rhythms with rich harmonies to uplift the soul and express the energy of South Africa to other parts of the globe.
The 34 members range in age from 16 to 40 and hail from churches and communities in and around Soweto. They are all lead singers in their own community choirs. It includes a four-piece band and drummers and dancers in the African tradition, where song, dance and drumming are an integral part of life and faith.
This year’s Grammy comes hot on the heels of several other awards: a Grammy in 2007 for Blessed; a South African Music Award (Sama) award for Best Live DVD for Blessed; a nomination for the International Reggae and World Music Awards held in Harlem in May; and a Metro FM Award for Best Gospel Album for the highly anticipated third album, African Spirit.
Soweto Gospel Choir’s Grammy wins follow that of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which won the 2005 award for Best Traditional World Music Album.
In just five years in the business, the group has built a growing international fan-base. It has appeared on The Tonight Show, performed for Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey, and has sold out concerts around the world. It has also sung alongside music superstars such as U2’s Bono, Peter Gabriel, Diana Ross, Johnny Clegg, Jimmy Cliff and Bebe Waynans.
The choir is on tour in the United Kingdom, where it will perform in 26 towns and cities this month and in March. Its new show, African Spirit, opened at London’s Royal Festival Hall on 1 February. It will perform in Ireland and Northern Ireland in mid-March as part of the show’s world tour.