By Mick Conmy
February 13, 2008
The troupe from Johannesburg come to Oxford’s New Theatre and our man Mick Conmy checks them out.
Every time I feel the spirit move within my heart, I go to the New Theatre. And then hope and pray to have as good a night as those who witnessed The Soweto Gospel Choir at the weekend (9th Feb). It was an exuberant riot of song, dance and colour which truly uplifted the soul and left the audience with smiles on their faces and perhaps ever so slightly nearer heaven. The spectacle on stage overwhelmed your senses, and left the audience feeling almost giddy.
Johannesburg has the Soweto Gospel Choir, we here in Oxford have the Blackbird Leys Choir, some members of whom were spotted in the audience, sizing up the competition. What they saw were 22 talented and energetic singers, dancers, and percussionists who demonstrated the power of the human voice, when massed together can stir every fibre within you. Ivor would have been impressed. Even the evangelical songs sung in tribal language cut across tastes and cultures and seemed to reach something primordial in us all. After all, we are all Africans originally.
The material was not all religious, and they ventured off scripture with Bob Marley’s “One Love”, a rap style hymn and a Bob Dylan number. But matters spiritual were the mainstay, though it was more R ’n’ B than C of E. The highlight of the evening was a ten minute a capella recital of “Amazing Grace”, which was sung so beautifully we were all awash with goose pimples. Shame they didn’t stretch to that rousing South Africa national anthem, or “Free Nelson Mandela”.
The pace was relentless, harmonies blended perfectly and rhythms throbbed in triumph. I bet the pews of Oxford’s churches were filled the following morning as we were all brim full of amazing grace after this wonderful experience.