By Jenny Lee
The Irish News
The Soweto Gospel Choir will be celebrating their second successive Grammy award when they make their first visit to Ireland next month.
Since their UK debut at the Edinburgh Festival in 2003, the energetic choir have won critical acclaim and performed to full houses around the world, sung alongside Bono, Diana Ross, Peter Gabriel and Jimmy Cliff and been heralded as the most exciting group to emerge in world music in recent years.
This is reflected in them receiving the Best Traditional World Music Album Award at the Grammy’s for their current album, African Spirit. Last year, they won in the same category in 2006 for their second album Blessed.
“We are absolutely thrilled at having won a second Grammy and for a choir that has only been together five years, we are so proud of this achievement. It was always a dream of ours to win a Grammy, but to win two in a row, has gone beyond all our wildest dreams and has shown that South African musical talent is up there amongst the best,’’ said a delighted Beverly Bryer, director of Soweto Gospel Choir.
South African gospel music has developed from traditional African forms centuries ago, through the western hymn structure of the early missionaries, and then the many evolving gospel and music styles both in Southern Africa, and internationally, throughout the 20th century.
The Soweto Choir’s album and tour of the same name, is a warm and exotic collection of moving traditional South African spiritual music, South African pop, American gospel and popular inspirational songs from around the world, demonstrating their versatility.
In the show, the choir, for the first time, not only perform a capella but are also accompanied by a four piece band and feature costumes and dance routines not previously seen.
Audiences can expect to hear songs that deal with the many different aspects of the human spirit, whether the religious spirit (Hosanna, Amazing Grace), the spirit of love for another (Bob Dylan’s I’ll Remember You) or the spirit of living in harmony together (World in Union).
“Soweto Gospel Choir indeed embodies the words African Spirit. Not only does the term describe the choir’s passionate spiritual conviction, but it also portrays their unique African energy and vibrancy,’’ says Robin Hogarth, Record Producer on the African Spirit album.
“The choir sings songs which could be heard in any South African township or country church – a wide range of African gospel and international gospel classics, or songs from different sources which carry an uplifting message of unity, spiritual awareness and love,’’ adds Robin.
Amongst the cast of 26 singers, dancers and drummers, bringing the beauty and passion of Africa to Belfast is Jeho Fata.
A soprano and dancer, Jeho is one of the founding members of the Soweto Gospel Choir.
Born in a small town called Alice, in the Eastern Cape, Jeho was determined to study speech, drama and voice in the city of Johannesburg. Her talent was quickly spotted and her first show Street Sisters won an award at the Grahamstown Festival and toured Europe. However gospel music has always been her first love. “There have been many highlights with the choir, we have performed with Mandela back home, we have been onstage with Bono and Queen amongst others,’’ says Jeho.
So what makes the Soweto Gospel choir different to the likes of the Harlem Gospel Choir? “We sing in seven different languages, including African and English and we perform songs which we try to rearrange in a way in which everyone can understand the songs.’’