Sitting still is simply not an option at a Soweto Gospel Choir performance, even for the non-religious.
The 26-member South African group is a ball of pure energy on stage, singing, dancing, whistling and stomping through its numbers, with bright costumes and primal drum beats adding to the experience.
Normally staid Festival Theatre audiences at last year’s sell-out performances ended up on their feet, dancing and clapping along.
Now it’s time to do it all again as the Johannesburg-based choir brings its new show, African Spirit, to Adelaide next week.
The choir has become a worldwide phenomenon, travelling from Fiji to Sweden and everywhere in between to rave reviews.
Soprano and dancer Jeho Fata has been with the choir since its inception six years ago.
“I think we’ve covered the whole world now,” she said. “We had the best reception in Fiji. The people were so warm, they were crying, dancing. We were so popular, we felt like Michael Jackson!”
While last year’s program was mostly hymns and traditional African songs, the new show is made up of mainly contemporary material in English given a distinctly African feel.
Fata said being part of the choir had changed all of the performers’ lives.
“This means so much to us,” she explained. We are praising God. We just have a different way of praising God, in music and dance, so it’s like a celebration to us.”
And even though audiences often don’t understand the words of the songs, they can’t help but be caught up by the choir’s infectious joy.
The group spends nine months of the year on the road and will be at home in South Africa for just a week after the Australian tour before setting off for Italy.
“We have so little time to spend with our families,” Fata said. “I have an 11-year-old daughter, so I have to make sure I spoil her every time we go home.”
Another downside is the unfamiliar food, with millie pap, a type of maize porridge, high on their touring wish lists.
“Whenever we meet South Africans on tour, we make sure they cook us our African food,” Fata laughed. “We don’t want any pasta, we hate McDonald’s and KFC. We only want our millie pap!”
The Soweto Gospel Choir is performing at the Festival Theatre on June 21 and 22.