October 17, 2008
Traverse City Record-Eagle
INTERLOCHEN — The soul-lifting, smile-coaxing sounds of the Soweto Gospel Choir will spread from South Africa to Interlochen on Sunday.
More than 25 members of the choir will perform at the 7:30 p.m. concert at Interlochen Center for the Arts’ Corson Auditorium. The choir formed in 2002, and most of its members are from Soweto, located outside Johannesburg, South Africa.
The vocal group soon found success, winning two Grammy awards and performing with musical stars including Bono. The choir recently released an album titled “Live at the Nelson Mandela Theatre” and worked on the soundtrack to the animated movie “Wall-E” with Peter Gabriel.
Choreographer and assistant music director Shimmy Jiyane was thrilled to perform with some of the music giants “we grew up listening to.”
“I get goose bumps. We’ve worked with legends,” he said.
Jiyane is a dancer and said singing is new to him. He’s been with the choir since its start.
“I went through auditions, and I was waiting in the line like everyone else, and I got to get in and do my thing, and they loved me,” he said.
South Africa has 11 official languages, and the choir sings in six of them, including Zulu, Sotho and English. The languages reflect the choir’s homeland as does its repertoire of African gospel music, said Acme resident and ethnomusicologist Patricia Matusky.
The style originated in the early 1800s from a blend of traditional African songs and percussion mixed with Christian hymns, she said. It features call and response singing, in which the leader sings and the choir answers, Matusky said. Drums accompany some of the pieces.
Matusky has taught in Malaysia and Singapore and currently teaches at the Traverse City campus of Grand Valley State University. She heard the Soweto choir perform in Ann Arbor a couple of years ago and plans to attend the Interlochen concert.
“It was just really spectacular, very exciting,” Matusky said. “When you see them on stage, they are just very vibrant.”
She was struck by the colorful costumes, the “exuberant” singing and the influence of South Africa’s colonial history.
The group’s new live recording includes well-known songs such as “This Little Light of Mine” and “Amazing Grace.” When the choir performs in concert, dance movements and narration help explain lyrics sung in other languages, Jiyane said.
The choir loves performing in the United States, especially the audience’s respect for the work that occurs on stage, he said.
“What we like most is that people appreciate us,” Jiyane said.