October 24, 2008
Together, the 26 voices of the Soweto Gospel Choir can move mountains.
Musically, the choir is a Grammy-winning force, scoring two of the awards in the successive years of 2007 and 2008, in the Best Traditional World Music category.
No other South African group has accomplished that feat.
“We are blessed,” the choir’s musical director, Vusimuzi Shabalala, told the Now in a phone interview this week.
Reached at a hotel room in Illinois, he’s four weeks into a North American tour that includes a stop at Surrey’s Chandos Pattison Auditorium on Saturday, November 1.
Due to popular demand, there are two touring versions of Soweto Gospel Choir. “The other one is in Europe,” said Shabalala.
The choir sings its spirited, joyful music in six languages, mostly in Zulu and English. This makes for intriguing set lists, with “Amazing Grace” and Bob Marley’s “One Love” next to “Ke Na Le Modisa” and “Woza Meli Wami,” all of which are performed on the new Live at the Nelson Mandela Theatre CD/DVD.
The choir shares the acronym of the place officially known as the South Western Townships, a sprawl of Black suburbs outside Johannesburg.
As its name suggests, the ensemble was created, in 2002, to “celebrate the unique and inspirational power” of African gospel music. On tour, the choir is backed by a four-piece band that includes Shabalala on piano.
They’ve toured the globe and earned accolades wherever they go, language barriers be damned. “Some people will sing with us,” noted Shabalala, “and it’s amazing to see people jumping around and feeling what you sing, but not understanding what you’re singing. Music really is a universal language.”