by Noughty Maluleke and JoNews Reporter
City of Johannesburg
December 8, 2008
Winning awards is one of the things the Soweto Gospel Choir does well. The other is helping those in need. There is the singing also, of course.
The Soweto Gospel Choir has been nominated for a third Grammy Award – with two wins already under its belt.
Live at The Nelson Mandela Theatre, the choir’s latest album, was nominated in the Best Contemporary World Music Album (Vocal or Instrumental) on 4 December. And the song, Down to Earth, was nominated for Best Motion Picture Song. The closing number in the recently released Disney movie, Wall-E, it was recorded by British musician Peter Gabriel and the Soweto Gospel Choir.
It is the third consecutive year that the choir has been nominated. It won its second Grammy in the Best Traditional World Music category in February for its album, African Spirit. Its album, Blessed, won the Grammy in the same category in 2007.
Bev Bryer, the choir’s executive producer and director, is delighted. “We are so thrilled – three Grammy nominations, three years in succession! Soweto Gospel Choir is in the US and Europe at the moment, but I’m quite sure they’ll be celebrating for the rest of the tour,” she said in a media release.
“It is such an honour for the choir, and is a testament to their wonderful talent and the incredible, hard work they’ve put into everything they do. We can’t ask for a better end to a very exciting year.”
Other nominations in the album category are works by Shake Away, Lila Downs, Banda Larga Cordel, Gilberto Gil, Global Drum Project, Mickey Hart, Zakir Hussain, Sikiru Adepoju & Giovanni Hidalgo, Rokku Mi Rokka, and Youssou N’Dour.
In the six years since it was formed, the Soweto Gospel Choir has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno; performed for Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey; met former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki; and sold out concert venues throughout the world. It has sung alongside international superstars such as U2, Celine Dion, Peter Gabriel, Queen, Diana Ross, Johnny Clegg, Jimmy Cliff and Bebe Waynans.
As well as being support act to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, it recently recorded a track with Robert Plant in New Orleans for the Fats Domino tribute album.
Locally, it has a number of awards, including the 2007 Metro FM Award for Best Gospel Album (African Spirit); 2007 SAMA Award for Best Live DVD (Blessed); 2008 nominations for Metro FM Award for Best Gospel Album Live and 2008 One Gospel Awards nomination in Best Choir category.
The Grammy Awards winners will be announced on Sunday, 8 February 2009, in Los Angeles, in the United States.
Inspiring songs of overcoming horrifying brutality through great faith and divine deliverance are sung in the tongues of Africa, most notably isiZulu and Kiswahili, the language of Kenya and Tanzania, by the world famous Soweto Gospel Choir.
Formed in 2002, the group’s tale is one of young Christians prevailing against the odds, to unite and heal a nation riven by crime and violence, through the message of the gospel in song. Along the way they have won fans around the world, and put their faith into action by funding an organisation that seeks to serve a nation devastated by the Aids pandemic.
A jubilant conglomeration of voices, the Soweto Gospel Choir has found a surprisingly large – and growing – national and international audience. It mixes earthy rhythms with rich harmonies to uplift the soul and express the energy of South Africa.
Original members came only from Soweto, but today auditions are held with singers from around the country. Bryer explains the formation of the choir: “Many influences really played a major role in helping us to come up with a black gospel outfit in South Africa.
“Friends from Australia, the deacon from South Africa and people from Soweto … asked us to form a gospel group. So in 2002, I and David Mulovhedzi started auditioning different groups from different churches and communities around the township.
“After the audition, we came up with 32 beautiful voices and, of course, that is what we needed – that and self-discipline. Within a week the Soweto Gospel Choir was born,” says Bryer.
“We decided to name it after Soweto because of [the township’s] historic background. By the same token, we thought it was a well-known township that possessed this attractive talent of singers and dancers; hence, we chose its name.”
And it was born a winner. “Since its inception in 2002, the group has brought home much silverware, such as SAMA Awards, American Gospel Music Awards, two Grammy Awards, Metro FM Awards, Best Gospel Group Awards, et cetera,” says Mulovhedzi, the group’s director.
He says touring to different countries has helped him to realise that there are differences in the way people worship.
“South African gospel differs from American gospel in the sense that African people, when they are preaching to God, include African drums and a lot of foot stomping.
“The Americans do dance and use certain body movements as well. But the important thing is that we [all] say thanks to the Lord as we celebrate what he does for us,” he says.
“The talent we showcase is in everything that we do; it’s a musical ministry. We are ministering through music, as we travel around the world singing the beautiful songs that we brought from South Africa. People sing along and enjoy it,” Mulovhedzi says.
“People praise the Lord, and dancing and foot stomping is something that reverberates around the world. This is one way to show the world how we praise our Lord.”
In September, the group released its sixth album, Live at The Nelson Mandela Theatre. Bryer says calls it an informative and heart smoothening gospel album. The first album, Voices from Heaven, was released in 2003.
“Soweto Gospel Choir has a huge fanbase of people who speak different languages, so this album includes all official languages of South Africa. By so doing we are trying to make everyone understand the kind of the music the group sings,” she says.
“I think the Soweto Gospel Choir has played a very important role for many people because most of our local shows are completely integrated and multi-cultural. White people, black people, and a variety of ethnic groups attend our shows.
“It doesn’t matter which area we perform in, there is a mixed audience … it is a completely multiracial audience. You will find that on TV or on the news or wherever the Soweto Gospel Choir performs, an important role in the programme is bringing together both white and black people,” she says.
Part of the choir’s ethos is giving back to the community, which it does by donating money it raises to orphanages and community groups. An important project, Bryer says, is its involvement with Nkosi’s Haven Vukani, an outreach programme that helps home-based organisations in townships.
Vukani assists Sizanani Home-based Care in Orange Farm, Tsogang Sechaba in Protea South, Rosca House in Braamfontein, Living Hope in Germiston and Hillbrow Home of Hope.
“Vukani was made what it is today with the donations that we have received at our shows,” Bryer says. “We are seriously trying to make a better life for [the] orphans. We have to play a part in assisting those children.”