December 12, 2008
New Jersey Monthly
Under the direction of David Mulovhedzi and Beverly Bryer, the Soweto Gospel Choir sang with all their soul this past Saturday night at NJPAC in Newark.
Most likely he valeted for the restaurant, perhaps he did not; nevertheless, he guided our car into a space reserved for Casa Vasca Restaurant and received a modest tip in return. After an authentic, simple, and absolutely exquisite Basque country meal, my mother and I headed over to NJPAC in order to get settled for the Soweto Gospel Choir performance. Seeing as how we get the opportunity to attend a show perhaps once a year, we try to make it count, and Soweto delivered enough to make it count for years to come.
Lights in the theatre dimmed to a soft, grey, dust of dark as more than a dozen individuals clothed in vibrant South African garb filed across the stage. The first notes caused a smile to spread across my insides, and like burgundy wine on a white carpet the feeling only seeped throughout the rest of my consciousness with each song. In the strength of their voices, in their unique sound and guttural expression of deep history, I felt the social construct of race and color dissipate until the audience was one.
Whether we acknowledge and embrace its presence or not, it is in us all, the rhythmic beat of palms on the stretched skin of an animal, the ancient calls and mixture of South African languages, the song and the dance; it is within us all. Traditional songs from Soweto led into variations of “This Little Light of Mine,” “Go Tell it on a Mountain,” and “Amazing Grace.” Because of the truth and strength found within their natural movements and deep, solid voices, a salt of emotion slid from the corner of my eye, streaking my cheek for the time being and a standing ovation ensued.
An unexpected encore followed the fading flutter of hands clapping, as the choir broke into a series of Christmas selections, including “Silent Night,” “Little Drummer Boy,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The last notes of the night saw a sea of human beings, out of their seats and dancing, keeping beat and singing; each person feeling and living in their own reality, while the audience as a whole shared the reality of a truth presented them by the Soweto Gospel Choir. Glancing over to my mother, beaming in the moment, I acknowledged in her the gifts she had passed into me at birth, those of a free spirit and an appreciation for life.
Walking out into the soft silence of snow falling, now an audience of common ground, we became strangers once again, creating divergent paths in a thin layer of white. Each individual car ride home, each family’s walk around the block and every couple’s train stop brought us further apart. Perhaps, though, strands of the night’s performance would hold steadfast, tied with string to the thick of our hearts, and preserve the common bond between us all.