by Ed Masley – Dec. 21, 2008
The Arizona Republic
Since joining the Soweto Gospel Choir in 2002, Thembisa Khuzwayo has worked with Peter Gabriel and Robert Plant. She has done five dates in Germany for Red Hot Chili Peppers fans while earning the praise and respect of fellow South Africans Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, both Nobel laureates.
But the biggest thrill of all, she says, would “have to be” the Grammy love.
For two years running, her group has won the best traditional world music Grammy, for Blessed in 2007 and African Spirit earlier this year. And now it’s in the running for a third honor.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Khuzwayo says. “We couldn’t believe it, actually. We didn’t think we’d get nominated for this one. But we found ourselves there again. Except this time, what’s exciting is the category has been changed, so it’s no longer traditional world music. It’s contemporary world music.”
Asked which category she’d have put the group in, she laughs and says, “I would’ve thought more traditional.”
Another huge thrill for Khuzwayo, of course, was performing with Gabriel at Cape Town in 2003 as part of Mandela’s 46664 campaign to fight AIDS.
“For us to be part of such a campaign and try to do what we can to raise awareness was an important thing to us,” she says. “But also, along with it came working with Beyoncé, Bono from U2, Anastacia, Annie Lennox. It was incredible.
“Peter Gabriel was so sweet. We rehearsed with him from 8 in the morning, and he was very patient. They were all so professional – came there, did their job and none of the diva tantrums that we hear about. But I would think it’s because of the type of person that brought us all down there. Nelson Mandela does command a certain kind of respect.”
The group will be featuring music from African Spirit on Monday at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix, rounding out the set with some holiday spirit.
“We’ve had to cut down some of the repertoire,” she says, “to replace with Christmas carols. We’re doing the classics, O Come All Ye Faithful, Silent Night.”
Her favorite is The Little Drummer Boy.
“The interesting part,” she says, “is we use a lot of percussion in our performances, so there was a place for it, and the percussionists did what they could to keep a real vibrant rhythm. So it goes very well, except for the lyrics. Whew. They’re too much to remember, but we’ve gotten used to it.”