Interview from The South African
September 7, 2009
Earthy rhythms, rich a cappella harmonies and high-energy performances have endeared the two-time Grammy-Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir to audiences of all walks around the world.
As one critic pointed out, you don’t have to be a believer to be inspired by the music of this vibrant group. The South African caught up with choir member Sipokazi Luzipo as the singers embarked on a month-long tour of the UK last week
What do you think makes African gospel music so magnetic to audiences across the world?
It must be the experiences we’ve gone through as African people that make us feel that the only place we can run to is God. So when singing, the music comes from the deepest part of our hearts, embraced by the feeling of safety in God and a deep appreciation for his sincere love.
How has the choir been inspired by the history of gospel music in South Africa?
Church is the place where South Africans ran to in the apartheid era, so that is where gospel was created for us. It was the only voice we had as African people, and we felt God was our only source of survival, so the very appreciation we had then as Africans is the same appreciation we have as a group of performers and we are thankful for the opportunity we have to share our music.
It’s almost seven years since the choir began. What has been the highlight your many experiences so far? Have there been any low points?
It has to be the achievements we’ve had, travelling the world and having thousands of fans. Our Grammys, our associations with Peter Gabriel, the Queen, Nelson Mandela and other icons are highlights, too. Being the first South African group to perform at the Oscars was certainly a highlight.
I think that the low point for many members of the choir would be travelling for long periods and missing our loved ones.
Everything else is more than what we ever dreamed it would be.
You have over 50 members in the choir. How do you manage such a large group?
We are divided into two groups so we share the load. We’ve been together for such a long time that we now feel and behave like a family. We know each other extremely well.
You are becoming well known in the UK. How have the first few performances of the UK tour been received?
The reception has been wonderful, although different countries express themselves in different ways. At the end of each concert they are either singing, dancing, or crying! They seem to love us.
You have your own charity, which you’ve been funding. What’s the inspiration behind Nkosi’s Haven Vukani?
We’re so blessed that we felt a need to share that blessing with the little Aids orphans in our country who have nothing. We buy them groceries, clothes, blankets, appliances and so on. We can help when they can’t help themselves. It is wonderful that our fame can benefit the Aids orphans’ organisations in our country, which receive little or no government funding.
How can readers donate to this foundation?
We collect donations after each of our concerts, and also people who can’t attend our shows and want to donate can visit www.sowetogospelchoir.com, where they will find all the information and links for the charity.
What does the future hold for your group?
What can your fans in the UK and around the world look forward to in the months and years ahead?
We’ve just released our new album Grace, which is fantastic, and hopefully another Grammy nomination will come with it. We finished at the Edinburgh Festival at the end of August, and tour the UK from September 3 to October 10. Then there is more touring of the world, so we’ll be changing and inspiring people’s lives through our music. Our fans means so much to us and we hope they enjoy the journey with us.