September 12, 2009
They performed at this year’s Oscars ceremony, have won two Grammy awards and Archbishop Desmond Tutu is their patron.
They’ve entertained the likes of Nelson Mandela and Oprah Winfrey, but last night it was the turn of Hanley’s Victoria Hall to receive the Soweto Gospel Choir treatment.
Sadly the venue was considerably less than half full, but all those empty seats missed a treat.
There is a reason why the choir has enjoyed such a meteoric rise since it was formed in 2002 and, quite simply, it is because it is brilliant at what it does.
You don’t have to be a believer or speak any of the six official South African languages the choir sings to be drawn in.
From the moment they filed onto the stage with their rainbow of costumes and djembe drummer accompaniment they had everyone in the audience rapt.
Tiny children at the front of the stalls were clapping and waving glowsticks, women were dancing in the aisles and people in the balcony were whooping and standing up out of their seats.
There was exuberance and a depth of emotion throughout, whether the choristers were singing traditional African spirituals or gospel versions of Bob Marley’s One Love or Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. The Lion Sleeps Tonight, which sounded nothing like the Tight Fit version, was an unexpected addition.
At times it was difficult to know where to look on stage as there was constant movement and displays of athleticism, including an entertaining contest to see who could kick the highest over their heads.
Singer after singer took centre stage to showcase their voice, ensuring that the whole ensemble was the star.
Comedy came from a ‘canteen’ routine, where a tune sounding suspiciously like the Muppets theme was created using only cutlery and drinking glasses.
But, after an encore of Oh Happy Day, the evening ended on a more reflective note with a call for peace and unity across the world and a reminder that choristers would be collecting money in the foyer afterwards for HIV positive mothers and their children in South Africa.