By Amalia Morrissey
January 15, 2010
St. Thomas Source
The sun peeked through the clouds Friday morning as the sweet sounds of the Soweto Gospel Choir emanated from the Reichold Center for the Arts during a performance for music students from various St. Thomas schools.
An estimated 250 students, from Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School, Antilles School, Charlotte Amalie High School, Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic School, Seventh Day Adventist School, Addelita Cancryn Jr. High School, Ivanna Eudora Kean High School and the University of the Virgin Islands, swayed in their seats as they listened to the choir’s powerful harmonizing.
Dressed in brightly colored costumes, the choir danced exuberantly as they sang songs in both English and a variety of African languages including Zulu and Sotho. Choirmaster Shimmy Jiyane, one of the founding members, told students that most members of the choir speak six or seven languages. They all speak English, as it is taught as a first language in school.
The dances they perform are also from various regions and are flawlessly integrated with each song. Jhelise Krigger, a student at Eudora Kean, said after the performance, “I’m going to try to dance like they do.”
The choir was formed in 2002 and has already won two Grammy awards. They have a total of 54 members, but half of the choir performs only at home in Africa. The other half, the touring choir, spends nine months out of the year performing around the world.
According to Jiyane, they have just come from performing in Spain, Holland, France and England and will head home to perform for the World Cup when they leave St. Thomas. After that, they head off to France and Fiji.
Students were anxious to ask questions of the choir, inquiring about their clothing, their music, requirements to join and the source of their inspiration.
A member of the choir said, “Most of us grew up in churches. Music has always been a part of our lives, our soul.”
“We want to show people the beauty that is inside Africa,” another said. “Our country has been through a lot.”
According to Jihayne, members must have a good voice and good character in order to join. Noting that all members dance, Jihayne said, “In Africa, we are rhythmic.”
When asked by a student if there were still places in South Africa that were segregated, a choir member replied, “The black and white side by side that you see in the zebra prints in our costumes hopefully represents the way it is in our country. I hope someday there will be no difference between black, white or yellow.”
One of the schoolteachers asked about the glow of their skin, wanting to know the secret for “personal reasons,” which garnered laughs from choirmembers and the audience.
“We do what we love,” said one choir member, “so it comes from our hearts. The glow comes from inside.”
For their finale, the choir broke into “Oh Happy Day,” and there was not a single student who wasn’t on his or her feet, dancing and clapping in time to the music.
As Eudora Kean choir member Jenee Reynolds described it, “They were so inspiring.”
The Soweto Gospel Choir will perform Friday evening at 8 p.m. at Reichold Center for the Arts. Tickets are sold out for the two-hour show, which will also include instrumental accompaniment.