Review by Ruth O’Kelly-Lynch
The Royal Gazette
January 23, 2010
The Soweto Gospel Choir was one of the hottest selling tickets at this year’s Bermuda Festival of Preforming Arts.
Having seen the choir when it first came to the Island four years ago, I awaited this concert with excitement. However, Wednesday night I was somewhat disappointed as it seems the choir has become more Americanised as it has grown in fame.
Gone were many of the traditional songs which gave me goosebumps at the last concert. They were replaced with more upbeat numbers and some modern classics such as “This Little Light of Mine”.
But perhaps my disappointment is grounded in the fact that I grew up listening to the “Power of One” soundtrack. It was played often in my house, with my father particularly enjoying the unique harmonies of the the Masibemunye Bulawayo Choir. So what I like, and what I was expecting, were songs from the apartheid era that dealt with struggle, filled with emotion.
The first half brought many uplifting, fast-paced numbers songs such as Paul Simon’s ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ and Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’. It wasn’t until after intermission that I truly got what I had been looking for, ‘Asimbonanga/Biko’. Translated, the first part of the song means ‘We haven’t seen him’. The song called for the release of Nelson Mandela and also referenced anti-apartheid activists killed such as Stephen Biko. The song also incorporated parts of Peter Gabriel’s eponymous song about Biko’s life and death as a result of police brutality.
Other favourites were “Muphulusi, Swing Down” and ‘Emarabini/Nkomo Ka Baba”. These songs were filled with emotion and harmonies unlike many in the Western world.
Sadly, though, instead of ending with South Africa’s national anthem, the choir finished with the well known gospel, ‘Oh Happy Day’.
It appeared that as the choir has grown and reached even greater heights of success, appearing all over the world and receiving numerous accolades, they have become more of a “show choir”.
At times it felt as if they were trying bridge the gaps between our two communities by singing English songs, instead of focusing solely on transporting us to their culture.
Having said that, the night was enjoyable, the crowd was enthusiastic and the dancing was exciting. Not only that but my guest loved the show. It was the first time she had heard the Soweto Gospel Choir and she said she would go see them again.
The Soweto Gospel Choir continue to put on a good show, but if you were expecting the same experience as you had four years ago you may have been disappointed.