The Soweto Gospel Choir has been described as a cornucopia of voices. It has been hailed for its high-energy performance that rejoices in both dance and song, igniting the stage with colorful costumes and the beat of African drumming.
The winner of two Grammy Awards, this group is touring the United States, and will stop Tuesday at The Garde Arts Center.
“The Soweto Gospel Choir makes our world seem beautifully small. The 26-member group performs in six languages, blending traditional hymns, Western pop and their native South African harmonies into a singularly, joyful sound,” wrote Oprah Magazine.
American audiences may have caught the choir on some of their TV appearances, which include “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
What Americans love about them, said dancer and singer Jeho Fata, is their vibrancy.
“It’s the color, the dancing, and the drums. Even though they don’t understand the language,” she said.
In fact, some audience members love their costumes so much they covet them, asking the performers if they can have a headpiece, or a bracelet, Fata laughed.
Of course, the group can’t leave bits of costumes behind, but Fata thoughtfully added, “if we could, we would.”
It seems for now, the memories of their music are enough to sustain the fans that come out to see the choir, often dancing and clapping in the aisles along with them at the end of the show.
While some view the choir as genre-bending, Fata said their main focus is the traditional hymns that are a legacy of the South African churches.
“South Africa has long been noted for powerful singers and a capella vocal traditions of great beauty. In addition, dancing is an integral part of African church worship and so the dancing seen onstage is an authentic representation of African religious experience and not, as some would assume, a ‘show biz’ device,” the choir states.
Fata is one the dancers in the choir (the dancers and musicians sing). She said the dance is demanding, requiring high kicks that arouse the curiosity of the viewers, who often ask how they train, or stay in shape.
The Soweto Gospel Choir has just released a new CD, Grace. Their album, Blessed, led to their first Grammy. Their first recording, Voices From Heaven, was released in 2004, two years after they formed.
Among the styles they sing, Fata said, are songs from both the Zulu tribe and the Xhosa tribes — two nations that were at war until the release of Nelson Mandela brought peace to the two factions.
“Now we are singing all those songs so it’s like we are bringing them together — we are trying to show we stopped fighting years ago,” Fata said.
The choir has a strong sense of history, not only about their tribes, but they also raise their voices in tribute to those who fought to end apartheid in what Fata calls a very moving song.
They also have a strong philanthropic bend, recently raising money for victims of the Haiti earthquake. And while they are often aiding charities where they are needed — be it Katrina by recording an album with Fats Domino, or helping Haiti — they have dedicated significant resources to Nikosi’s Haven Vukani, an organization they founded which assists the victims of AIDS and their families in South Africa.