By Cindy O. Herman
For The Daily Item
January 28, 2010
LEWISBURG — You get enough negativity throughout the day that it will be a refreshing escape to attend the Soweto Gospel Choir at Bucknell University’s Weis Center tomorrow night.
With energy, enthusiasm, and a surprising touch of softness, their music finds that place in your soul that is hurting and tired, and banishes all but the goodness and hope.
“Our music comes from South Africa,” said Shimmy Jiyane, choreographer and musical director for the group.
“We sing a cappella with a four-piece band that accompanies us. We sing gospel music and we also sing traditional songs of South Africa.”
Named after the acronym (South Western Township) for the urban residential area near Johannesburg where it was formed, the group has received three Grammy awards, including one for the song “Down to Earth,” from the blockbuster Disney movie, “Wall-E.”
They’ve performed for President Bill Clinton, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and Oprah Winfrey. They were the support act for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers at their concerts in Germany, they performed with Celine Dion during her “Taking Chances Tour” of South Africa, with gospel legends Bebe Winans and Kirk Franklin, and with artists such as Peter Gabriel, Bono, Queen, Jimmy Cliff, Johnny Clegg, Amy Winehouse, Aretha Franklin, Wyclef Jean, Queen Latifah, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Cyndi Lauper, and Josh Groban.
Formed in November, 2002, the Soweto Gospel Choir sings with what Queen member Brian May called “infectious joy.”
“When we sing we make sure that people hear and feel what we sing about,” Jiyane, whose been with the group since its beginning, said. “Even if you can’t understand the language (they perform in eight different languages), you feel the music and feel the movement, feel what I’m singing about.
“When we’re singing and dancing on the stage, we can see people smiling and crying in the crowd.”
The Soweto Gospel Choir’s performances benefit Nkosi’s Haven Vukani, an AIDS orphans foundation the group founded to feed, clothe and educate orphaned and abandoned children. Nkosi was the name of a child who died of AIDS, Jiyane said. They also recorded a track with rock legend Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin), which was included on a Fats Domino tribute album, with proceeds going to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
“We just put our heart and soul into it,” Jiyane said, adding that their hope is that their music “will encourage people to do good, and to know that God is there.”
Upcoming tours will take them to Philadelphia on Saturday, then all over the east coast, including New York, Maine, Alabama, and Florida, and by late March, to California and Texas.
For more information, visit the Soweto Gospel Choir Web site at www.sowetogospelchoir.com.