By David R. Stampone
January 29, 2010
In only eight years, South Africa’s Soweto Gospel Choir has prominently presented its homeland’s musical riches to the world.
A gorgeous blend of South Africa’s considerable church choral legacy and the myriad vocal traditions native to the region – the SGC sings in six of the country’s 11 official languages – the 26-member road ensemble has toured extensively. The choir performs tomorrow night in a sold-out show at the Annenberg Center’s Zellerbach Theatre. Two successive Grammys for Best Contemporary World Music Album(s) have further raised its profile, as did performing at the Academy Awards last year and regularly playing major events such as the yearly Nelson Mandela Day concerts and celebrations honoring Archbishop Desmond Tutu (an enthusiastic group patron).
In June 2010, however, the entire planet will metaphorically come to South Africa, looking on as the nation hosts soccer’s quadrennial World Cup. The Soweto Gospel Choir will be there, having already performed at the public drawing that decided the opening schedules of the 32 qualifying national teams. “That was so great,” said choir member Vusi Shabalala earlier this week. “We sang before people representing so many different cultures.. . . I am so proud to be a South African – the world will see how prepared we are, how well our democracy is doing, no more apartheid.. . .”
Shabalala is also proud of SGC’s new album, Grace (its fifth) and its fertile mix of trad, pop (covering “Bridge Over Troubled Water”) and sacred music. (Classically trained, Shabalala contributes to a striking “Ave Maria.”) “We ‘Africanize’ things – with those deep bass vocal parts, for example.” Assisting the choir’s charity Nkosi’s Haven Vukani (providing care for AIDS sufferers) and having helped Katrina’s victims, he also wished to pointedly champion ongoing relief efforts for Haiti: “We must.”