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Soweto Gospel Fans

‘We are ambassadors for our country’: Soweto Gospel Choir Prepares to Perform for the ‘lovely people’ of Bermuda

By BDA Sun
Helen Jardine
February 8, 2010

A choir known for its rich harmonies, colourful costumes and energetic dancing is coming to Bermuda.

The Soweto Gospel Choir – whose fans include Oprah Winfrey, Celine Dion, and Nelson Mandela – will be here next week as part of the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts.

The choir will be accompanied by an exciting four-piece band and percussion section.

“We’re really excited to be coming to Bermuda again,” said the group’s choreographer and choir master Shimmy Jiyane, who also sings and dances. “The choir can’t wait to see Bermuda’s lovely people and enjoy such a lovely place.”

The group has just finished a full tour of Europe and Mr. Jiyane says it is not unusual for them to be “on the road performing” for 11 months a year.

“At first it was tough, being away from family,” he said. “Now we just think of it like we have a job to do and our family back home has got used to it.”

Mr. Jiyane added that returning home to South Africa often takes a bit of settling in time as the residents of Soweto “go crazy” for their “national icons.”

“Everyone wants to speak to us, it’s crazy,” he said. “In a way we are ambassadors for our country and everyone looks at you as a role model. So we have to be on top of our game all the time. People expect fireworks.”

The dynamic 52-strong choir performs both traditional and contemporary music, adding its own unique feel and interpretation to both.

Those that saw the 46664 Concert in Cape Town in 2003, under the auspices of former President Nelson Mandela, will have witnessed Soweto Gospel Choir in action alongside other musical greats like Bono, Queen, Anastacia, Peter Gabriel and the Eurythmics.

Formed in November 2002, Soweto Gospel Choir’s six-and-a-half year existence has become an overnight, multi award-winning sensation.

Mr. Jiyane said he thinks the reason for their speedy shoot to fame is their “uniqueness”.

“We sing in six of South Africa’s 11 official languages and we bring people a real energy when we perform,” he said. “We treat each show as if it is new – with love and respect. We never think about how many times we have performed something.

“We bring out a rainbow nation with our colourful costumes and cultures. We will definitely put a smile on your face!”

The choir won the 2003 American Gospel Music Award for Best Choir, and the 2004 Gospel Music Award (also U.S. based) for Best International Choir, and locally, their debut CD Voices From Heaven was nominated for a SAMA Award for Best Traditional Gospel.

Wherever Soweto Gospel Choir has performed – be it Europe, Singapore, Australia, the U.K. or the U.S. – it has wowed audiences. At the Edinburgh Festival it was the top selling show, with a fully booked season and five star reviews and was listed as the critics’ choice in all major publications.

The choir completed a two-month, 39-city tour of the United States in 2005, with the majority of concerts sold out.

They have been guests on NBC’s Today Show as well as Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

In October, the choir performed as invited guests for Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 75th Birthday Celebrations, in front of an audience, which included former President Nelson Mandela, Samuel L Jackson and Carlos Santana.

They have performed for Oprah Winfrey and 200 of her V.I.P. guests, including Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Tina Turner, Patti Labelle, Sydney Poitier and Quincy Jones.

In June this year, Soweto Gospel Choir was one of the supporting acts for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers at their concerts in Germany.

The choir recently collaborated with Peter Gabriel on the song Down To Earth for Disney’s blockbuster animated movie Wall-E.

In February 2009, the choir became the first South African artists to perform at the Academy Awards, when they sang Down To Earth with John Legend.

In 2008 the choir was honoured with the PanSALB Award for the Multilingualism and Nation Building Album of the Decade.

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About The Author

From the Great White North of Canada, Elaine is the owner and maintainer of SGF. Besides being a big-time Soweto Gospel Choir fan, she is passionate about world travel, technology, all sports and above all the great mangosteen fruit. Oh, and she can't sing to save her love! :)

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