by Lesego Madumo
February 23, 2020
City of Johannesburg
Joburg’s very own two-time Grammy winners, the Soweto Gospel Choir, is featured on a collaboration track dedicated to the plight of Africa and its people. Key vocalists are multiple award-winning rhythm and blues singer Akon, and newcomer Keri Hilson.
The track also features some 16 aspirant musicians from across the world who won a competition to be featured on the song.
Oh Africa is a potpourri of eccentric African sounds mixed with invigorating African drums and a recurrent beat which creates a contemporary mélange of pop, rhythm and blues, fusion and gospel. The song was written by the American hip hop duo, Rock City, and was produced by Prettiboifresh.
Just over three minutes long, the song’s video depicts Africa as a colourful continent on a mural comprising a mosaic of colours. Each colour has a representative in African drummers, each playing his rhythmic percussion and stepping out of the mural to create an exciting visual.
Whirls of bright colours enhance the video’s look and feel. The Soweto choir’s colourful outfits accentuate the set while the dancing captivates the viewer. It features leading footballers Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba kicking penalties, which then splatter on a wall to paint a mural of eight of the world’s best football players.
Speaking about the video, Akon says: “The whole aura of it is so fun – the colours, the paintings, the drums. It brings out all the cultural parts you can ever think of in all aspects. I mean it doesn’t even seem like a video, it seems more like a work of art that just happens to be a video.”
The song conveys the message that Africa and its people can triumph through hardships because Africa will “choose its way; we’ll do what it takes to get to the top of the highest mountain”, as Akon sings.
Its lyrics are infectious: “Oh Africa, this is our time to shine, our time to fly, our time to be inside the sky, our time to soar, our time to score the last one in football, Oh Africa.”
The track is available for download on the Konfidence website and proceeds generated from the sales are earmarked for organisations supporting underprivileged African youths. Akon’s Konfidence Foundation is expected to get a chunk of the proceeds.
It will also feature on his 2010 album and will be used as the soundtrack for the global Pepsi football television commercial and as part of its new worldwide Refresh Your World campaign, which aims to enable youngsters to make a positive change in the world in which they live.
“We [are] really excited about the new track and music video from multiplatinum selling artist Akon and Grammy-nominee Keri Hilson and hope it raises money for less fortunate children in Africa,” says Ahmed Abdel-Karim, the United Kingdom marketing manager for Pepsi.
The Soweto Gospel Choir’s contribution to the song is invaluable; its cornucopia of melodic voices imbues every chorus and verse, helping the song to inspire and instil optimism and hope.
Beverly Bryer, the choir’s executive producer and director, notes that the collaboration with Akon was fitting in that it dovetailed with the choir’s mission to support charities and entrenched its position as African philanthropists.
“We were contacted by Pepsi in the middle of last year and they proposed that we do a collaboration with Akon and Keri Hilson and 16 other musicians who had won a competition to be in the song. They flew the choir to Los Angeles and we recorded the song,” she explains.
It was a privilege to collaborate with Akon, she adds, “one of the choirs’ favourites”.
The Soweto Gospel Choir supports charitable initiatives like Nkosi’s Haven, which has raised more than R10-million for children and families affected by and infected with HIV.
Musically, it is one of South Africa’s leading ensembles, with two Grammies under its belt – one for best song written for motion picture, television or other visual media and one for best traditional world music for its debut album, Blessed.
The choir is the pride of Joburg, having emerged from one of its biggest townships, Soweto. It is a 26-member ensemble, which sings in an assortment of African languages ranging from English, Xhosa and Zulu to Sotho, including Kiswahili, the language of Kenya and Tanzania. Its repertoire comprises Tshepa Thapelo, Khumbaya, Weeping, Noyana and Thula Mama.
Since the release of Blessed in the latter part of 2002, the choir has bagged an array of accolades and reached several milestones, among them two number one Billboard World Music Chart albums, a Helpmann Award for Best Contemporary Music, an American Gospel Music Award for Best Choir, a US Gospel Music Award for Best International Choir, a South African Music Award for Best Live DVD and Metro FM Award for Best Gospel Album for African Spirit.
Its latest album, Grace, was released in the United Stated in early January, and is receiving rave reviews. “The release of the album has been fantastic and we are in the middle of a six-week US tour. Most of our shows have been sold out and the reviews that we are getting are positive. We can only hope that it qualifies us for a Grammy nomination,” says Bryer.
She adds that although the choir doesn’t know yet if it has been nominated for a South African Music Award, “it is always nice to be nominated for a Sama award”.
The Soweto choir’s prestige is accentuated by the number of collaborations it has had with numerous internationally renowned musicians, like Celine Dion, Peter Gabriel, Thomas Newman, U2’s Bono, Vusi Mahlasela, Johnny Clegg, Diana Ross, Josh Groban, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Jimmy Cliff and Bebe Winans, to mention a few.
The choir has performed for Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey; it has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and has performed at various sold-out concerts in Australia, the United Kingdom, Singapore, New Zealand and Germany. It also sang at the 75th birthday of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, its patron.
The Soweto Gospel Choir is currently touring the US.