By Rob Hubbard
Twin Cities Pioneer Press
March 7, 2010
While athletic trainers have developed workouts that tone up as much of your body as possible, what do you do when your entire being needs a workout? Not only your body, but your soul, spirit, heart and mind. Well, if you weren’t at Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall on Sunday night, then you missed out on a great chance to get one.
That’s where the Soweto Gospel Choir gave all in attendance a thrilling two-hour adrenalin rush, with the 26-person group from South Africa serving up its own unique concoction of traditional African folk and pop with American gospel, RB and a touch of reggae. The choir also set their brightly colored costumes into a swirl of movement, showing off their skills with breathtakingly athletic dancing. It was a performance that proved exhilarating and exhausting and is an early entrant for any list of the most memorable local concerts of 2010.
The group has taken home the traditional world music Grammy twice in the past five years, but their recordings don’t do justice to the excitement that their concerts create. Decked out in more colors than you’ll find in Crayola’s biggest box, the choir took the stage to an explosion of drums and devoted the first part of the evening to a cappella songs of a traditional African flavor. But then the imaginative hybrids started to emerge when some choir members plugged in a guitar, bass and keyboard.
An original tune, “Avulekile Amasango,” segued smoothly into Bob Marley’s “One Love” before the choir delivered a soulful and spine-tingling arrangement of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” From there, the double-time march rhythms of American gospel met the funky backbeat of Afropop, and “This Little Light of Mine” thundered with those deep bass harmonies that are seldom found outside Africa.
Periodically, some of the choir’s male members would high-kick their way to the front of the stage and one-up one another with athletic dance steps that placed beats in all sorts of unexpected places, sometimes sounding like the drum solos of jazz greats like Elvin Jones and Max Roach. But it wasn’t all done with their feet: Three sat at a table for a percussion jam using silverware, plates and glasses.
There were also moments of reverence that brought chills, as when they combined Johnny Clegg’s “Asimbonanga” with Peter Gabriel’s “Biko,” both tributes to the struggle for equality in their once apartheid-torn country. A finale of “World in Union” brought the Orchestra Hall audience leaping to its feet, and the group responded with two dance-filled encores that left smiles upon the faces of just about everyone present.