March 12, 2010
The Medicine Hat News
There are great music concerts and then there is the Soweto Gospel Choir concert — where voices burst with enthusiasm, amazing harmonies speak of deep cultural tradition and emotion emanates from their souls. It often has audiences responding spontaneously in dance.
The Soweto Gospel Choir will perform one night only at the Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre on March 17 at 8 p.m.
“We sing music to touch the hearts of people,” said Bongani Khumalo, a member of the choir. “These songs minister to us first and we communicate to the audience how it has touched us.”
The choir is known for their exuberant expressions of dance, which to the western world might appear to be specially choreographed.
“About 90 per cent is completely natural — a spontaneous dance,” said Khumalo. “The rest is decided on ahead of time to create variety and be in sync with one another.”
The natural sense of movement and understanding of beat is part of the African culture. Khumalo says they incorporate song and dance in their everyday life from a very young age.
“When we are trying to get a baby to learn to stand on its own we have a little song we sing. There is another song when we are teaching them to walk.”
The baby or toddler doesn’t only get an encouraging word in song but is at the same time developing a sense of rhythm and movement.
Khumalo feels their innate sense of music and harmony stems in large part from their languages, which causes the tongue and throat to react very differently when pronouncing words compared with those speaking English.
“Our languages are very rhythmic and there is a famous song “The Click Song” illustrating how percussion and singing were coming from that singer’s mouth at the same time.”
The choir’s costumes are all custom designed with a colourful display depicting the Rainbow Nation of South Africa and sometimes displaying animals — a symbol of their closeness to nature.
The choir was first assembled in 2002 and is still made up of at least 80 or 90 per cent of the original group. They typically spend nine or 10 months each year on tour.
“We have breaks in South Africa of one or two weeks in between our schedule,” said Khumalo.
They are particularly looking forward to being home for the World Cup Soccer tournament in June.
“We are performing in both the opening and closing ceremonies and one in the intermediate,” said Khumalo.
In amongst the heavy tour schedule they have their own strategies for keeping concerts fresh, vibrant and reducing personal stress.
“We have games that we play and in the concert itself we do a table scene, which is really funny and I love doing it,” said Khumalo.
Their newest album, “Grace,” was recently released and meets all the high standards audiences have come to expect from the Soweto Gospel Choir.
“It’s always difficult to decide which songs to include,” said Khumalo. “We’re conscious of the fact we have become ambassadors for South Africa. We have a large selection to choose from and our message doesn’t change.”
The choir recently sang at a benefit concert to raise money for the people of Haiti. In South Africa, Nikosi’s Haven Vukani is their own charity assisting victims of AIDS and their families.
Their current tour has seen them performing in Bermuda where they felt a special bond with the local people both having a common past experience relating to the bonds of oppression.
“Although we’ve performed in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, which was great, it was the connection with the people of Bermuda that really stands out for me,” said Khumalo.
CARO and Canadian Humanitarian is proud to bring the Soweto Gospel Choir to the Esplanade.