March 23, 2010
The Dallas Morning News
Soweto Gospel Choir could easily extend its name to include “dance troupe” and “percussion group.” Rhythms and movement routines were as crucial as vocals as the multitalented entertainers put on a dazzling show Sunday at Winspear Opera House to close the 2009-10 TITAS music series.
The 22 dancing singers, backed by a pair of singing-and-dancing drummers and a small band, relied heavily on a repertoire of South African spirituals, sprinkled with American gospel tunes and the occasional pop hit.
The vocals were earthy but sophisticated. Rather than the soul shouting of Western gospel, Soweto Gospel Choir uses a subtler approach, weaving nuanced harmonies into the melodies. Vocal virtuosity was less the goal than creating an evocative sound.
Swaying side to side in colorful, flowing gowns, the Grammy Award-winning choir opened with a suite of traditional songs, highlighted by separate a cappella showcases for the men and women. During “Mangisondele Nkosi Yam,” the guys stamped out the beat with their feet.
When the group came back together, the tempo picked up and some of the men performed a bravura dance step that they repeatedly returned to during the two-hour set. It centered on nearly kicking themselves in the face.
Toward intermission, they began mixing in more familiar songs. “Avulekile Amasango” segued into Bob Marley’s “One Love,” and the choir sang a lilting version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and the spiritual “This Little Light of Mine.”
After the break, the comic theatrics amplified. In a routine called “In the Canteen,” three of the men sat at a table and used forks to turn a meal into a rhythm exercise. But the second half also featured gorgeous balladry, including Andrae Crouch’s “Oh It Is Jesus” and Gustav Holst’s “World in Union.”