By Jim Harrington
March 25, 2010
San Jose Mercury News
There is an obvious, yet important, factor that separates the Soweto Gospel Choir from many other choral ensembles.
“What makes us unique — the first thing — is that we come from Africa,” says Zanele Ngcmu, one of the choir’s featured soloists. “Africans have rhythm. We grew up with rhythm. Whatever we do, we do it with rhythm.
“That is why, when we sing, you find there is a lot of energy. With most songs, when we sing, we use our hands and we use our bodies.”
It’s an experience that, according to thousands of concertgoers across the globe, should not be missed. Locals can judge for themselves when the Soweto Gospel Choir supports its latest CD, “Grace,” at 8 p.m. Saturday at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre.
Formed in 2002, the 52-member South African vocal ensemble — named after an urban area of Johannesburg, which was a black township during the country’s former apartheid rule — has quickly risen to become one of the world’s most acclaimed gospel choirs.
The choir — which sings in six of South Africa’s 11 official languages — has performed in front of capacity crowds at major venues around the globe, as well as alongside such notable rock stars as Robert Plant and Bono. It’s also been featured on several TV shows, including “The Today Show” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”
With every stop, the Soweto Gospel Choir members serve as proud ambassadors of the “new” South Africa. That’s especially true in 2010, a year that marks the 20th anniversary of former President Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.
Mandela, one should know, is apparently a big fan of the choir. As one would expect, the feeling is mutual.
“He’s quite a comedian, that one,” Ngcmu says by phone during the choir’s tour stop in Seattle. “It’s so wonderful, so overwhelming, being in his presence. He’s such a great man, but he’s so humble. We are so blessed, as a choir, to have performed for him.”
Tickets for the Paramount show are $25-$65, www.paramounttheatre.com.