Friday August 6,2010
By Simon Gage
AS THE Soweto Gospel Choir sway into the auditorium in outfits so dazzling they would make Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat look a bit beige, little do we know we’re in for a delicious feast of music from all over the world, not just their native South Africa.
It ranges from the tight harmonies of what they describe as African gospel renditions, through American-style gospel, with harmonies so tight if they were jeans you wouldn’t stand a chance, to the most beautiful version of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water since Aretha Franklin included it in her gospel repertoire. The female leads’ voices, by the way, trump Aretha’s every time.
Any stray atheists concerned at the idea of a gospel choir need not have worried. The G-word wasn’t mentioned once in a set that veered from inspirational songs such as This Little Light Of Mine to South African icon Miriam Makeba’s Pata Pata.
Joined by new South African superstars The Bala Brothers, as sharp as The Temptations in their black skinny suits, the musical smorgasbord was stretched even further with South African R’n’B, a version of Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up dedicated to Nelson Mandela and even a Three Tenors-style rendition of Nessun Dorma, which showcased their training at the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School to great effect.
It’s on the authentic South African songs, complete with fancy footwork, that this whirlwind tour of the musical world really delights and it’s a sound we’re actually very familiar with, plundered as it has been by everyone from Paul Simon to Elton John for The Lion King (a couple of those songs turn up too).
The traditional African call and response, where a solo singer and the choir interact, works like magic on everything they attempt (even a tiny snippet of Bob Marley’s One Love) but it’s the overall atmosphere that casts a spell, with the ultraprofessional performers conveying a real sense of spontaneity.