By Emma Sleath
ABC Alice Springs
May 4, 2011
Listen to Audio:
The world famous Soweto Gospel Choir gave a sneak preview of their massive Australian Tour in Areyonga’s stunning natural amphitheatre. But just as spine tingling was a workshop that took place a few hours earlier which brought two gospel traditions together for possibly the very first time
The Grammy award winning Soweto Gospel Choir were a long way from home when they clambered off the bus in the tiny community of Areyonga.
Visiting the community as a way of easing into their three month national tour, they were given a warm welcome by Areyonga residents, and visitors from as far away as Titjikala.
What the two groups have in common is a gospel tradition which in South Africa was formed during Apartheid, and in Central Australia was brought by Lutheran missionaries in the late 1800’s.
Although they have floundered since self determination, women from communities such as Ntaria, Areyonga and Titjikala hold tight to the tradition – and they need little encouragement to sing.
So inside the tiny, tin-walled Areyonga church, they did just that – with the Grammy award winning Soweto Gospel Choir teaching them traditional South African songs, along with some of those amazing dance moves.
“We ended up nearly…jumping around also like them!” says Titjikala Choir’s Lena Campbell.
“We got a bit excited and wanted to dance but we were all in a big group and we were jammed in the corner.”
Some of the Aboriginal women were singing in the days when the choirs were garnering national acclaim in Eistedfods all over Australia, mastering songs translated into their own language, but also hymns in English and even German.
Local choir-master Morris Stuart, who’s been working with the Titjikala Choir for for the past four years says that these unique voices must be nurtured and sustained.
“When their missionaries moved on at the end of the 60’s, no-ones ever spent time in this community doing this kind of musical development…and these women still keep singing, every week, two or three times a week.
“They’ve said to me, ‘we want to be a proper choir.'”
Soweto Gospel Choir leader, Shimmy Jiyane, taught the women a traditional South African gospel song called ‘Vuma’, which the women will perform on stage at Araluen during Thursday’s sold-out premiere.
“In South Africa we’ve got 11 official languages and we’ve got different cultures and faiths,” says Shimmy.
“[Aboriginal] culture somehow goes along with some of the cultures in South Africa, we wanted to come and see for ourselves, and get to hear their stories and sing with them, and just have fun.”
The workshop may have only been for an hour, but the smiles said it all.
“Music is a wonderful construct to convey story,” says Morris.
“…to convey a whole range of things which builds people’s capacity, builds their self esteem, breaks down barriers, keeps them going through difficult times.”
“This is the story of the anti-apartheid struggle, the music kept them going, when they couldn’t do anything else, they sang.”
The Soweto Gospel Choir start their national tour in Alice Springs on Thursday May 8th – joining them on stage are members of the Asante Sana choir, the Titjikala Choir and the Areyonga Choir.