May 6, 2011
The grammy award-winning Soweto Choir kicks off its national tour with a trip to the remote Central Australian community of Areyonga.
LAETITIA LEMKE, PRESENTER: A performance of a very special kind took part in Central Australia this week as the Grammy award winning Soweto Choir kicked off its national tour. The group ventured out to the desert community of Areyonga to sing alongside the local Aboriginal women’s choir. Louisa Rebgetz reports.
VUSIMUZI SHABALALA, SOWETO CHOIR: I’d say it was a bit spiritual for me. I admire God’s creation a lot the venue we performed at today, it is something that we have ever done before and the echoing sounds of the venue was very nice and we really enjoyed ourselves.
LOUISA REBGETZ, REPORTER: The spectacular caves of Areyonga are a long way from the famous stages the Soweto Choir has become accustomed to. Made up of African gospel singers, the group is renowned around the world. The intrigue of Australian Indigenous culture brought the choir to Central Australia to launch its Australian tour.
SHIMMY JIYANE, SOWETO CHOIR: We just want to see how they live, we just want to hear because I believe they speak a different language from everybody and we just want to hear we just want to see and hear their stories because we never heard about their stories so it’s a very important day for us and we’re just happy to be here and we’re honoured to be a part of this.
LOUISA REBGETZ: Areyonga lies in the heart of the desert about 200 kilometres from Alice Springs. The journey there takes in some of the most stunning landscape in Central Australia. The Soweto Choir was invited here because of Aryeonga’s choral heritage. An Aboriginal women’s choir was born after a Lutheran mission was established in the 1940s. The Areyonga choir now travels far and wide.
BILL BORGAS, AREYONGA PASTOR: Song has always been important for Aboriginal people and particularly for western desert Aboriginal people; they’ve used song in their ceremonies, in their stories – their dreaming stories, and they’ve always chanted these songs unaccompanied and it seemed to be a natural progression for them to be very musically minded or to continue singing in a church context.
MORRIS STUART, AREYONGA CHOIR COACH: There’s a lot of talent not only in terms of traditional music but the music that they’ve learnt, the church music, the new music that they’re writing and they’re love of what we would call world music, you know you introduce stuff to them and they just, they’re like sponges.
LOUISA REBGETZ: Both choirs joined together inside the local church.
SOWETO CHOIR SINGER: We normally come to Australia and perform on stages but today is much more spiritual for us where we get to share a bit of our culture and we’ll get to learn from you guys.
LOUISA REBGETZ: The Soweto Choir workshopped with the local women.
SOWETO CHOIR SINGER: You must be proud when you sing the song you must do the step and just enjoy yourself because that’s part of our culture.
TERESA WILSON, AREYONGA RESIDENT: Singing in the choir can bring the young people to the lord and to, you know, get the family together and make it strong and so they can have respect for us and we can respect them.
VUSIMUZI SHABALALA, SOWETO CHOIR: Those guys are good. We did a song, actually two songs with them, I enjoyed working with them I think they have the best soprano ever because they can reach the high notes its just that they are a bit shy but we took out we took that out of them actually.
LOUISA REBGETZ: It certainly wasn’t one way learning. Painted up with ochre, the young and old were keen to show the visitors their traditional ways. The Aboriginal children were in turn mesmorised by the skills of the Africans.
LEONARD FREEMAN, AREYONGA SCHOOL PRINCIPAL: It is an amazing experience for the kids especially given that most of our kids haven’t been seen beyong Alice Springs. They’re seeing a people that are very proud of their culture that are very proud it gives our kids a message that they should be proud of their culture and that other people will value it and be interested in it.
VUSIMUZI SHABALALA, SOWETO CHOIR: They are very spiritual people and they are so much into culture and we did a lot of things with them today, I ate the honey ant.
MORRIS STUART, AREYONGA CHOIR COACH: If we learn each others musical languages we find that actually well their bilingual, you know their tonality is bilingual, you know they can mix and meld and there is a strength, there is an openness to the way they sing.