October 10, 2011
Heralded as the most exciting group to emerge in World Music in recent years, the Emmy Award- and two-time Grammy Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir heads to the Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall their brand new show.
African Grace will be touring all over the world in the coming months and the choir’s founding member Shimmy Jiyane believes it will live up to their very high reputation.
He said: “It’s a beautiful show, with very colourful costumes which represents the African nations and we have got dancing, druming and singing. It is very energetic.
“We don’t only sing gospel music. We sing all things that have a positive message. We sing things people want to hear, we do covers like Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel, we do This Heart of Mine, there are lots of covers.”
Since its formation in 2002, the Soweto choir has gone on to bag number one spot in the Billboard’s World Music Chart with debut album Voices From Heaven.
The second album, Blessed, went on to win a Grammy Award in 2007, they have supported the Red Hot Chilli Peppers on tour and even played at Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 75th birthday celebrations.
But it could have all been so different for 36-year-old Jiyane, who has since become the choir master for the group on their world tour.
He said: “I started out playing professional soccer when I was younger but I decided to leave it after a while and I went into dancing. From there I became a professional dancer and now I am one of the lead singers and choreograph the choir.
“We formed in 2002 and the production company came and saw us and went wild about what they saw.
“There were 800 people who originally turned up for the choir auditions in Johannesburg. It was crazy. Now, I would say that 95 per cent of the members are still from Soweto in South Africa.
“It wasn’t until after our very first concerts over in Australia when I really thought to myself, yes, we are going places with this. We were selling out and everybody was loving what we were doing. And now we tour the world.”
Since then the choir has gone beyond expectation performing at the 2010 World Cup, recording a track with Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant and even getting nominated for an Oscar for their song Down To Earth featured in the Wall-E movie.
But it is the two Grammy successes and four nominations that stick in Jiyane’s memory.
He said: “It was awesome to get the Grammys. It was mind blowing, we still cherish the moment. It makes me think we are doing something good for the world and the world is loving our music. And they do understand what we are singing about even though it is in a different language. They feel the beat and the music.”
The 24-man choir’s energetic dance movements and the foot-stomping drumming mixed with a kaleidoscope of colour has captured the imagination of audiences around the world and has led them to star in a huge advertising campaign for Pepsi in Los Angeles alongside Hip Hop star Akon.
The choir has toured the world extensively, performing at prestigious venues like Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, the Nelson Mandela Theatre and Royal Festival Hall in London.
Jiyane said: “I would say, in any given year we are away for about nine months. “We get to go back home for probably about six weeks and most of that time we are on tour too. But I love it!”
The group’s latest album, Grace, has once again charted in the top 10 of Billboard’s World Music charts and the new live show accompanies their album.
Jiyane added: “The show has a little bit of everything. People will love it.”