By Rosalind Bentley
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
March 3, 2012
With two Grammys, an Emmy, an Oscar nomination and performances with Bono, John Legend and Peter Gabriel among others under its belt, you might get the impression that the Soweto Gospel Choir was around long before apartheid crumbled 18 years ago.
But the South African choir has amassed that record of achievement in just a decade of existence. On Sunday, the acclaimed choir will perform at the Fox Theatre as part of its 43-city North American tour. The group is only 24 members, but the sound it makes is by turns as big as a mega-church choir, as intimate as a quartet.
Here musical director Vusimuzi Shabalala talks about the group that lent its distinctive sound to the soundtrack for the animated feature “Wall-E” and that serenaded Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu on his 80th birthday.
Q: What can audiences expect to see and hear on this tour?
A: A new show called “Grace.” We’re bringing a vibrant show, a very colorful show because of our beautiful costumes. And the music is really touching.
We’ve got songs like “Arms of an Angel,” and we’ve put in some African lyrics in it. I hope everyone is going to enjoy it because I love it so much. We’ve got a four-piece band, dancers.
With the songs that we have on the show, you feel the Holy Spirit moving.
Q: What similarities, if any, do you see between your choir and African-American gospel choirs?
A: The type of music is not exactly the same perhaps because when we sing we sing raw, African music. But we do contemporary music, which takes us to the similarities of us singing like African-Americans. Like we do “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” In that song you do find a bit of Africanism, so it’s a mixture of the two.
Q: How much of your show is strictly traditional African music performed in a traditional manner and how much is reinterpreted through a contemporary sound?
A: We’ve got less contemporary than the African. So we sing in many different African languages and we do the dances according to the culture.
Q: Is there any secular music in the show?
A: Well, songs like “PataPata” and “Meadowlands” that are apartheid songs, when the pressures in our country were just too much.
Q: What American gospel singer would you like to perform with?
A: In my heart, the short guy, which I like so much, Kirk Franklin.