Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
March 13, 2012
The diverse audience was relatively sedate at the beginning of the Soweto Gospel Choir concert Friday at Carmel’s Palladium. However, by the time the choir sang Oh Happy Day during its encore, a majority of those in the crowd were standing, singing along, clapping and waving their arms in the air.
It was proof positive the choir had made a thorough impact with their music, dynamic personalities and the infectious joy they spread.
The Soweto Gospel Choir was formed in Soweto, South Africa, in 2002. Under the direction of Beverly Bryer, the mission of the 52-member group is to celebrate the power of African gospel music and to share their faith through music. Drawing from some of the best talent from the churches in and around Soweto, the two-time Grammy Award-winning choir has recorded four albums and appeared all over the world with some of music’s greatest stars.
Dressed in richly vibrant-colored native costumes and accessories, the choir sang a program of African gospel, American Negro spirituals and American pop songs.
Throughout the concert, members of the choir also performed dances that in some cases resembled tap and clogging, and seemed more about unbridled individual expression than group synchronicity and disciplined technique.
Accompanied by a band and drummers throughout the program, the choir’s African gospel offerings included songs with titles such as Ziyamazi’umelusi, Kibala Kuye, Nomalanga, Shosholoza and Ziphinkomo.
Since no translations were provided, one could only presume that the songs performed were expressions of faith. Based on the high-spirited, choreographed movement that accompanied the songs and the passionate demeanor of the singers themselves, it was obvious that their faith ran deep.
No doubt due to their familiarity, it was the choir’s American Negro spirituals that seemed to resonate the most with the audience. Included were This Little Light of Mine, Many Rivers to Cross and Swing Low. Hearing the tunes’ English lyrics colored by the performer’s heavy accents made the songs all the more endearing.
Featuring powerful vocals of great magnitude and range (of which there was no shortage in this concert), the choir also excelled in uniquely arranged versions of Bridge over Troubled Water and Arms of an Angel.
Given the Soweto Gospel Choir’s sincere message of unyielding faith, passionately delivered through its music, one could not help but feel a sense of spiritual renewal at concert’s end.
Serving as one of Africa’s foremost cultural ambassadors, the choir, through their humanity, also provided a strong reminder that though we may all be separated by continents, we all belong to the brotherhood of man.