March 15, 2012
By Kenya Vaughn
St. Louis American
It seems with every generation, the music of South Africa manifests among the masses and shines light on the organic song that is imbedded within the spirit of its people.
Miriam “Mama Africa” Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Hugh Masekela and Jonathan Butler have left an indelible impression on the music industry.
And as they celebrate 10 years of captivating the globe through their vibrant sounds and stage show, The Soweto Gospel Choir stands as “the now.”
“So many have left a legacy that has made it easy for us to be accepted,” choir member Bongani Ncube said. “This is a different era and so many look up to us, but more is required to leave a certain legacy for the ones who come behind them.”
Since forming in 2002, Soweto Gospel Choir has solidified its place in music history. They’ve earned two Grammys, an Emmy and a list of credentials that rivals any musical icon.
But for them, the real reward comes with connecting with souls by way of their music – which is their mission when their American tour stops in St. Louis next week.
Ncube has been a part of Soweto Gospel Choir for six years, and he and the other members consider their performance more of a ministry than a concert.
“It addresses people from the soul’s point of view,” Ncube says. “First, by what we go through when we feel the music, and then that feeling is offered to them through our performance.”
Soweto Gospel Choir also offers a celebration of the rich and diverse cultural celebration.
“We have 11 languages and with each language comes its own music – its own rhythm,” Ncube said. “Our music has been passed down from generation to generation for so long that it becomes instinctive. It is a part of us.”
The Soweto Gospel Choir experience incorporates the cultural depth through drums, dance, song and unadulterated energy expressed through six languages and the various cultures housed within the boundaries of their native land.
Ncube speaks of a South African connection to music in a manner that likens harmonies, melodies and movement to breathing air.
He says that music is so deep within the souls of the South African that many can harmonize with strangers with singers based on the sound of their voice and/or the culture they identify with.
“We are a rainbow nation,” Ncube said. “Every culture in South Africa has its own rhythm. And you will hear and see us honor these cultures through good singing and angelic harmonies like you have never heard before.”
They are especially excited for the opportunity to bring them to America live and in the flesh. Cultural and language barriers will be left at the door as the choir taps into a deeper place by using the universal language of music.
“People here in the U.S. have a huge appreciation of music,” Ncube said, “irrespective of whether they understand the music, the language or the rhythms.”
According to Ncube, Soweto Gospel Choir’s performance is not unlike one that you would see during any given church service in South Africa. But this simple formula of praise and worship through song and dance has left an impression on the world.
They’ve performed alongside the likes of John Legend, Bono, Akon and appeared on “Good Morning America,” “The Today Show,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and others – including special performances for Prince Charles, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton. They also have a charity organization that has raised more than $600,000 for AIDS orphans and families affected by the AIDS pandemic in South Africa.
But the 26-member choir is more impressed with their opportunity to give than the acclaim they have received over the past decade.
The hope to bless the audience is the ultimate reward for Soweto Gospel Choir and Ncube only needs one word to describe what happens when the Soweto Gospel Choir takes the stage – fireworks.
“The burst of colors from the costumes, the sounds and the energy – you will see the stars,” Ncube said. “You will wish that you could jump on stage with us.”