BY Julianne Keu
The Epoch Times
March 21, 2012
Africa’s gem has arrived. Adorned in vibrant colours, the Soweto Gospel Choir has been channelling the energy of South Africa to rave reviews on their North American tour—and they’re just getting started.
Their upcoming performances will showcase songs from their latest album “Grace”, as well as hits from the past. “Grace” is unique in that it features different types of music, from pop, to rock, to African and reggae.
“It’s a beautiful show,” says Simmy Jiyane, choirmaster of the group.
“It’s a very high energy show—very vibrant, very inspiring, and very, very motivating. There’s very beautiful music that comes from the continent of Africa, and South Africa. [Audiences] can come enjoy the beauty of all of the rainbow nation.”
The choir came together in 2002 through auditions held in South Africa in Johannesburg. In the early stages, no one foresaw the magnitude of success they had in store.
A month after the group formed, their first album “Voices of Heaven” went straight to the number one spot on Billboard’s World Music Chart. A year later, they won their first major award, Australia’s Helpmann Award for “Best Contemporary Music Concert.”
Since then , the choir has received international acclaim, including two Grammys, an Emmy, and two American Gospel Awards.
They have performed alongside the likes of Bono, Bebe Winans, Celine Dion, John Legend, Josh Groban, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and have generated a strong fan base consisting of reputable figures such as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Despite their outstanding success, the choir still aims to captivate the spirit of the people.
“Since 2002 to now, 2012, we’ve been making people happy, putting smiles on people’s faces. That’s what we want to accomplish as a choir, and that’s what we are doing right now.” said Jiyane.
“Sometimes we get people who follow us, wherever we go. After the show, I hear people say, ‘I’ve been to a lot of concerts, but I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve had music, I’ve had choirs sing, but I’ve never had anything like this. This is pure class.’”
Social activism makes up a notable portion of the choir’s efforts to uplift people through music and art. They’ve participated in charity events such as Nelson Mandela’s 46664 AIDS Awareness Concerts, and projects like their collaboration with rock legend Robert Plant to support the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
A portion of the funds they raise go to communities in South Africa, with an emphasis on education, nutrition, and helping families affected by HIV and AIDS. Their outreach initiative, Nkosi’s Haven/Vukani, has raised over $600,000 from concert revenue alone.
Collectively, the choir has raised over US$1.5 million for charitable causes around the world.
Jiyane believes music can be a powerful healing tool.
“You heal through music because once you get stressed out, you go to a very quiet place. What comes to your mind first? It’s a humming tune,” he said.
“It’s having something that’s not going to distract you. It’s having something that’s going to go through your soul, that goes through your spirit. That’s music. That’s why they say it’s food for the soul.”
Indeed, that seems to be a mantra the choir communicates through their performances. With a 24-member ensemble, a 4-piece band, 2 drum players and 6 dancers, they redefine the traditional choir. Audiences have often described the group’s harmonies as one “angelic voice,” rather than a combination of many.
With an impressive résumé that reads, “Best world music ensemble, celebrated award winner, and devoted philanthropist,” the Soweto Gospel Choir really is a gem the world can cherish.
Then Soweto Gospel Choir will continue their North American tour with stops in Vancouver on April 7 and Edmonton April 9.