Tuesday 27th June 2017,
Soweto Gospel Fans

Soweto Gospel Choir member’s dreams of travel, music bring him to Vancouver

By Lena Sin
The Province
April 4, 2012

When you’re on the road for nine months of the year travelling in countries that couldn’t, culturally speaking, be further from what you know and love, you’re inevitably going to miss some things about home.

Like putu, for example.

“Putu is more like this soft porridge,” explains Soweto Gospel Choir member Mandlenkosi Modawu.

Not so easy to find in Denver?

“No,” the 33-year-old laughs over the phone from a Denver hotel room.

Still, the South African native says when he gets on stage, the constant living out of a suitcase, the distance from his wife, the longing for a home-cooked meal — all those concerns simply disappear.

“Yes, it is hard sometimes. But when you’re on stage you forget about everything else,” he says.

Modawu is one of 26 members that form the world-renowned Soweto Gospel Choir. Rousing, spiritual and joyful, the choir has toured the world, racked up two Grammys, an Emmy, an Oscar nomination and performed with the likes of Celine Dion, Beyoncé and U2.

Not bad for a group that operates in the “world music” realm, often seen as a niche musical category.

Soweto Gospel Choir was formed in 2002 with a mission to showcase South African culture and music. Competition at auditions is fierce by all accounts and every member is a double, if not triple threat.

As a drummer, singer and dancer, Modawu fits the bill. Born in Pretoria, a tropical city known rather blandly as the administrative capital of South Africa, the musician was raised with faith front and centre in his life. Community life revolved around the church and Sunday gospel singing was something Modawu took to early.

His father, a singer and organist who passed away when he was 10, left an indelible influence. After he died, his mother supported Modawu and his brother and sister by working at a supermarket. She emphasized working hard in school. But when Modawu declared his ambitions to become a musician, she supported that, too, sending him to college to study music. It was there that Modawu would cross paths with the Soweto Gospel Choir in 2004.

“It was my dream to travel the world and after I did one year at school, I was doing popular music, I met the musical director for the group and they said they wanted a drummer and so I came in and auditioned. Since then I’ve been with the group, living my dream,” says Modawu.

Eight years later, Modawu’s still travelling and spreading the infectious rhythms of South African music, particularly gospel, which distinguishes itself from the American version with a greater emphasis on drumming.

Their latest North American tour blends traditional spiritual songs sung in Zulu and Afrikaans (the choir sings in six South African languages — the country has 11 official languages) as well as western hits such as Sarah McLachlan’s “Arms of an Angel” and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

Despite too many memorable moments to mention (meeting Nelson Mandela was pretty unforgettable, as was performing with Alicia Keys), in the end it’s the audience that’s most gratifying.

“Meeting the audience after the performance, with their smiles and some of them are in tears, tears of joy, that’s one of my highlights,” he says.

Read more: http://www.theprovince.com/entertainment/Soweto+Gospel+Choir+member+dreams+travel+music+bring+Vancouver/6411811/story.html#ixzz1r7UwKzKP

When you’re on the road for nine months of the year travelling in countries that couldn’t, culturally speaking, be further from what you know and love, you’re inevitably going to miss some things about home.

Like putu, for example.

“Putu is more like this soft porridge,” explains Soweto Gospel Choir member Mandlenkosi Modawu.

Not so easy to find in Denver?

“No,” the 33-year-old laughs over the phone from a Denver hotel room.

Still, the South African native says when he gets on stage, the constant living out of a suitcase, the distance from his wife, the longing for a home-cooked meal — all those concerns simply disappear.

“Yes, it is hard sometimes. But when you’re on stage you forget about everything else,” he says.

Modawu is one of 26 members that form the world-renowned Soweto Gospel Choir. Rousing, spiritual and joyful, the choir has toured the world, racked up two Grammys, an Emmy, an Oscar nomination and performed with the likes of Celine Dion, Beyoncé and U2.

Not bad for a group that operates in the “world music” realm, often seen as a niche musical category.

Soweto Gospel Choir was formed in 2002 with a mission to showcase South African culture and music. Competition at auditions is fierce by all accounts and every member is a double, if not triple threat.

As a drummer, singer and dancer, Modawu fits the bill. Born in Pretoria, a tropical city known rather blandly as the administrative capital of South Africa, the musician was raised with faith front and centre in his life. Community life revolved around the church and Sunday gospel singing was something Modawu took to early.

His father, a singer and organist who passed away when he was 10, left an indelible influence. After he died, his mother supported Modawu and his brother and sister by working at a supermarket. She emphasized working hard in school. But when Modawu declared his ambitions to become a musician, she supported that, too, sending him to college to study music. It was there that Modawu would cross paths with the Soweto Gospel Choir in 2004.

“It was my dream to travel the world and after I did one year at school, I was doing popular music, I met the musical director for the group and they said they wanted a drummer and so I came in and auditioned. Since then I’ve been with the group, living my dream,” says Modawu.

Eight years later, Modawu’s still travelling and spreading the infectious rhythms of South African music, particularly gospel, which distinguishes itself from the American version with a greater emphasis on drumming.

Their latest North American tour blends traditional spiritual songs sung in Zulu and Afrikaans (the choir sings in six South African languages — the country has 11 official languages) as well as western hits such as Sarah McLachlan’s “Arms of an Angel” and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

Despite too many memorable moments to mention (meeting Nelson Mandela was pretty unforgettable, as was performing with Alicia Keys), in the end it’s the audience that’s most gratifying.

“Meeting the audience after the performance, with their smiles and some of them are in tears, tears of joy, that’s one of my highlights,” he says.

Read more: http://www.theprovince.com/entertainment/Soweto+Gospel+Choir+member+dreams+travel+music+bring+Vancouver/6411811/story.html#ixzz1r7UwKzKP

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About The Author

From the Great White North of Canada, Elaine is the owner and maintainer of SGF. Besides being a big-time Soweto Gospel Choir fan, she is passionate about world travel, technology, all sports and above all the great mangosteen fruit. Oh, and she can't sing to save her life...one love! :)

1 Comment

  1. Vito Baroncini June 15, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    I’ve listened to the wonderful African Spirit CD.
    I’d be deeply interested in the choral score of the song “Rivers of Babylon”. Is there anybody who has got it? I’d be very pleased if you sent it to me via e mail. Or is there anybody who can tell me where I can find it or who I can ask for it to? I am looking forward to receive your answer. Thank you

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