The Daily Journal
February 14, 2014
Back in 2002, a South African choir that calls itself Soweto was created. From the start, its mission statement was as simple as it is profound:
“Sharing the joy of faith through music.”
And apparently, this group of singers has kept that pledge in its travels around the world, playing to standing-room-only audiences in many places.
“American audiences always show us such appreciation, and it’s one of our favorite countries to tour,” says Shimmy Jiyane, choir director and choreographer of the Soweto choir, which is bringing its Grammy-award winning choir to Philadelphia’s Annenberg Center Sunday as part of a 30-city American tour.
“Concert-goers can expect the two-hour show to be high energy, and to carry a powerful message that is proudly South African,” says Jiyane, originally a founding member of the choir.
Part of this year’s concert tour will be a moving tribute to the life and legacy of the late Nelson Mandela, president of South Africa and one of the world’s most famous political prisoners.
With roots firmly planted in South Africa, the 24-member Soweto Gospel Choir combines traditional African music with spiraling harmonies with contemporary tunes, all as part of a colorful spectacle that includes movement.
Soweto has performed with Celine Dion, Josh Groban and Peter Gabriel, U2, Robert Plant, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and many others in its dozen years.
The rhapsodic praise keeps coming.
Choir member Sipokazi Luzipo remembers how it all began for her.
“Auditions were held at a community center in Johannesburg, and I was one of the lucky ones chosen at the formation of the choir. Being part of it has been like a dream,” Luzipo, who hopes her “amazing journey” goes on forever.
“I’ve been able to travel the world, learn about different cultures and all the while having a job I love!”
Choir Director Shimmy Jiyane recognizes traveling seven months of most years is hardly a typical way of life. But he also describes a deep family feeling that binds the choir on the stage — and on the road.
“We’ve been together for so long, and through so much travel, and so many milestones. A few new members who were 18 when we started are now married with children,” says Jiyane.
Highlights for the Soweto Gospel Choirhave included its two Grammy Awards and its Emmy, but most meaningful of all, says its choir director, was its meeting and performance for Nelson Mandela.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been a champion of the choir, and performing for him was another source of great pride.
The choir also will be introducing its newest album, “Divine Decade” (Decca Records) on its American tour.