By Adrienne Samuels Gibbs
February 18, 2014
The critically acclaimed Soweto Gospel Choir is bringing its signature take on gospel music to Chicago Symphony Center on Wednesday night. The award-winning show features a mixture of a capella, reggae and pop with djembe rhythms and traditional African-American gospel music — all topped with South-African flair. As this is the choir’s sixth trip to the United States, the ever-changing weather could be an annoyance, but won’t affect the show or its voices, according to choir director Shimmy Jiyane.
“We’ve brought our coats with us,” the 40-year-old Jiyane said with a chuckle. “The last time we were in Chicago we performed in a church. Now we’re in Symphony Center and that will be lovely to hear the acoustics and everything in a capella.”
The choir is in North America for a multi-city tour, including stops in New York, Morgantown, W. Va., and Toronto. They last performed at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela and have recorded and performed with Bono, Angelique Kidjo and Baaba Maal. Most interesting is that they’re an actual South African choir (founded in 2002) that has acculturated an African-American music style and in so doing, made it their own. There also will be plenty of “traditional” gospel and black spiritual songs.
“God is all over the world,” says Jiyane. “As you know, we’re all over the world. The only difference [between us and an American gospel choir] would be the way we play our music, which is different than Americans. But we praise God by doing. And sometimes we do only voices — I think that’s a main difference.”
The choir will perform a 2½-hour set accompanied by the air guitar, bass and djembe drums. Key songs to listen for are “This Little Light of Mine” and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” And key to the overall African Diasporic concert tradition, the audience will be invited to clap, dance and sing along.
“You must ready yourself for some beautiful dancing and beautiful music,” says Jiyane. “Each and every song we will be singing is all high energy with lots of laughter.”