Monday 11th December 2017,
Soweto Gospel Fans

Soweto Gospel Choir celebrates 10 years of harmony Sunday at Binghamton U.

February 19, 2014
Press & Sun Bulletin
Chris Kocher

At the very same moment in December that Nelson Mandela slipped from this world and into history, members of the Soweto Gospel Choir were singing his praises — literally — at a concert in Europe.

Together, their voices were raised in harmony to share “Asimbonanga,” Johnny Clegg’s mid-1980s ode to the then-imprisoned South African activist who would lead his country out of apartheid in the 1990s.

“As we got offstage after doing the whole show, we were told that Nelson Mandela was no more. The choir was floored — people were in tears,” Shimmy Jiyane, the group’s choreographer and choirmaster, said on a tour stop in West Virginia last week.

“We understand he was 95, but for what he’d done for the choir and for the country and who he was to us as South Africans, it was heartbreaking. When you think about what we went through and what he went through and where we’re at now, it was one of the saddest days of our lives.”

The choir’s 24 singers feel a special kinship to the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president. For one thing, they hail from the vibrant and turbulent suburb of Johannesburg where Mandela lived for many years and where many anti-apartheid protests faced violent government crackdowns.

Also, in 2003, they performed at the first 46664 concert, named after Mandela’s prison number and raising money for anti-AIDS efforts in his honor; since then, the man his people call Madiba had been the group’s No. 1 fan.

The following week, the Soweto Gospel Choir joined an all-star lineup of performers and leaders at Mandela’s memorial service. The group joined charismatic American gospel singer Kirk Franklin to sing “My Life is in Your Hands” — coincidentally at the same time that President Barack Obama entered the stadium, causing the assembled crowd of thousands to erupt into cheers.

“As South Africans, we got to let go — they say you have to let go and let God have his way, and that’s what South Africa did for Nelson Mandela,” Jiyane said. “It was lovely to see people from all over the world coming just to say goodbye to the old man.”

At the very same moment in December that Nelson Mandela slipped from this world and into history, members of the Soweto Gospel Choir were singing his praises — literally — at a concert in Europe.

Together, their voices were raised in harmony to share “Asimbonanga,” Johnny Clegg’s mid-1980s ode to the then-imprisoned South African activist who would lead his country out of apartheid in the 1990s.

“As we got offstage after doing the whole show, we were told that Nelson Mandela was no more. The choir was floored — people were in tears,” Shimmy Jiyane, the group’s choreographer and choirmaster, said on a tour stop in West Virginia last week.

“We understand he was 95, but for what he’d done for the choir and for the country and who he was to us as South Africans, it was heartbreaking. When you think about what we went through and what he went through and where we’re at now, it was one of the saddest days of our lives.”

The choir’s 24 singers feel a special kinship to the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president. For one thing, they hail from the vibrant and turbulent suburb of Johannesburg where Mandela lived for many years and where many anti-apartheid protests faced violent government crackdowns.

Also, in 2003, they performed at the first 46664 concert, named after Mandela’s prison number and raising money for anti-AIDS efforts in his honor; since then, the man his people call Madiba had been the group’s No. 1 fan.

The following week, the Soweto Gospel Choir joined an all-star lineup of performers and leaders at Mandela’s memorial service. The group joined charismatic American gospel singer Kirk Franklin to sing “My Life is in Your Hands” — coincidentally at the same time that President Barack Obama entered the stadium, causing the assembled crowd of thousands to erupt into cheers.

“As South Africans, we got to let go — they say you have to let go and let God have his way, and that’s what South Africa did for Nelson Mandela,” Jiyane said. “It was lovely to see people from all over the world coming just to say goodbye to the old man.”

“It’s the beauty and the creativity they hear in the music we are singing that captured their attention,” Jiyane said of the other musicians who seek them out. “Peter Gabriel just brought a song and said, ‘I want you to put your South African feel into it.’ When we took the track back to him, he went crazy — he was like, ‘Wow! This is what I needed.’”

The musical exchanges enrich both the collaborators and the choir.

“Working with those people is a learning curve,” Jiyane said. “We’re working with people who have been there and sold millions of albums — people who have gone gold and all that. We work with them and try to see how they create their music, and they learn from how we create our music and how we bring that together. It’s a humbling, humbling moment for us.”

(Among his ideas for future partnerships are soul legends Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder — and following up on the Mandela memorial, he’d like the ensemble to record with Kirk Franklin, too.)

No matter where the Soweto Gospel Choir performs, the singers are thrilled to know they are acting as musical ambassadors for their homeland.

“As we go onstage and sing, we are not only representing ourselves. We’re representing the African continent and also representing South Africa,” Jiyane said. “We need to showcase where we come from. We need to be proudly South African.”

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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! :)

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