March 4, 2014
Genea L. Webb
New Pittsburgh Courier
The Soweto Gospel Choir has been on a 14-year mission to bring joy, peace and happiness to a global audience through African music and dance. That journey continued as the 24-member group made a long-awaited return to Pittsburgh to promote its “Divine Decade” album, which was released on Decca Records.
Presented by the Cohen & Grigsby Trust Series, the choir performed at the Byham Theater on Feb. 27, for a special one-night-only experience.
“Audiences can expect a high-energy concert. We love what we do and this shines through every time we perform. There will be beautiful singing, uplifting music dancing and drumming. We hope that every time we perform, audiences leave feeling inspired and uplifted,” said original member Shimmy Jiyane, a tenor who serves as choir master with the Soweto Gospel Choir,
“I believe our audiences connect with our passion,” Jiyane continued. “Music truly is the international language. Music has the ability to break down barriers and bring joy into the listener’s heart. We have toured internationally for so many years and wherever we go, we get the same outpouring of love and joy from our audiences.”
In addition to Jiyane, members of the Soweto Gospel Choir are: Kevin Williams, Diniloxolo Ndlakuse, Phil Faya, Bongani Khumalo, Thembisa Khuzwao, Lebo Mahlatiji, Sibongile Makgathe, Lucas Mello, Lungisani Mhlongo, Mandla Modawu, Original Msimango, Mulalo Mulovhedzi, Melusi Ndawonde, Maserame Ndindwa, Gregory Ndou, Sipho Ngcamu, Zanele Ngcamu, Linda Nxumalo, Sipokazi Nxumalo, Rebecca Nyamane, Portia Skosana, Gugu Mbonwa and Mirriam Kutuane.
The Soweto Gospel Choir was formed in 2002 after auditions were held in Soweto. The choir was formed because there was so much talent in South Africa and particularly in the township of Soweto. Music has always been a large part of South African culture and creators David Mulovhedzi and Beverly Bryer believed the rest of the world would identify with the unique and inspirational power of African gospel music.
The pair was right.
After releasing its debut album “Voices of Heaven” in 2002, the Soweto Gospel Choir won Australia’s performing arts award for best contemporary music concert in 2003. The awards kept coming as they won an American Gospel Music Award for Best International Choir, several Grammy Awards. Since its inception, the group has performed with such heavyweight entertainers as Stevie Wonder, U2, John Legend and Johnny Clegg.
“It is always an amazing learning experience to work with other artists. Throughout our years performing as a choir, we have matured greatly, and this is due to the experiences that we have had along the way,” Jiyane said. “Seeing the processes of the other artists is always a learning experience and we enjoy collaborating with other performers immensely.”
They have had the pleasure to perform for former President U..S President Bill Clinton, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the late Nelson Mandela who died last December.
“Madiba was our father. He was our motivator. He was our leader,” Jiyane said. “He changed South African culture, and he changed the world. He continues to be our beacon of hope for what the future can bring if the past is forgiven.”
“Divine Decade,” the Soweto Gospel Choir’s latest effort celebrates the 10 years they have been performing as a group. For the effort, the group enlisted the help of artists they have worked with throughout their career and those who have had a profound effect on the choir’s maturity.
“We feel so privileged to have been able to collaborate with performers such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, U2, Bono, Robert Plant and Johnny Clegg on this album. It is a fantastic celebration of the past 10 years, and we hope people enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed creating it,” Jiyane said.
“Every song we perform is chosen because it has a powerful message and it makes us feel something. Whether the song is joyous or sad, we want out audiences to be moved. We hope people leave our concerts having been moved and having made a connection with our music.”