March 9, 2014
St. Cloud Times
ST. JOSEPH — Vibrant. Unstoppable. High energy.
Those are the words Shimmy Jiayne uses to describe the Soweto Gospel Choir, which will perform Friday at Benedicta Arts Center at the College of St. Benedict.
Jiayne is lead singer and choir master of the group that he joined when the late David Mulovhedzi founded it in 2002, tapping the talent he noticed in the Johannesburg, South Africa, neighborhood of Soweto.
“We’ve got so much to offer to the world,” Jiayne said by phone last week. The St. Joseph performance will be the choir’s 22nd stop in its 37-city, three-month North American tour.
If you think you’ve heard of the Soweto Gospel Choir before, it might be because the group has won two Grammys, an Emmy and two American Gospel Music Awards. This is the fifth major North American tour for a group that has appeared on major television broadcasts such as the “Today” show.
The choir has collaborated with artists such as U2, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Robert Plant, Celine Dion, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Josh Grobin. It has performed in front of former President Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey, as well as leaders they claim as spiritual fathers: the late Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
On this tour, the group will be singing pieces from its newly released sixth album, “Divine Decade,” a title that reflects God’s intervention during the first decade of the group’s history, Jiayne says.
The choir draws from traditional African songs as well as Christian hymns and contemporary music. Their concerts are sung in Zulu, Sotho and English.
But it’s not just about singing. Six of the performers are dancers. Jiayne is one of them; he has training in classical ballet as well as jazz dance. “Everybody’s moving; nobody’s just standing,” he added.
When the tour is over this month, the choir goes home to Johannesburg, where it has a $4 million foundation providing assistance to AIDS orphans.
The St. Joseph show is one of six left in the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University’s Fine Arts Series this season. Jiayne promises a performance that reflects the passion, creativity and hard work of a driven group.
“It’s for the love of the music that I do this,” he said. “It’s the love for my craft. It’s the passion that I have for the music that we have in our country.
“We just move people. We make people happy.”