February 14, 2015
Soweto Gospel Choir gave stellar vocal performances in the first show of Hamilton’s Gardens Arts Festival.
It’s not often choirs draw this sort of crowd, but the Soweto Gospel Choir is arguably one of the most popular vocal groups worldwide. It has won two Grammy Awards and was nominated for an Academy Award for a song from the film WALL-E.
At first the audience was stoic, motionless, compared to the high-octane energy and sheer exuberance on stage, which included signature South African touches like whistling, ululating, gumboot-dancing moves and those trademark colourful costumes.
I and the guy behind me with Down syndrome were the only ones responding to the beat by shaking everything our respective mamas gave us, while also trying to remain seated. The dude looked pretty damn cool doing this – me, not so much.
But that kind of energy, coupled with those titanium-strength voices, isn’t conducive to a stiff upper lip and soon the older man next to me, who’d jumped at the sound of the first whistle, was tapping his foot.
By the time the choir sang struggle favourite Meadowlands, he was tapping his entire leg. And by the time it sang Miriam Makeba’s Pata Pata, he and everyone else were on their feet dancing like it was 1956.
There was loud applause for well-known spirituals like Swing Low Sweet Chariot a version of reggae standard One Love, and the audience joined in with the second-last song, a chorus of “amen, amen”.
The night ended with a standing ovation and the South African national anthem, dedicated, like the show, to Nelson Mandela.
“Well sung” and “thank you”, said the older man who had danced with me, when he left. The dude with Down syndrome waved.
A surprise fireworks performance set to music ended a night of fantastic performance with an unparalleled community feel.
Who: The Soweto Gospel Choir
What: One of South Africa’s best-loved musical exports
When: Friday night, February 13
Where: The Rhododendron Lawn, Hamilton Gardens