By: Travis Sell
Scottsbluff Star Herald
December 5, 2015
For some, music is a language. It can speak to people of any race, background, social status or creed. Its sounds, from voice to hand-clapping to drums, have the power to inspire.
Those sounds will be heard at the Midwest Theater with the return of the Grammy Award winning Soweto Gospel Choir on Thursday, Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m. for a holiday concert.
The choir last performed at the theater in 2012 and with the holiday season in full swing, now was the perfect time to bring them back.
“This is a rare opportunity for us as an organization to bring back an artist again,” Executive Director Billy Estes said. “We just don’t do that a lot. For us to bring them back almost four years later is a substantial thing to do. To me, they are a world artist and are bringing the sounds of Africa to Scottsbluff.”
The Soweto Gospel Choir was formed to celebrate the unique and inspirational power of African Gospel music. The Choir has become an overnight, multi- award-winning sensation, dedicated to sharing the joy of faith through music with audiences around the world. They won Grammys in 2007, 2008 and 2011. Their CD “Voices from Heaven,” garnered rave reviews, having reached the number 1 spot on Billboard’s World Music Chart within three weeks of its U.S. release.
The choir’s general manager Mulalo Mulovhedzi has been with the group since its inception in 2002 in Soweto, South Africa.
“My father was the co-founder of the group,” Mulovhedzi explained. “There were auditions held and 30 members were elected. Now, we are down to 20 members because of the expense and also because some of them were tired or got married and we just didn’t replace them.”
Mulovhedzi is also a singer and dancer in the choir and described the type of music they sing as hymns that span across many generations in Africa.
“We sing some African Spirituals because those are the songs our parents used to listen to,” Mulovhedzi said. “It gave them hope so the type of music we do consists of our old hymns. You connect the world through what you’ve been taught by your parents.”
The choir began touring in America in 2004, and for many American audiences, it was the first time being exposed to that type of music.
“The response was ‘Wow’ because for most of the people, it was the first time for them to experience the African type of gospel. And with all of the negativity that is going on in our part of the world, they never expected good to come out of it. So we are showcasing the good side of the faith that we have.”
The good that Mulovhedzi refers to is causes they support, such as the SOS Children’s Villages International, a global foundation that helps provide support for children in need.
“It’s amazing what music does to people,” Mulovhedzi said. “When you use God and put Jesus first, everything is possible.”
The music of Soweto Gospel Choir is sung a cappella or accompanied by a guitar-led mbaqanga combo. It includes sounds of drums, hand-clapping, whistling and wordless lamentations and even a bit of R&B and hip-hop and several different languages and dances.
“We sing and dance in our traditional way but South Africa is a diverse culture,” Mulovhedzi said. “We have 11 different official languages so we try to at least sing six of those languages and each language is represented by its own dance.”
According to Mulovhedzi, Zulu is one of the most popular languages in South Africa because it dominated during the era of Shaka Zulu which spanned the early 1800s. Its traditional dances use high kicks and are very energized. Those traditional dances and songs are mixed in with more current styles of music.
When talking about the hip-hop aspect of the choir, Mulovhedzi laughed and said, “we used to watch a lot of TV as youth. We had our own hip-hop in Africa called ‘Kwaito.’ It’s very up-tempo.”
From Australia to Spain, the Soweto Gospel Choir has seen its influence in the places it has toured and along the way, has met other choirs just as inspirational.
“We’ve met some great people and great choirs,” Mulovhedzi said. “In Australia, we met an aboriginal choir and they shared a song which was in their native language. What is really surprising is that in most of the countries like Spain and Italy, they sing our songs and in our language, which shows the influence and impact it can have.”