By Dan Taylor
The Press Democrat
October 4, 2018
Some musical groups go on tour because they have a new album out, but the Soweto Gospel Choir’s “Songs of the Free” tour has a higher goal.
Starting last year, the 20-member South African ensemble has been touring in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, their country’s first black president, who served from 1994 to 1999. He was born in 1918 and died in 2013 at the age of 95.
“The inspiration comes from Mandela and what he fought for … and what happened in South Africa after Apartheid,” said Shimmy Jiyane, the group’s choir master, choreographer and a founding member.
Jiyane, who will turn 25 this year, is too young to remember living under Apartheid, a system of institutionalized racial segregation that existed in South Africa from 1948 until the early 1990s, but he’s grateful for Mandela’s crusade to make South Africa a worldwide model of freedom.
“That what made us come together to do a show and speak about what happened, but we are doing it to music,” Jiyane said.
And that is the message he and the choir will bring Oct. 12 to Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center.
“It’s been going on for a while,” Jiyane said of the tour. “We just came back from our tour in Portugal and in Scotland. I would say that for 11 months of the year, we are away.”
Colorfully costumes and skillfully choreographed, the singers of the Soweto Gospel Choir put on a performance that is more of a celebration than just a concert.
“It will be a beautiful, moving show. The message that we send throughout the world is a message of joy and peace. You must understand that music is food for the soul,” Jiyane said.
“There are some original songs that we wrote, but some of them are struggle songs that were sung during our troubles in our country,” he explained. “It’s the music that still brings hope for us, even in this era. It’s the music that will take people on a journey of how it all started, and the way we are now.”
Even though the choir does honor other South African leaders, the theme always comes back to Mandela.
“Mandela was our spearhead. Even though he’s gone, he has left us a legacy. Now must we take that and move with it. When Mandela was the president, he came out and said, ‘This country will be the greatest country. It will be a free country,’” Jiyane said. “So the music that we do speaks about that.”