29 December 2003
The Soweto Gospel Choir, drawing from the churches and communities of South Africa’s most famous township, mixes earthy rhythms with rich harmonies to uplift the soul and express the energy of South Africa.
After a 32-date tour of Australia and New Zealand, and four weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the choir has yet to go without a standing ovation. Now they’re planning to take their unique brand of gospel magic to Asia, the US, and again to Europe and Australia. Not bad for a group that’s only been together since November 2002.
The choir was the surprise hit of the 2003 Edinburgh Festival: they were the fourth-highest selling act out of 1 600 acts booked for the festival, putting on extra shows to meet the demand and eventually performing 29 concerts in the space of a month – delighting the reviewers as much as the audiences.
Fiona Shepherd, writing for The Scotsman, had this to say of their concert performance, “Voices of Heaven”: “A capella groups Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Black Umfolozi have already cracked open the western market for indigenous South African song, but nothing can really prepare you for the riot of exuberance and depth of emotion emanating from this 24-piece ensemble …
“This is a seamless show brimming with spot-on multi-lingual performances which, for all their technical precision, are universally expressive and unfettered, charged by the choir’s constant movement.”
When they toured Australia and New Zealand earlier this year, the choir bowled audiences over with their powerful performances, receiving standing ovations after every show, including a performance at the Sydney Opera House.
The choir ended their tour by winning a Helpmann award in the category “Best contemporary concert presentation”. The Helpmann awards, established in Australia in 2001 for excellence and achievement in the live entertainment industry, are similar to the Tony Awards on Broadway or the Olivier Awards in London.
With their fast-growing international profile and the rapid success of their first album (also entitled “Voices of Heaven”), the Soweto Gospel Choir is perhaps better known to foreigners than those at home!
Choir master David Mulovhedzi attributes the success of the 34-member choir to the fact that it is tapping into South Africa’s enormous talent pool. Its members, whose ages range from 16 to 40, hail from churches and communities in and around Soweto, and are all lead singers in their own community choirs.
The choir includes a four-piece band and some thrilling drummers and dancers in the African tradition where song, dance and drumming are an integral part of life and faith.
The choir sings traditional African gospel and a cappella. Their overseas performances also included other gospel greats like “Amazing Grace”, “Paradise Road” and music by Otis Redding and reggae artist Jimmy Cliff.
According to the Australian ABC Shop online, the “Voices from Heaven” CD “showcases an inspirational programme of a capella and African gospel.
“Ranging from traditional African gospel to songs drawn from Western and contemporary gospel traditions, South African gospel music is indeed unique. It has strong roots in traditional music and conveys a powerful spiritual message.”