Mixing African spirituals with American gospel songs is what makes the Soweto Gospel Choir special.. It is also what has earned this group an Emmy Award, two Grammy Awards, three South African Music Association Awards and even an Oscar nomination.
Last Thursday, the Soweto Gospel Choir proved that the deserve all these awards. Their unusual musical approach delighted the audience for ninety minutes with an assortment of selections from both South Africa and America. Much of the music was not in English but the melodies and rhythms transcended any language barriers.
What also surprised me with the Soweto Gospel Choir was the amount of dance integrated into the songs. The dances were not conventional in what I usually think of us African or American dance but perfectly matched the selections with enthusiasm and a fresh perspective of original choreography as an added expression of the song.
With about a 25 member choir who also were members of the band, no two were dressed the same. For the females, all of them wore a white skirt with a pattern in the front near the bottom and a black shirt covered with a lined-colorful shawl that covered one shoulder and had a matching scarf used in a variety of ways in the hair. In the second half, the black and white remained with each one wearing a different robe and a decorative trim on the top section. The men wore black pants with two different shirts also in different colors but the same style.
Unquestionably the acapella singing with only a djimba, a native drum, is where this group excels. This allowed the audience to better hear the wonderful four-part harmonies in their songs along with solo parts which seemed to feature every member of the group at some time.
For the songs with accompaniment, members of the choir also played the keyboard, guitar, bass guitar, and drum. Unfortunately, many times the band overwhelmed the choir in volume. As the show progressed, this seemed to improve.
For the audience, the favored songs were unquestionably the ones well-known. "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" began with the choir singing their back-up music for the entire refrain while soloists joining in this expressive rendition which was beautiful and inspiring. Also well received was when Mandla Modawa demonstrated how a true bass voice should sound in "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot". This was one of those times where the audience wondered about how low could he sing musically without rumbling.Two particular selections were show stoppers with the audience immediately rising to standing ovations. "This Little Light of Mine" combined American gospel music with the African enunciation delighted the audience with dancing, singing, and toe-tapping. Unquestionably "Arms of an Angel" was a wonderful experience and the balance with the instruments was much improved from earlier. This is one song that could have been repeated for hours.
Unfortunately, the Soweto Gospel Choir only performed for ninety minutes on stage. The first half lasted a little over 45 minutes and then had almost a 30 minute intermission. The ninety minutes included the encores. Members of the audience did complain about the shortness of the program.
Soweto Gospel Choir is an energetic group of talented performers who sing and dance of variety of music that is African and American creating a wonderful experience that is both visual and auditory.