songs from the Soul

Translation By: 
alice Kok
圖 Photos courtesy of Soweto Gospel Choir
Vibrant and exuberant, the critically acclaimed Soweto Gospel Choir from South Africa
Vibrant and exuberant, the critically acclaimed Soweto Gospel Choir from South Africa will bring the inspirational power of African Gospel to Macau for a tour-de-force performance at the 31st Macao International Music Festival.
The critically acclaimed Soweto Gospel Choir from South Africa was formed to celebrate the unique and inspirational power of African Gospel music. Drawing on the best talent from the many churches in and around Soweto, the choir is dedicated to sharing the joy of faith through music with audiences around the world.
On the 26th of October the South African musical sensation will be bringing their performance to local audiences at Mount Fortress for the 31st Macao International Music Festival.
Formed in 2002, by two choir directors David Mulovhedzi and Beverly Bryer, the Soweto Gospel Choir’s inspirational power of African Gospel, South African freedom songs, stories of human struggle and courage, as well as their unique reinterpretations of international classics, have garnered them a very international following. 
Their hybrid music styles of African gospel music, spirituals and reggae, amongst others, make the Soweto Gospel Choir one of a kind and unrivalled in their genre. 
In 2002, their first album Voices of Heaven was recorded and went on to reach the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s World Music Chart within three weeks of its release in the US.
Since their formation, the choir’s numerous international performances, tours, and collaborations have seen them perform for world leaders, Presidents Obama and Clinton, film stars, sports heros and royalty, including the British Royal Family and Princess Charlene of Monaco.
The choir’s 2009 album Grace, received critical praise around the world, and the January 2010 issue of The Oprah Magazine USA stated: “If you have only 1 hour and 10 minutes, feed your soul with Grace. The 26-member troupe proves that joy is nondenominational.”
Winners of two Grammys, an Emmy and two South African Music Awards, as well as an Oscar nomination, the Soweto Gospel Choir have been described by The New York Times as “Meticulous and unstoppable…spirited and spectacular.”
In 2010, the choir collaborated with U2, as the featured South African artist, on the songs Streets Have No Name, Magnificent and Boots for ESPN’s promotional campaign for that year’s Football World Cup. The Soweto Gospel Choir received a Sports Emmy Award as winners of the Outstanding Music Composition/Direction/Lyrics category, along with ESPN and U2.
The choir performed at the 2010 FIFA World Cup Kick-Off Concert in Soweto, the night before the the opening of the World Cup in June, with a international and African line-up including the Black-Eyed Peas, Shakira, Angelique Kidjo and John Legend.
With over 1,000 performances to date and hailed as a “South African music phenomenon” this group of performers have taken the essence of their country, created a unique and uplifting stage production, and now celebrate the spirit of Africa around the world.  
Before the Choir touched down  in Macau, CLOSER spoke with Choir Manager and bass singer Mulalo Mulovhedzi, about being a part of this very unique musical group.
Macau CLOSER: Having performed for some of the most legendary world leaders - Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton, to mention a few, and names from the world of entertainment – what particular occasions stand out?
The 46664 April 29, 2009 in New York. Why? Because we were celebrating a world icon, Mandela, especially his legacy of reconciliation and unity, which he stood for until his passing. What made it outstanding was the fact that different artists from around the world came together for a good cause, and sharing the stage with them was one of the most amazing experiences.
Your performances are often described as heartfelt and genuine.  What drives this passion and how do you nurture it with such a busy schedule?
Our music is made out of love and compassion. When we get on stage we sing from the heart, and most of our songs are derived from our personal experiences, which gives us the drive to share with our audiences. But most of all, we come from a culture which is musically driven and everything we do is driven by a song.
You were founded in 2012.  What are some of the biggest changes the choir has undergone since that time to the present?
I must say we are one of the most fortunate groups that have managed to keep its original members throughout out the years. The changes that we have experienced have been the deaths of some members. Being on stage knowing that someone who used to sing a certain song or play a certain role is no longer with you brings sadness. We are more like a family and any loss does affect us.
The Soweto Gospel Choir is internationally recognised. Do you see yourselves as cultural ambassadors for South Africa? 
Yes, we do see ourselves as ambassadors. We have managed to fly our country's flag high and made sure we represent South Africa in a very good way. Whoever sees us experiences the goodness of our country.
How important are the different aspects of your stage presence, from wardrobe to choreography, in sharing elements of South African culture?
Our country is famously known as a rainbow nation because of the richness in culture and the 11 different languages.  We sing in six of those languages and the wardrobe we use in our show is in different colours, which stand for the unity of different races in South Africa. The choreography normally tells a story for those who cannot understand the language or the lyrics of a certain song.
You will be performing Shosholoza in Macau. Popularised as a song sung ahead of big sporting events and also through Clint Eastwood’s 2009 film Invictus, would you say it is one of the biggest ‘crowd pleasers’ of the night?
Shosholoza has always been our country's number one song. It reflects our identity and patriotism. This is one song that moves everyone, both on stage and in audiences, and without a doubt it is a pleaser.
How do you view the development of the arts in general, and music in particular, over the past decades in South Africa?  
Music has grown in South Africa. We come from the time of apartheid when most of our young singers were not given opportunities And over the past decades with our freedom, we have seen more and more youth expressing themselves through arts. There are still a lot of challenges faced by the youth in music, especially when it comes to development. We still lack government support in promoting talents.
How do you experience different audiences around the world and what are you expecting from the one in Macau?
Every performance is different and it comes with it’s own expectations, especially when watching a top class choir like ours. One thing about the Soweto Gospel Choir is that we are able to capture them with our amazing voices and get them tapping and moving from the beginning. Macau should expect an electrifying performance and a lot of interaction with the Choir. When we finish, they'll be asking for more.
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The choir have long been associated with one of the most famous names South Africa has ever produced – former president, anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela was sent to prison on Robben Island in 1964; he was given the prison number 46664. Thirty-eight years later, Mandela gave his number to a global HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness campaign as a reminder of the sacrifices he made for a cause he believed in. 46664 was established in 2002 as an independent, not-for-profit organisation. The Soweto Gospel Choir is an Ambassador for Nelson Mandela’s 46664 campaign and has performed at the Cape Town, Johannesburg, London and New York concerts with artists such as Peter Gabriel, Bono, Queen, Jimmy Cliff, Johnny Clegg, Eddie Grant, Amy Winehouse, Queen Latifah, Wyclef Jean, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder.
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The Soweto Gospel Choir was featured on the Peter Gabriel/Thomas Newman song Down to Earth, written for Pixar's 2008 film WALL-E. The song was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song at the 66th Golden Globe Awards and the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 81st Academy Awards.
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