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South African soul

Analise Lipari | Monday, February 20, 2006

Hailing from South Africa, a nation formerly torn by racial prejudice and apartheid laws, the Soweto Gospel Choir proved to be a joyous example of the rebirth of the singers’ homeland in light of their faith at their concert at the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts (DPAC) Saturday night.

The choir originates in South Africa, from in and around the community of Soweto. The nation’s multifaceted heritage – Zulu, Afrikaaner (Dutch) and English among others – leaves the group with a personable distinctiveness that is unique to its homeland.

The group, founded in 2002, has performed its versions of modern and traditional African and global gospel songs worldwide. The choir has put on concerts for world leaders and common audiences alike.

Members have acted as representatives of Nelson Mandela’s “46664” AIDS campaign and sung on worldwide platforms such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Their message of faith and their infectious style reach further than their home country, as they have traveled the world on several musical tours.

This sense of global appreciation was clearly felt in the choir’s performance on Saturday, and the “world music” label commonly slapped onto groups of this type or origin, in this case did the choir’s multicultural identity and international audience a subtle justice.

The chance to expose the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s communities to a culture unlike what they are used to was certainly a positive aspect of the concert. Increased globalization makes getting in touch with another corner of the world an important cultural experience.

“Overall, I really liked the performance because it popped the Notre Dame bubble,” freshman Laura Wilczek said. “It showed the culture of Africa and gave a human face to a faraway nation. I think it’s important that the singers could show their culture and share it with us.”

It is this, the desire to spread their culture, faith and message worldwide, that motivates the singers.

“Soweto Gospel Choir is proud of its talent, its belief in God and its joy of music and of life. The choir will be touring for most of 2006, visiting new countries and cities, making new friends and followers and spreading its message of hope and passion throughout the world,” the choir’s Web site states, summing up their mission in a few short words.

The concert fully lived up to this mission by putting it into joyfully contagious spirit and action. The choir performed beautifully, with a tangible sense of elation and praise that undoubtedly spread to the audience.

From the moment that the Soweto Choir entered the Leighton Concert Hall, it held the enraptured crowd at attention. Their costumes, which the group members changed after the intermission, were brightly colored forms of traditional clothing, with each choir member highlighting a different shade. The sections of black and white-striped patterns accented the colors on each tunic, and left the viewer with an overall effect of harmony and energy in their dress.

“The colors of their costumes emphasized the jubilant mood of their songs,” Wilczek said.

Led by choir master and fellow singer David Mulovhedzi, the choir gave its audience nearly two hours of gospel hymns and spirituals. The majority of pieces were performed in local languages, such as Zulu or Sotho, and hearing the strong voices sing in these languages was nothing short of an experience in joyful worship.

Each piece, from traditional hymns such as “Avulekile Amasango” to the rhythmic interpretation of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” was individual in its performance but unified by the choir’s talent. The breadth and power of the voices was a force of worship unleashed, and the depth of harmony was simply beautiful.

While every number was performed with zeal and passion, highlights included the dance segment that opened the second half, a version of Bob Marley’s “One Love” and the group’s magnificent take on “Amazing Grace.” For so unfortunately clichéd a hymn, the words found new meaning when sung by such pure voices.

“Earthy rhythms, rich harmonies, and charismatic a capella performances combine to uplift the soul and express South Africa’s hopes for the future,” reads thechoir’s press release.

Several choir members spoke during the concert to reiterate this theme of optimism, and the group ended its regular performance with a rendition of an apartheid-free South Africa’s national anthem, “Nkosi Sikilele.”

The group’s energy level brought the audience to its feet at the encore. The final number, the classic “Oh Happy Day,” injected the audience with a vigor and force so contagious that applause and singing erupted in the theater. The entire room enlivened the choir’s beauty of pure worship and praise.

Drums, instruments, voices, dancing – every element worked seamlessly to bring to the DPAC one incredible night of music at the hands of the Soweto Gospel Choir on Saturday.