Soweto Gospel Choir

African Grace - Her Majesty’s Theatre. 1 – 3 June

Undoubtedly the Soweto Gospel Choir are amazing! But let's get all the annoying stuff out of the way right from the start.

For their most recent visit to South Australia, the Adelaide Festival Centre has put the African choir into Her Majesty's theatre. The venue is not designed for musical performances and the sound quality is pretty average. In 2008 the group visited Adelaide with their ‘African Sprit’ tour and played the Festival Theatre stage – Her Majesty’s simply does not compare. Twelve speakers have been added to boost the audio, but unfortunately they fail in delivering the full sound this amazing choir demands. The staging is straight forward enough but features no less than four shot microphones, set 4-feet high across the front of the stage and two multi-directional mics at 8-feet high across the back, all which mask the choir and are difficult to ignore. 

Gripes aside, the choir are in fine form! Their latest tour entitled ‘African Grace’ could just have easily been called African Energy! With a much larger focus on choreography and up beat tempos the choir have the audience hopping in their seats. Entering from the rear of the auditorium, smiles where spread across the faces of the spectators as the gentle harmonies of the acapella choir rang out in the theatre. By the third song, entitled ‘Kae Le Kae’, the choir really hit their straps.

Masigiye'bo - Zulu for "let's dance" was a huge audience favourite as the men tried to out dance each other. The gorgeous polyphonic harmonization was mostly accompanied only by traditional African Djembe drums. Other instruments included keyboard, electric and bass guitar, harmonica and several different types of percussion. The songs featured both male and female vocal harmonisation, and a lot of call and response styling consistent with traditional African music. One of the most popular numbers in the first acts was a touching arrangement of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel.

In fitting with the dance theme the second act opened with six of the male chorus giving a hot shoe shuffle in taps led by founding member and choreographer Shimmy Jiyane. The latter half of the second act also showcased some contemporary African music, demonstrating once again the versatility and range of the choir. Africanised versions of ‘Many Rivers to Cross" and "Swing Low" were hugely popular, as well as the closing tribute to Miriam Makeba with "Pata Pata"

This group always manage to bring in an audience, and there is no doubt it won’t be their last visit to Adelaide. Touring since the choirs inception in 2002, there was a heavy focus on raising funds for World Vision, and the choir’s own charities Nkosi’s Haven and the Vukani Outreach programme.

If you get a chance to see this performance, it is highly recommended. Sound quality aside this choir could sing in a cardboard box and still be outstanding. Try not to miss it!

Paul Rodda