Multiple award-winning group, Soweto Gospel Choir, jetted into the country last week for their first East African performance at the Christ is Alive Ministries (CITAM) in Karen. The choir was formed in Soweto, South Africa, in 2002 by David Mulovhedzi and Beverly Bryer, two choir directors. The more than 30-member ensemble blends elements of African gospel, Negro spirituals, reggae and popular American music.
Although the choir sings in six of South Africa’s 11 official languages, it reaches across all cultures, language barriers, and beliefs to bring a message of love, unity, and hope.
The first tour the choir ever did was to Australia, where every performance was sold out. After this, they did a month at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where presenters from around the world came to see them. This time in Edinburgh launched the band’s international touring career, and they have been travelling around the world ever since.
Popular for its colourful costumes, breathtaking vocals, performing energy and spirit, as well as their dancing and drumming, Soweto Gospel Choir has received many accolades which include, five Grammy nominations, three Grammy wins, one Emmy award, one Oscar nomination and so many more.
The group has performed for notable people including President Bill Clinton, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Nelson Mandela and Oprah Winfrey.
In December, 2002 their first album, Voices of Heaven, was recorded and went on to reach number one on Billboard’s World Music Chart within three weeks of its release in the US.
Their first Grammy was in 2007 for their second album, Blessed, in the Best Traditional World Music category while the second was in the same category the following year for the album African Spirit.
Their third album Freedom, a 12-track tribute to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday, saw them being awarded their third Grammy Award earlier this year. The choir has also won an Oscar for their work with British star Peter Gabriel on the song Down to Earth from the movie Wall-E.
On top of their musical career, the Soweto Gospel Choir is an Ambassador for Nelson Mandela’s 46664 campaign that has seen them perform 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.
They are also Ambassadors for SHOUT, 1 Goal, United Nation’s MDG Envoys for Africa and Interpol’s Proud to Be campaign.
Their AIDS orphans foundation, Nkosi’s Haven Vukani, assists organisations that receive little or no funding. To date, the choir has collected over Sh33 million for their foundation.
The Saturday Nation got the opportunity to talk to the choir’s director and producer, Beverly Bryer, ahead of their performance, where she shared their excitement, being in a new country, as well as their plans during the stay.
How has the experience and reception been since landing in Kenya?
The reception has been amazing. We’ve been all around Africa, and I could say that Kenya has been the best visit yet.
Kenyans have been the most friendly and accommodating hosts. The choir thinks so too. Kenya is quite similar to South Africa, so it’s not like we are really in a foreign land. We really feel at home here.
What do you look forward to ahead of the concert?
Being our first time in Kenya, we want to make sure its special for everyone who is going to attend. We’re a gospel choir that sings all kinds of music. Obviously, our songs are going to be 95 per cent gospel music because it’s a church concert. We have a surprise Swahili song, which people probably won’t know. (laughs).
The choir is known for its energy. We spread the love of God through singing, dancing and trying to bring the audience on board. We don’t always use a band, but we will this time round because as I said, we want it to be special.
What’s the choir’s rehearsal process like?
Whenever we have a tour like this one, we start rehearsing two or three weeks prior. The members know almost all the songs of course, but we had to incorporate new ones into the performances this time. The music director had told us that Kenyans enjoy lively songs, which is why we had to change and add some new ones. We rehearsed for three mornings a week for three weeks.
What would you say is the choir’s goal direction?
To keep spreading South African gospel around the world and to preach the word of God through our music. We have two groups; the other being in Australia at the moment. The band aims to get to as many places around the world as they can. We also hope to encourage and lift up and coming choirs seeing as we have been doing this for 17 years now.
What have been the career highlights for the band?
The first has to be participating in Mandela’s 46664 campaign with other artistes around the world. Performing with Beyoncé, John Legend, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder at the Global Citizen last year was also a top for us. We are also very blessed to have performed for a number of world leaders and celebrities like Celine Dion, Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey.
Which Kenyan artistes have stood out for you?
Eric Wainaina was the first, definitely, having done a recording for the United Nations at the MDG campaigns. Six years ago, we also asked to feature his song Rain on Me on our album then.
We are going to be doing something with Sauti Sol during our stay here. I believe they are a very talented group (laughs).
All in all, we are here to know more Kenyan artistes and hopefully work together, just as we have with Nigerian musicians. We would love Kenyan artistes to approach us for collaborations too.