After 15 years together, the Soweto Gospel Choir is still going strong, as evidenced by their joyful performance at the Panama Club.
The South African choir is decked out in bright and beautiful colours reminiscent of when Desmond Tutu said their country was the ‘Rainbow Nation’. Like Tutu, Soweto embraces diversity and praises the beauty of life in equal measure.
After an introductory song in Zulu, the choir greets the audience in South Africa’s 11 languages. There’s probably only a handful of people in the audience who can understand more than one of these languages, but that doesn’t matter. The point is that everyone is welcome, and no one in the world is outside this tent tonight.
Unlike many of the world’s more regimented choirs, Soweto is an exercise in freedom and character. While each member of the crew might sing in unison, everyone of them has their own distinct character and voice. The audience learns this as the night goes on, with some members of the crowd whispering excitedly to their companions when their favourite singer steps up to lead the chorus.
It must be said, though, that the inimitable and irrepressible choir leader Shimmy Jiyane steals much of the show, with his incredible enthusiasm, and clowning antics among the choir.
The songs performed are a collection of traditional songs, freedom songs (from South Africa’s mercifully passed Apartheid era) and soulful international numbers. Like the performers, each is unique in their own way, be they accompanied by dance, audience interaction or little skits. Crucially, just about every song sends shivers through the audiences’ spines whenever the melodies and powerful collective howl of Soweto reaches a crescendo.
The audience may not understand much of the show’s non-English lyrics, but they get the message. This is a rousing show of love, joy and faith in the world’s goodness.
Soweto Gospel Choir performed at the Panama Club in the Royal Croquet Club on Wednesday, February 22 and will continue until March 19