Three times Grammy winning Soweto Gospel choir is synonymous with energetic magnetism that has you glued to your seats from the first note. The show packs music, rhythm, history, dance, choreography and the most colourful and fashionable costumes.
The show starts with bringing into the spotlight the female drummer, who sets the rhythm, the mood and the pace through the next two hours. Twenty years of being on stage, the choir has travelled worldwide to prestigious locations in North America, Australia and Europe. It continues to raise funds for the Nkosi Haven Vukani Trust. The collections after performances go to buy supplies from food for the children the charities serve, plastic tables and chairs for pre-schools and funerals, kitchen appliances for soup kitchens, and child-feeding schemes.
In honour of the Nelson Mandela century year in 2018, the choir put together the ‘freedom songs’, giving thanks to their leader and remembering all those who took part in the struggle to end apartheid. They sang songs that gave hope against the oppressive regime while celebrating their life. ‘Asimbonanga’, the song alluding to Nelson Mandela and those activists imprisoned during the anti-apartheid movement, reverberated through the auditorium. Some audience members raised their hands and waved back. The beaming faces of the choir as they moved from synchronized formation to one another were mesmerizing. The Gospel music is so uplifting you invariably start clapping and swaying without meaning to.
The songs are linked together with the story. However, not being a native speaker, I missed translations that would have helped me understand the deeper meanings and connections with each song. What we lost in the specificity of words, we got in the spirit. The choir walks on stage with presence and engagement. Each voice raised in moving harmony, and the piano and drums’ symphony of voices supported expertly had the audience enthralled. Even without the words, one was moved by the different emotions expressed by the choir members, from melancholy, sorrow, and grief to joy, celebration and hope. The songs recreated scenes of apartheid—the labour of men taken away from the village to dig roads for the colonizers. The grief and loneliness of the women left behind with the children. The songs were interspersed with choreographed dance and drama among the singers and musicians.
The energetic tapping of the next team member and the pauses the team members held hands in acknowledgement while sharing songs felt absorbing. The riveting duets turn into a crescendo of scales. The choir also interspersed the gospel songs with popular hymns like,’ Wade in the water, American popular music ‘You make me feel like a natural woman and Hallelujah’. Especially for the last song, it was a delight to see the lines merge between the audience and stage, all voices raised in unison, with everyone on their feet and singing along with the team. After the concert, the choir members poured into the cloakroom area, sharing their final song and connecting with the audience.
The pandemic has been complex for everyone, and we could notice the smaller band and some singers not there anymore—the piano player doubling up across the stage to play the drums.
The Soweto Gospel Choir is a jubilation of who they are and a quiet remembrance of work that is still required for freedom in our heads and hearts.
Reviewer: Anisha Pucadyil
Reviewed: 18th October 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★