Author: Sabine Kortals

Soweto Gospel Choir brings gospel and dance to Boulder

Grammy Award-winning Soweto Gospel choir illuminates South African life through music, singing and dancing.

On Dec. 11, CU Presents brings South Africa’s 24-voice Soweto Gospel Choir to Macky Auditorium. The choir’s holiday program features colorful, spirited performances of classic Christmas carols, and moving African gospel and dance.

Described as “Nothing less than an international treasure” (JazzTimes), the Soweto Gospel Choir offers a stunning affirmation of how South Africans celebrate, grieve, worship and tell stories. Among several other songs and chants, program selections include “Hayo mathata,” “Ziyamaz’ umelusi,” “Kae le Kae” and “Asimbonanga / Biko”—a song that speaks to Nelson Mandela’s 27-year jail term.

The choir will also perform their rendition of Jimmy Cliff’s 1970s hit, “Swing Low,” which represents support for the anti-Apartheid movement; as well as James Brown’s “I Feel Good.” The program—a mix of traditional and contemporary music and dance—concludes with a handful of favorite Christmas carols in the group’s unique rendering of music and rhythms, including “Oh! Holy Night,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “Silent Night,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and more.

The tradition of Christmas was introduced to South Africa by missionaries around 1650, and remains an important holiday celebration among South Africans today. Indeed, Christianity is now entrenched in South African life with approximately 80 percent of the population following some variant of the religion—it’s a key aspect of family and community life, as is music, singing and dancing.

Led by choir directors Beverly Bryer and Jimmy Mulovhedzi, the Soweto Gospel Choir was formed in November 2002; one month later, their first album—“Voices of Heaven”—was recorded, reaching the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s World Music Chart within three weeks of its release in the United States. In 2003, the choir won its first award—the Helpmann Award, Australia’s prestigious performing arts award—for “Best Contemporary Music Concert,” as well as American Gospel Music Awards for “Best Choir” and “Best International Choir.” Since then, the choir garnered a Grammy Award for its second album, “Blessed,” in the category “Best Traditional World Music.”

The Soweto Gospel Choir has performed for Nelson Mandela and former President Bill Clinton, and as the invited guests for their patron, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, at his 75th birthday celebrations. The choir was also featured with Diana Ross, Deborah Cox and Danny K at the “Unite of the Stars” Gala Banquet in South Africa, and they’ve appeared on NBC’s “Today Show,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show.” Additionally, the Soweto Gospel Choir has performed for Oprah Winfrey and her illustrious guests, including Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Tina Turner, Patti Labelle, Sidney Poitier and Quincy Jones.

Beyond their distinctive music making, the Soweto Gospel Choir founded its own AIDS orphans foundation, Nkosi’s Haven Vukani (which means “Outreach”), to assist organizations that receive little or no funding. The choir also performs for a variety of charitable causes. Join us for a pre-concert lecture with Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology Austin Okigbo. The lecture begins at 6:45 p.m. in Room 102 at Macky Auditorium; seating is limited, so please arrive early.


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