Review by Carly Fisher
To say that their reputation proceeds them would be an understatement. The Soweto Gospel Choir is known the world over…that’s what happens when you win three grammy’s…and deservedly so. This was my first time finally getting to see the famous group and after years of waiting, they did not disappoint.
The show opens with a story of what it meant to fight for freedom and instantly we are brought not only into the world of this music but into the heart and spirit of why music has culturally long been a way to lament, to celebrate and most importantly, to unify.
Hailing from South Africa, the group does not shy away from the harsh history that the country has had to endure and instead reminds us all of the sacrifices made by those who came before them - this tribute is powerful and in a world plagued with chaos as ours is at the moment, it is a vital reminder of why there is never a moment that we can stand back or stand down…we must stand up - and they tell us all of this largely through song. It is an inspiring hour to say the least.
Of course, one of the most famous freedom fighters, whom the show is dedicated to, is Nelson Mandela and as they speak of him and sing to him, it is hard to maintain a dry eye. It has nearly been 10 years since his passing and still this great man looms large for all in the audience. As each choir member raises their arm, fist tight, and in perfect harmony lets ‘Madiba’ reverberate through the grand music hall at Assembly Hall, there is a power that sends a chill down your spine. It is respectful, impactful and exceptionally moving. It was a gift to witness.
Though most of the songs are not performed in English, the group are such impactful storytellers that somehow each song is still easy to follow. Their emotion through each song, backed by simple but strong movements allow the audience in. Their generosity as performers, sharing their culture and the historical significance of the selected songs, is enormous.
The stage is filled with bright colours as each wears a version of traditional dress that makes for an exciting and yet delicate costume. The choreography throughout is sharp and symbolic. The group has not risen to the fame it has by luck - they perform a lot, they tour a lot, they share a lot, and all of this is exceptionally apparent as you witness the precision with which they move around the stage, even carefully choreographing the passing of microphones to one another. They are highly skilled at what they do.
Despite one’s religion or cultural background, there is something very significant about watching this group sing Hallelujah, particularly as I went to see the show on a Sunday. Whatever your beliefs, it is moving to watch the group perform this song with such respect and belief.
The power of the group sits in its perfect unity - this is ensemble work in its truest and most impressive form. That said, there is still plenty of opportunity to stand out and Shimmy Jiyane certainly does just that. His passion permeates through his movement, his spirit and his expressiveness.
By and large it is the women though who really steal your eye - it is amazing to see them front and centre within this cultural performance. I wish I knew each of their names to give proper credit to each but all the same, a huge congratulations to all. The group is supported by live musicians on keyboards and traditional drums and again, a big shout out must go to the live musicians who make this happen.
From the moment the group steps foot onto the Assembly Hall stage it feels as though an invitation is extended to each member of the audience to learn more about their culture, their music and their fighting spirit on the back of their history. It is a generous invitation and one that I was most grateful to receive…I cannot wait to see the choir perform again soon and highly recommend seeing them when they perform at a theatre or festival near you.