*Shimmy Jiyane, the Choir Director of the Soweto Gospel Choir, took the time to talk about the Choir’s US Tour. Formed in 2002, The Soweto Gospel Choir, based in Soweto, South Africa, is touring 2 Strings of their Choir. Their first string consisting of 20 members is touring the United States and the second string consisting of 28 choir members is touring Europe. The Soweto Gospel Choir is due to arrive at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, located at 250 Bedford Park Boulevard West in the Bronx, NY, on Sunday, December 9th where they will be performing within the renovated venue at 4:00 pm.
South Africa’s Soweto Gospel Choir is best known for their renditions of Negro Spirituals, African gospel, reggae and American pop music. Their first album Voice of Heaven recorded in 2002 reached No. 1 on Billboard’s World Music chart. The next album “Blessed” won the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Traditional World Music as did their song “African Spirit.” The Choir has received several Grammy Award nominations and have performed with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Diana Ross, Celine Dion, Stevie Wonder, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black-Eyed Peas, and Hugh Maskela, among others.
“The Choir has a great pride in our people and nation. In fact, the reason why the Choir was formed initially was to celebrate our heritage and the different cultures contained within South Africa. Also to introduce to the world the African art of singing and dancing. We have traveled all over the world showcasing the traditions of South Africa,” explained Jiyane who has been with the Choir for 18 years.
“As stated, we have won several awards and even got nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy,” remarked the Choir Director, who talked about a special program known as “Songs of the Free.”
“Songs of the Free” is in celebration of Nelson Mandela who was our First Black South African President. Via this tribute South Africans celebrate all our leaders. Those who fought and joined in the struggle to free South Africa during the Apartheid era. We celebrate our political leaders and those forced into exile as well as those who died to free South Africa. We remember everyone’s contribution, even those who went out of the country to spread the word and inform the world about what was happening under Apartheid in South Africa. So via these songs and celebrations we take audiences on a journey to show what Nelson Mandela and others did for South Africa. Also, we remember the Mothers of Africa. We have a special song for Winnie Mandela who was among the mothers who left their home and joined the fight because their men were being killed. Winnie was the Mother of Africa who never left Soweto. She was right there among us, within the struggle, going through the same suffering we all endured. Yes, she was right there with us.”
Shimmy talked about the emotional impact of the show. “There is a lot of emotion felt by both the choir and the audience. For us it is very close to our hearts because when we sing it is in memory of those who died to free South Africa,” explained Mr. Jiyane of the great passion South Africans have for their country.
In fact, The Soweto Gospel Choir was instrumental in raising over 1.5 million dollars to assist AIDS victims and their families who struggle with the disease. This was one of the areas that Winnie Mandela focused on after Apartheid ended. Soweto was one of the townships that rose up on June 16, 1976 and spread countrywide effecting the socio-political landscape. The uprising brought attention to the policies of the Apartheid government and gave rise to the Black Consciousness Movement and the formation of the South African Students Organization bringing about a wave of anti-apartheid sentiment culminating in the eventual end of Apartheid in 1994.
Apartheid ended but there is still work to be done. “Black people have taken over control of South Africa. The White Power structure has been replaced with Black rule. However, there are still issues to contend with. Little-by-little we are dealing with these issues and working out our problems,” indicated Jiyane, who talked about the various tribes and multiple tribal languages. In fact, The Soweto Gospel Choir wears colorful costumes and sings songs representative of the varied tribes and cultures within South Africa.
Interested parties who wish to buy tickets to see the Soweto Gospel Choir can call the Lehman Center Box Office at 718-960-8833 or visit on line at www.Lehmancenter.org. Children 12 and under pay $10 for any seat in the house.
Deardra Shuler has experience in theatre, music, concert promotion, television and publishing. She was affiliated with the Negro Ensemble Company and is a former manager of the children’s theatre,”TADA.” She has produced and promoted concerts in Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, and Radio City Music Hall.
Ms. Shuler is the former Editor and Managing Editor of three New York City minority newspapers. Presently, she is the Entertainment Editor of The Black Star News. As a freelance writer she writes for several New York City newspapers; including the Examiner, Amsterdam News and Eurweb.
Deardra freelances for Afrocentricnews in California. She is the former PR chairman for the FESPACO film festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Africa, and is presently program manager for BlakeRadio.com where she also hosts her own show “Topically Yours.”