Soweto plays North Toronto
Heavy on Revolution – Gospel Takes A Back Seat
By Stephen Weir
The Soweto Gospel Choir has been around the world more than a few times since their formation back in 2002. The South African singing group is so much in demand that they now have two choirs performing and touring simultaneously this December in the United States and Europe.
The city got to see the Soweto Gospel Choir for two nights last Thursday and Friday in North Toronto. They swooped into town, won the hearts and voices of an almost filled George Weston Theatre (North York), sold a whack of autographed CDs then hit the road to perform the next night in Montreal and the night after that in New Jersey.
The Choir has dedicated their two exhaustive international tours to the celebration of the late Nelson Mandela in this his 100th birthday year. The 90-minute songfest, called Songs of the Free included – judging by the raised clench fists of the 20 singers on stage – historic songs about South African liberation.
Earthy rhythms and rich harmonies sung in six of their country’s official languages was what it was all about. And although some of the colourfully dressed cast members were showing their age (and arthritis), their head-high kick style dancing had Toronto fans shouting, clapping and holding their phones on high to record the action on stage.
How did audience react to the entertainers? “If you go to heaven and don't see the Soweto Gospel Choir, you will be in the wrong heaven “ tweeted Eng Manu la'gran from his seat in between songs.
The evening performance was broken into two distinct parts. The first half of the show was all about the importance that Mandela played in ending Apartheid in South Africa. The sound system was terrific while the Choir was singing, unfortunately the descriptions and history told in between numbers by cast members, was almost undecipherable.
After intermission the singers returned to sing non-African songs. Despite their name and the fact that the singers have been recruited from church congregations in and around Soweto, there wasn’t much gospel sung in Toronto last week. Instead the choir sang American classics including Aretha Franklin’s Respect (which brought the audience out of their seats and into the aisles dancing). The evening’s keynote song came just before the obligatory encore with a Canadian classic. Their hair-raising take Leonard Cohen’s secular hymn “Hallelujah” brought many to tears.
The two-time Grammy Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir has been performing to audiences across the globe for nearly two decades. They have shared the stage with some of the biggest names in music including U2, the late Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Robert Plant, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Josh Groban and Canada’s Celine Dion.
“The Soweto Gospel Choir members are thrilled to return to the U.S. (and Canada) for this American tour,” producer Andrew Kay wrote to North American fans on the Group’s Facebook Account.
“The group continues to inspire fans worldwide, but the reaction we get from audiences in the States and Canada is unforgettable. We hope that our uplifting message of hope, faith, and joy reaches audiences new and old on this special return visit as we celebrate the legacy of the great Nelson Mandela.”