I first saw and reviewed the Soweto Gospel Choir at the 2018 Adelaide Fringe. As I stood in line at Cornucopia waiting for the doors to open, I pondered what might be different about this South African institution two years on. The choir’s profile has grown in the last two years. In 2019, their latest album Freedom won the Grammy for Best World Music Album and they can now count Harry and Meghan amongst their fans. Two years ago, they were a joyous experience, but from the moment the seventeen-strong choir swung into action 2020 style, I noted extra polish, assurance, and an even greater abundance of energy.
Soweto Gospel Choir
SWG’s purpose is twofold. They honour the legacy and sacrifice of the freedom fighters who struggled for decades to liberate South Africa from the scourge of apartheid and they celebrate that hard-won freedom and their culture that encompasses 11 languages. In 2018, I enjoyed the choir’s South African music more and found some of the songs in English a little stilted. This time, the set’s South African numbers were drawn entirely from Freedom and I enjoyed them even more. However, I was mightily impressed with the way the choir handled the English-language material which dominated the latter third of the concert. Amazing Grace was delivered Pentecostal style with arms raised and bodies swaying, the American spirituals Wade in the Water/Rock were as Mississippi as blue catfish, and then we went live to the Apollo for James Bron’s I Feel Good, I Got You. As in 2018, the choir finished with Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, a song that is many things to many people, but in the choir’s eyes, a fitting tribute to their hero Madiba.
Another 2020 bonus was the upskilled traditional chanting, dancing and choreography. Indeed, what was energetic in 2018 became quicksilver in 2020 and there was barely a second between numbers for the performers to draw a breath. Notwithstanding the above, SWG has a message to send and the perfect love note is the anthemic liberation song Jikijela/Rolihlahla Mandela. Listening to the glorious harmonies and watching the inspired faces of the performers with their hands raised to the heavens to thank the man to whom they owe the life they now enjoy, even the coldest hearts would struggle to resist.
I am now a proud owner of Freedom and it will be soothing me in my car for some time to come.
Soweto Gospel Choir plays as part of the Adelaide Fringe until March 15