SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR / “Soweto Gospel Choir Mixtape”
We here in the United States usually think of our music as unique, especially our gospel but in truth we are not unique but rather are simply one among a number of manifestations of African-heritage musical expressions that function within a western cultural context. There are several assumptions with respect to gospel that are more myth than fact. Most people think that R&B came from gospel when the truth is the exact opposite. The music that we know as gospel resulted from Thomas Dorsey and Mahalia Jackson. Dorsey was a former classic blues musician known as Georgia Tom, who toured with greats such as Ma Rainey and Tampa Red. Dorsey was a prolific composer including the multi-million seller, “Tight Like That” (1928). When Dorsey converted to Christianity he soon teamed up with another great singer who physically favored Ma Rainey. Mahalia Jackson, with her New Orleans upbringing, was the right vocalist to bring a jazzy sense of rhythm to the blues-influenced sacred music that Dorsey composed, including his signature song, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Even the gospel quartet format had its greatest influence in popular black music. The Golden Gate Quartet, which is often pointed to as the paragon of gospel quartets was patterned after The Mills Brothers. But before we go too far afield, the main point is that although black church music has had a major influence on black popular music, gospel was itself spawned from blues and other forms of popular black music. Which all brings us to The Soweto Gospel Choir, which at first listen might seem to simply be a South African version of African American church music. The key elements of black choral religious music are found both in South Africa and the United States. First, you had the forced elevation of Protestant Christian liturgy on people of African heritage. Second you had the urban environment that used the piano and the organ as basic instruments as opposed to guitars, accordions, harmonicas and other portable instruments. If you hear the South African pianist, it’s easy to understand the relationship, especially when you consider that there was a common core repertoire. The use of the pentatonic scale, and specific vocal techniques that many of us immediately identify as black ways of singing are elements that South Africans and African Americans have in common. Of course there are also differences, the most obvious of which, is language. No surprise, that The Soweto Gospel Choir employs Zulu, Xhosa and other indigenous languages in addition to English. And similarly, there is no surprise that specific ethnic vocal techniques are also used. The specific differences notwithstanding, The Soweto Gospel Choir is clearly and unambiguously a black gospel vocal ensemble. In many ways they are analogous to The Sounds of Blackness vocal ensemble in that The Soweto Gospel Choir builds their music on a foundation of gospel, spirituals, popular music, blues and jazz plus reggae and indigenous South African ethnic music forms and vocal techniques. I have intentionally included English language material for a majority of the Mixtape selections, not simply because a number of the songs are familiar but also to highlight the similarities and differences. The Soweto Gospel Choir was formed in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa by choir directors David Mulovhedzi (who recently died of cancer) and Beverly Bryer. The thirty-plus member ensemble has won two Grammys in 2007 and 2008, and have been recording and touring since 2005. Let us fellowship together in song with our relatives from across the water. —Kalamu ya Salaam The Soweto Gospel Choir Mixtape Playlist Voices From Heaven 01 “Thina Simnqobile” 02 “Many Rivers To Cross/Going Down Jordan/ Amen (Medley)” 03 “Amazing Grace” 04 “African Dream” Blessed 05 “Lelilungello Ngelakho” 06 “Weeping” 07 “Oh Happy Day” 08 “South African National Anthem” African Spirit 09 “Hlohonolofatsa” 10 “Sitting In Limbo / This Little Light Of Mine / M'Lilo Vutha” 11 “Rivers of Babylon” 12 “Balm of Gilead” Live at the Nelson Mandela Theatre 13 “Jerusalem” 14 “Avulekile Amasango / One Love” 15 “River Jordan” Grace 16 “Prayer for South Africa” 17 “Over Trouble Waters” 18 “Grace”
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