Sunday, October 09, 2011

8th October 2011 Soweto Gospel Choir @Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

"...and I'd like one for the Soweto Gospel Choir, too" I heard myself say.

I was standing in the sun-drenched box office of Sheffield's rather swanky Crucible Theatre. I could rationalise it as much as I'd like, for instance saying: "well, as an student of AfroCuban music, it's important to see its roots at the source", but the truth was that it was a momentary mugging by spontaneity.

I can only put it down to Rising Sap from the pseudo-Spring conditions teasing Yorkshire's autumn.

I expected beautiful rich tibreous voices in rhythmic harmony. My mind's eye painted an image of 'Songs of Praise' crossed with the deep South's Gospel. My mind's eye was agog seconds bars into the programme.

The twenty-strong men and women of the choir slipped onto stage in a vibrant kaleidoscope of colour, swaying and singing in undulating rhythm. Unlike their genre predecessors Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the presence of women in the ensemble endows the Soweto Gospel Choir with a greater vocal, harmonic, and timbrel range. It also extended the possibilities in programme presentation: very early on in the first set there was a piece sung by the ladies, followed straight after with another by the gentlemen - it was call-and-response achieved by gender.

Photograph Copyright © Waltons New School of Music.
All Rights Acknowledged.

Call-and-response was the overarching theme in their concert, and it was a full blown concert, of two sets: the first, a call of traditional and folkloric songs; the second, a response of more accessible contemporary numbers. The mix was well-judged, the very pleasant white middle-aged ballroom dancing couple occupying the seats beside me, Susan and Paul, clearly preferred the latter when they said "the concert just kept getting better and better". The hard-nosed musicologist inside me found the first set spine-tingling; it has been the only time, ever, that a musical performance has ever ilicited tears.

It was impassioned and committed unlike any performance I'd experienced before.

Within the choir were leaders and instrumentalists, some of them assuming the positions of bassist, pianist, guitarist, and percussionist (trapset or djembe). I was least prepared for the dancing - a joyous celebration of the music they create. Group, couple and virtuoso solo performances of physical movement, from which it was obvious where Cuba's rumba yambú, guaguancó and columbia were desecended.

Each and every one of the twenty women and men sang from their very essences, their voices a commitment to an absolute purpose. As a musician, it was my privilege to be humbled.

I can only sum up my Soweto Gospel experience with one word - Joy.

For Cubans and those partake of AfroCuban culture, from this choir there is much to be learned.

Loo Yeo