Music can offer a history lesson, an inspiring message or just a good time.
The Soweto Gospel Choir’s music offers all three.
The Soweto Gospel Choir is a group of South African musicians who share the joy of faith through their covers of secular and gospel music, more-modern hits and South African selections, as well as originals. Their live shows are jubilant performances, as the group works its way through an energetic set filled with both music and message. The choir has won multiple Grammys, an Emmy and worldwide recognition—something the group had in mind from the very beginning.
The group will be performing at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday, Nov. 6.
“What we wanted out of the choir was to celebrate the heritage of Southern Africa—to celebrate the different cultures and faiths that we have, but also the gospel music that is sung in South Africa, and the traditional music, so the whole world will know it,” said choirmaster Shimmy Jiyane during a recent phone interview. “We wanted to showcase that, and make people of the world hear it. That’s what drove the idea of the Soweto Gospel Choir, but it’s also to showcase the powerful entertainers and artists that are within South Africa, especially Soweto.”
The choir was formed in November 2002, and the global recognition was almost immediate.
“To be quite honest, I’m still pinching myself,” Jiyane said. “When we started, we never thought that we would be this far, and we would be this famous and this big as a choir—but something told us something. We recorded our first album called Voices From Heaven, and then in that year, which was 2003, we were No. 1 on the world music Billboard charts for three weeks. … The same year, we had an Australian tour that was for three months, and all the shows were sold out, without people even hearing what we were going to say and what we were singing. That actually gave us a picture that something is coming. Once we got to Australia, we just wowed the audiences, and then we went to Scotland, and the choir was on fire. Everybody wanted the choir, and that’s where everything started. The people of the world started listening to us and agreeing to the music that we do, and they loved it and embraced it even until today. It’s an amazing journey.”
Two decades have brought a lot of change for the choir—and the audiences as well.
“Our music has changed a lot of people and environments,” said Jiyane. “It’s always extremely challenging to do more albums, and do more great music. It’s been a journey from where we started to where we are now.”
The Soweto Gospel Choir takes pride in exciting and energetic live shows.
“You must remember, as artists, we can only reflect what’s happening,” Jiyane said. “The awareness has to be there. We can never be clouded as artists, because we take (audiences) onstage through songs, and we spread our message. We just have to be there with our people, because when they say music is food for the soul, it is true. It is food for the soul that changes people, that gives people hope, that makes people remember that at the end of the day, the light will shine.”
Speaking of hope, the Soweto Gospel Choir’s brand-new album is titled Hope. The LP combines renditions of older South African songs like “Mbayi Mbayi” with American gems like “I’ll Take You There.” Jiyane said the goal of the album is to give people hope during these troubled times.
“It’s a great album. It’s a very emotional album. … We’ve lost sisters, family members, mothers … and people have lost jobs,” Jiyane said. “People don’t have houses; life changed. We’re giving people hope that all this will pass, and everything will go back to the norm. You can see even our leaders are failing to lead the people, and people need hope. People need to listen to something that’s going to give them hope. They need to be able to wake up in the morning and say, ‘I do have hope that one day everything will be normal.’”
Hope is something that Jiyane finds in every aspect of music, he said.
“I wake up in the morning, and I breathe and eat music; it gives me hope,” Jiyane said. “Positive music, powerful messages of music and powerful writing give me hope. Artists are the ones who actually can change the world, and music is the one to change the world.”
The Soweto Gospel Choir will perform at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 6, at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, 100 S. Virginia St., in Reno. Tickets are $28 to $78; a limited number are choose-what-you-pay tickets. For tickets or more information, call 775-686-6600, visit pioneercenter.com.