Soweto Gospel Choir returns to inspire, uplift Pittsburgh

THREE-time Grammy-winning SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR WILL BE PLAYING AT THE BYHAM THEATER, NOV. 22.

 

One-night-only show happens at the Byham, Nov. 22

 

by Genea L. Webb, For New Pittsburgh Courier

The Civil Rights Movement and Anti-Apartheid are some of the themes on the long-awaited album, “Hope,” by the Soweto Gospel Choir. The 13-track offering was released in September. The 22-member choir is currently embarking on a North American tour encompassing more than 50 cities to promote the project. 

The Soweto Gospel Choir will be making a one-night-only stop at Pittsburgh’s Byham Theater on Nov. 22. The group’s last show in Pittsburgh was in 2014.

What can the audience expect? “A high-energy show, with beautiful costumes on stage and a strong choir that comes from Soweto, South Africa, and a very beautiful and emotional show,” said the director and founding member, Shimmy Jiyane, in an interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier. “A show that allows people to learn, that teaches people about South Africa and the freedom songs we sing in South Africa and that also speaks about the Civil Rights in America.

“Hope,” the choir’s latest musical offering which was released on Sept. 23, honors South Africa’s Freedom Movement and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.  “Hope” opens with a rousing program of South African freedom songs that inspired their Rainbow Nation. Then the choir’s uplifting performance moves to the United States with renditions of the music of the Civil Rights Movement, including works by legendary artists James Brown, Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield and Aretha Franklin.

“These songs are the songs that we grew up listening to,” Jiyane said. “At the same time, you must remember that generations have changed. We shouldn’t not let our youth know about their history. We should let youth know about their history. We should make sure they know who they are and where they come from. It was important for us to show that and to say to everybody, we know what happened, but we didn’t forget. We might have forgiven, but we didn’t forget. Also, the youth must know about the hope and what happened to their people. The youth must know about Dr. Martin Luther King and the iconic Nelson Mandela. They need to understand that music played a very important part in our lives as Black people to be where we are today. We kept on singing. We kept on praying. Why we kept on singing, why we kept on praying is because we had the faith and we had the hope that one day we will be free.”

The Soweto Gospel Choir was formed in 2002 in Soweto, South Africa. In December of that year, the group’s inaugural album, “Voices from Heaven,” was recorded and earned the top spot of the World Music Charts—within three weeks of its U.S. release. 

“The youth are the future. Our grandparents, our mothers and fathers, they fought the battles so it’s our time now that the youth fight those battles,” said Jiyane, who proudly hails from Soweto and began singing as a child. He was originally brought into the Soweto Gospel Choir as a dancer; soon he became a singing member of the group and after four years as a singer, the tenor was moved to director.

Jiyane choreographs many of the group’s live performances. “Nelson Mandela came through and he was in jail for 27 years. He came back and he said, ‘I’m not going to hit back but I’m going to build this nation up, I’m going to build South Africa up.’ And look at South Africa today. The racism is still there, but we need to work as Black people and we need to work together so that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel because the youth are coming up and they need to see that. This whole show is about that; this whole album is about that.”

“It’s a show that encourages people to be positive in life. It brings hope to people that it’s not all forgotten. People died from COVID. People lost hope. People lost jobs,” Jiyane said. “We need to go back into the archives and look at where we went from as Black people and bring back the freedom that you always sing about. People must come and see and witness the powerful show that Soweto Gospel Choir is bringing to Pittsburgh.”

 

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