Hope - Reviewed by Tanya Piejus | Regional News Connecting Wellington


Presented by: Soweto Gospel Choir

Michael Fowler Centre, 28th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Wellington was gifted a rare appearance in our part of the world of the Soweto Gospel Choir as part of the Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts. Formed to celebrate the unique and inspirational power of African gospel music, the choir draws on the best talent from the many churches in and around Soweto, Johannesburg. They are dedicated to sharing the joy of faith through music with people across the world and have received critical acclaim and audience adoration for their powerful renditions of African American spirituals, gospel, and folk music.

Hope is an all-new concert by the three-time GRAMMY®-winning choir celebrating songs and anthems from the Freedom movement of Nelson Mandela’s South Africa and the Civil Rights Movement of Martin Luther King’s 1950s America.

It opens with a rousing programme of South African freedom songs. As effervescent choirmaster Shimmy Jiyane says at the start, we may not understand the words being sung in 12 Indigenous languages, but we certainly understand the feeling. The 15-strong choir pours their bodies and souls into every song with energetic, high-kicking dance moves, expressive faces and voices, and pinpoint harmonies. They’re gamely supported by keys (Diniloxolo Ndlakuse) and percussion (Sipho Ngcamu), including an impressive set of drums.

The first half ends with a vibrant part-English, part-African song dedicated to Nelson Mandela and the final harmony on a drawn-out “Madiba” sends shivers down my spine. It’s a stunning segue into the second half, sung mostly in English, with beautiful renditions of the protest music of the Civil Rights Movement, including works by James Brown, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, and Aretha Franklin. However, it’s their creative reimagining of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s duet Don’t Give Up that is the highlight for me with its African chants and rhythms overlaying the pop.

A massively deserved standing ovation accompanied the sublime final singalong of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, complete with waving phone torches. I left the venue ecstatic and just a bit teary from sheer joy of it all.

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