This special concert, “Songs of the Free”, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, the Father of the rainbow nation.
From the bright and colourful carnival costumes to the absolutely breath-taking singing, the whole performance exuded an unfettered exuberance in the triumph of freedom. The show did not attempt, however, to conceal the darker moments of the associated history, and began with a haunting choir item over which some of the assaults of the apartheid era were harshly spoken. But the plaintive and peaceful voices of the singers then gave way to an explosion of rapturous joy, which communicated the unquenchable power of hope and the ultimate victory of justice.
This tireless of eruption of praise hallmarked the entirety of the performance. Even the more contemplative items such as ‘Amazing Grace’ were sung in a gutsy manner, which only served to add to their poignancy, and gave voice to the strong spirituality behind them.
The Soweto Gospel Choir skilfully interwove a fascinating blend of African gospel, freedom songs and international classics. The transition between these items was often seamless – there were no sheets of music, no starting notes, no breaks between the pieces. This was music that came from the heart; even the choreography, while disciplined, was clearly natural and instinctive. The descants to the more traditional songs were phenomenal.
This was a special concert by the choir who performed for Nelson Mandela on many occasions during his life, and at his state funeral. Much of the singing was a cappella, though occasionally supported by keyboard. The drums – used more frequently – sustained and enlivened the rhythm, and the other percussion instruments added wonderfully to the overall effect.
At the end of the show there was a spontaneous and extended standing ovation from the hundreds of people in attendance. The encore was Leonard Cohen’s evocative “Hallelujah”, which the choir made their own; the party atmosphere continued to prevail, as the audience were encouraged to join in. This was an unmissable and unforgettable concert in memory of ‘Tata’, and the performance finished at 3.30pm.
Soweto Gospel Choir, Tuesday 14th August, 2.30pm, Assembly Hall