Soweto is an urban settlement or “township” in South Africa created in the 1930s when the white government moved black residents away from the white suburbs of Johannesburg. During apartheid it was a place of stark contrasts, where abject poverty, disease, technological isolation and the horrendous inhumanity of the government-sponsored racism alternated with sparkling artistic and musical creativity.
Soweto is the founding place for Kwaito and Kasi rap, which combine house music, American hip-hop and traditional African music. Now comes the 20-plus voice Soweto Gospel Choir, who make their third Peninsula visit this week.
“Their authenticity and presentation is unrivaled,” Sunset Center marketing manager Gina Delli-Gatti says. “One look, one listen and you can’t help but be filled with the joy, history and hope that they aim to spread.”
They are a gloriously proud and exceedingly talented ensemble whose soul-feed of pure love and rousing musicality flies in the face of the township’s – and even the entire continent’s – struggles. Their 2018 tour is in support of what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday year, offering an appropriately titled show called Songs of the Free, featuring colorful costumes, dance movements and drumming, whether they’re doing gooseflesh-provoking traditional African songs, more contemporary barn-burning Gospel takes or a spine-chilling rendition of Leonard Cohen’s modern classic Hallelujah.
The choir is also an ambassador for Mandela’s 46664 campaign, which aims to highlight the emergency of AIDS/HIV through live events and music.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion,” Mandela wrote in his book Long Walk To Freedom. “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can also be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
There is something else to know about Soweto. The township boasts the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize winners once lived – Mandela and Desmond Tutu. The choir’s vibrance and ability to move an audience comes from the same spirit.
Lest we forget, Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for advocating black majority rule in South Africa – although it seems some in this nation may have forgotten. The Soweto Gospel Choir should help fix that.
SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR 8pm Thursday. Oct. 11. Sunset Center, San Carlos and Ninth, Carmel. $49-$69. 620-2048, sunsetcenter.org