Week Sixteen: Preaching to the (Gospel) Choir

One evening, as I was taking the dog for a walk, one of the many flyers wrapped a lamp post around happened to catch my eye. It informed me that the Soweto Gospel Choir was coming to town. And that they’d played for U2, no less. But don’t let that put you off.

You can get past this.

Just look past this.

The concert was a tribute to Nelson Mandela, in celebration of 20 years since the end of apartheid, and was being held at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Realising that I’d never heard a gospel choir in real life, I decided that their ‘African Grace’ show would be my new experience for week sixteen.

African Grace

As the curtain rose to start the evening, a solitary announcer came on stage to  introduce the band and pay homage to Mr. Mandela. Or Madiba, as he was affectionately referred to for the remainder of the concert. The colourfully dressed choir quietly filed in and stood facing the audience; men in the back, women in the front. It was all very sedate. Until the music started.

From the first moment the choir held us spellbound with their rich melodies. Many of the songs were sung in African languages (Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho), however there were a few that I recognised such as ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’, the wonderfully infectious ‘This Little Light of Mine’, and ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot,’ sung in one of the lowest voices I’ve ever heard. Luckily beautiful voices coupled with raw enthusiasm need no universal translator, and the exuberance that exuded from the stage soon seeped into the audience members. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a few people closer to the stage abandoning their chairs in favour of dancing in the aisles, and just in front of us a trio of women bounced and swayed in their seats as though they were puppets being yanked on strings.

At the end of the show we were asked to stand for the South African national anthem, which was received with rapturous applause and cries for an encore. The choir duly obliged us, and soon we were all clapping and stepping in time to the music.

During the encore, those at the front of the theatre pressed against the front of the stage, and one audience member had a toddler sitting on his shoulders who seemed to be enjoying the show as much as anybody. A lady in the choir knelt close to the child and gave her a kiss, before swooping her up onto the stage, where the little girl waved quite happily at the crowd. ‘Aww,’ I thought. ‘How sweet.’  Until the choir lady abruptly walked off the stage with the child still in her arms, and didn’t return.

“Er… did that lady just steal a baby?” I asked my husband, a bit concerned now. He gave me his patented side eye, reserved only for the most wretched of fools.

“I’m pretty sure that was her kid,” he scoffed. Then frowned. “At least I think she was…”

VERDICT: The Soweto Gospel Choir put on a vibrant show. If they’re in your area, they’re worth a visit, especially if you like gospel music. Although if you saw them play in Vancouver, and are currently missing a toddler, let me know.

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