Soweto shines with African gospel choir

Show includes tribute to Civil Rights Activist Nelson Mandela

1/30/2014, 9 a.m.
Relive the life and times of civil rights activist Nelson Mandela through a moving musical tribute by African gospel choir ...

Relive the life and times of civil rights activist Nelson Mandela through a moving musical tribute by African gospel choir Soweto.

According to Beverly Bryer, the group's choir director, performing for Mandela along with Archbishop Desmond Tutu was "like a dream for us" as she recounted the group's past experience with two of South Africa's most notable civil rights activists.

"These were some of the most memorable times in our career," she explained. "We've sung at family celebrations for both Madiba and the Arch, and there is no greater feeling than when these great men have

thanked us and praised our performances. Both are icons who have made South Africa what it is today and we feel so honored to have met them."

The namesake of the abbreviated version of South Western Townships, an urban area of the city of Johannesburg in Gauteng, South Africa, Soweto is best known for its unorthodox melange of music genres.

Scheduled for Black History Month, the Adrienne Arsht Center will showcase the 24-member choir's signature mix of African gospel, reggae and original arrangements of American pop music.

To commemorate their 10th anniversary, Soweto is scheduled to release their sixth album, Divine Decade on January 28th.

As a world traveller whose constantly on the go, Bryer said its important for Blacks in Miami to appreciate African music because its reflective of their past.

"African-Americans originated from Africa, so by appreciating African music, they are appreciating their roots," she explained.

A hybrid of past and contemporary elements, Soweto's music said Bryer in a candid interview with the Miami Times, "has been passed down to us through generations from our grandparents. We take that basic sound and then add our own unique style to it. We don't want to sing songs the same as anyone else," she said. "So we always try to do our own arrangements to give well-known and other classics a special interpretation."

A major component of the group’s sound is gospel music, a genre that 's sung in a religious context that Bryer explained is an organic aspect of their lives.

"We all come from a gospel background and are religious so African gospel is important to us," she said. "Even the act of incorporating a gospel sound into contemporary classics is important to us. This is what we're known for and love best."

In addition to their music, the choir is active in humanitarian causes, serving as United Nation Envoys for Africa and as ambassadors for Nelson Mandela’s 46667 social justice campaign.

"There is a huge AIDS pandemic in our country and it's important to let people know about the suffering and to help our countrymen in whatever way we can," she explained. "By being ambassadors, we are trying to give back to others in our community which is relevant to us."

Within a ten year span, Soweto has won an Emmy, two Grammys, three South African Music Awards and one Oscar nomination leading the music industry to refer to them as "South Africa's leading, awe-inspiring performance choir."

The internationally acclaimed group has performed to sold out crowds at Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, the Nelson Mandela Theatre and Royal Festival Hall in London just to name a few.

Throughout their career, the choir has performed for President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and received praise for their performances by Bono, Aretha Franklin, Robert Plant, Celine Dion, Peter Gabriel, Stevie Wonder, Queen and many more.