Soweto Gospel Choir, Songs of the Free Review – Celebrating Nelson Mandela’s 100th Birthday

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The two-time Grammy Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir returned to Chicago on Friday night, November 16th to spread sheer joy.  Comprised of the best vocalists in South Africa, the choir invites audiences to enjoy the inspirational power of African Gospel music.

Soweto Gospel Choir returned to Chicago to awe the audience Photo credit: Todd Rosenberg

The night started out with a medley of traditional African songs that set the tone.  The audience was told of the significance of Nelson Mandela’s role in moving South Africa from an oppressive society to one of a peaceful co-existence for all racial groups. To the choir, and to the world, Mandela represents love, peace, forgiveness and strength.  Mandela’s inspiration was evident throughout the night.

The program, Songs of the Free, consisted of extraordinary music that mixed African gospel with traditional hymns, Jamaican reggae, American pop, and spiritually themed secular songs.

Nelson Mandela’s inspiration was evident throughout the night Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg

The spectacle could not have been more colorful with every member of the choir wearing traditional clothes each one a bright primary color.  Not only did the choir sing and harmonize beautifully, they moved and danced together. That all added up to a joyous and thrilling performance.

The choir took turns soloing, and also took turns dancing.  The men would tell everyone to stand back and kick their leg high above their heads – almost as if it was a competition to see who could get the highest – all the while staying on beat and still singing their parts.  At times it seemed less like a performance and more like the choir was just having fun among themselves – – which was a delight for the audience.

What a joyous night Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg

The song Pata Pata was one of the most memorable of the night.  The crowd was instructed to get up and clap along in a “clap-clap / clap-clap” rhythm.  To see all of Orchestra Hall “clap-clap”-ing was a sight to be remembered.  Of course, most of the audience was not only clapping, but shaking what their mother gave them, too.  The music was so infectious it was hard not to dance along.  After, Pata Pata was done everyone took their seats thinking the audience participation part of the show was over, only to be told to stand back up during the choir’s version of James Brown’s I Feel Good.  It was a rip roaring affair.

The night ended with Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.  Which is a beautiful song, but has never been more beautiful than when sung by the Soweto Gospel Choir.  Their version shows the full power of the choir:  a perfect song which featured strong voices, beautiful harmonization, a dramatic build up.  It was so moving that if you haven’t heard it, I urge you to find it somewhere on the internet right now.  It was an utterly moving moment to end a joyous night.

Photos by:  Todd Rosenberg


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