Even if Music by Prudence’s recent Oscar win for Best Documentary Short is currently garnering more blog pixels for its producer’s Kanye-like acceptance speech takedown, African music is experiencing an upsurge in attention these days. We could all use some uplift every now and again, and artists from the developing world, many of them singing through years of conflict and soul crushing poverty, somehow make that missed bus- even that found pink slip- seem like less of an end game.
Plus, some of them sing with the conviction and force of angels.
I'd like to introduce you to the Soweto Gospel Choir. A 26 singer strong troupe of some of the best singers in South Africa, the Grammy award winning Choir performs in big bright dashikis an interesting blend of traditional Zulu songs and “Many Rivers to Cross,” a combination that when stirred together in an exuberant pot yields African gospel. They're coming to the Paramount Theater (Sat/27), and the show should be great. Their music gets soaring, it gets heartfelt, it gets jazzy- it’s an epic listening experience that recalls what it means when the people you’re watching onstage are singing to carry out their mission on earth.
So what is that mission? Well, besides to have what looks to be a grand old time dancing and singing with their bandmates in front of audiences that have included Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu (the group’s “patron”) and Oprah, the aim of the Soweto Gospel Choir is to give back to the community that birthed them.
Children in South Africa nosh down thanks to Soweto Gospel Choir
South Africa has the highest amount of children left without parents from AIDS in Africa- 1.4 million by 2007 estimates- a cloudy future for the country’s next generation. Every performance by the Soweto Gospel Choir sends 50% of their net earnings towards helping these overlooked victims of the AIDS epidemic.
In 2003, the group created Nkosi’s Haven Vukani, a long term residential care center that provides safe shelter for infected mothers and their children, shelter that remains available to the children in the event that the mother passes away. So far, the group’s ecstatic sounds have garnered over $3 million for Nkosi’s- helping to feed over 9,000 kids.
Which means that watching the troupe rock and roll through their soul clapping renditions of “Amazing Grace” and “O Nkosi Yam” might get a 'hallejuah' out of even the nonbelievers in the stands.
Soweto Gospel Choir
8 p.m., $25-$65
2025 Broadway, Oakland